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Distance Learning in Hard Times

A cloud to hold discussion around a video conference taking place between the Open University,...

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Alex Moseley
21 June 2010

A cloud to hold discussion around a video conference taking place between the Open University, Athabasca University and the University of Leicester on 6th July 2010.

The topic is Distance Learning in Hard Times - with a focus on student support: please feel free to start discussion around this topic before, and after the live conference.

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patrick kelly
9:48am 5 July 2010


A couple of questions to consider

1. Do we think hard finacial times are an opportunity or a threat to open and distance learning

2. Within distance learning is  student support at particular risk

Helen Lentell
4:06pm 14 July 2010


I think student support is at risk. Especially if it has not been designed into the course. We should be concerned in the UK DL universities that the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, thinks that the way to go is the University of London DL approach. This could mean that student support becomes an added service that you buy into or not.

Alex Moseley
4:26pm 4 August 2010


I've been musing about the complex set of costs and support needs/options in 'hard times'.

On the one hand, in terms of student recruitment:

  • hard times mean that more post-secondary students are unable to attend University full-time or live away from home, so part-time and distance/blended options should become more popular
  • hard times also might mean greater job insecurity, higher unemployment or a need for improvement in pay/conditions. This is turn should lead to an increase in the need for part-time, distance or work-based learning.

On the other hand, in terms of student support:

  • Larger recruitment means higher requirement for support; and an increased need for specific support for those with time and financial difficulties.
  • Student support as traditionally offered within institutions may need to either increase in size, or change in organisation/operation, in order to cope (both incurring cost)
  • Institutional financial frameworks are unlikely to be flexible (/sensible) enough to channel some of the profits from the extra students into support systems
  • Support therefore probably needs to change, and gain efficiences by understanding the changes in need resulting from a change in quantity and type of student recruitment

Most of the above is common sense, but it's helpful to think things through in these terms I've found.

At Leicester, most of our support is department-based, with only a small portion handled centrally. Common queries from a new, larger intake would therefore be handled repeatedly by each department - so some understanding and centralisation of common (non- specific-academic) queries is the way we would like to move forward, freeing up departments to focus on academic enquiries.

Is this the best/only way? It's certainly not the easiest: trying to build up a central team where there wasn't one and persuading departments to change their focus are big stumbling blocks.

Are there ways to keep support local to a department, and yet introduce efficiencies through shared networks/resources etc.?

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