21 Feb 2011
We are asked to consider the life of a Brazilian Mum, working in a Law office, doing an undergraduate course
She opts for blended learning and needs to juggle family life (husband, two children) with her job and studies. Through a combination of face-to-face elements and TV or going online she is able to meet a tight weekly schedule, within a time course time table.
We are asked to reflect on this fictional student and her circumstances, how the institution puts in place enough to make her studying possible, and to meet various benchmarks so that she is taught and assessed at the correct level.
A quick Google search and we should think of this is a city like Barcelona or Birmingham; these are modern solutions to a common dilemma, how to have two people in full-time employment, with family commitments, while trying to gain further qualifications in order to improve their career prospects.
I believe the institution has put everything in place in terms of the schedule, the support, the infrastructure, technology and resources. To succeed the candidate will need not only to juggle many balls, but at times to face off brick walls and barriers. Life happens as a parents … husband made redundant, children sick, elderly relatives … it is far easier to get this part of your education dealt with while there is less going on! Does she have the motivation and will she get the support from siblings, husband, her work … even her friends? Is their a mirror network of support and new friends where she is studying.
What is meant by conventional?
When has there been a period of stability in education? And compared to the context where? We fairly recently mixed up universities and polytechnics, only in this generation have we been pushing for 50%^+ attendance in Tertiary education. Only recently has the school-leaving age been increased.
My parent’s generation (they happened to be at Durham University) lived at home … one generation on, and we’re back to this pattern with university being a natural step on from Secondary School rather than a leap across the country onto a campus. This has always been fluid, as they should to reflect changing demands in the economy and changing possibilities.
Each generation makes the most of what is possible and available
It strikes me that this is suitably resourceful way to gain qualifications and experience while juggling everything else, in the case, a woman has to do an implication being here that perhaps a man would have excused himself from any household chores were he to consider taking a degree, while a woman has to do it all. I speak from the basis of a househusband doing part-time and freelance work, alongside family responsibilities (kids now at secondary school, having seen them through nursery and primary school).
I don’t consider what she is doing to be unusual at all, indeed I think it is the norm.
I have certainly seen plenty in my generation retrain as their previous careers/jobs have alternated out of recognition or disappeared … or become so ‘cheap’ that they aren’t sustainable.
The best learning is driven by the motivation of the individual to learn; they will push against any brick wall, or through any barrier to achieve this end. The state, as here, cannot spoon feed or dictate, just offer as best as is reasonable, a flexible system that can be accommodated. It is not surprising how much can be done if people give p 3 hours + television viewing every day, for example.
In relation to ‘face to face, the very best learning, if we take it back hundreds of years, is one to one, governess and tutor.
A compromise might be an equally privilege Oxbridge kind of tutorial system, in a college with a small cohort of students meeting weekly in groups of one, two or three.
The experience of 50+ students in a lecture hall several times a week can never have suited the majority
Indeed, on a developmental point of view it favoured the ‘freaks’ those with exceptional or rather narrow skills at being able to take something from these experiences … and then to memorize it all for an exam.
Because of the fluidity/flexibility of this non ‘traditional’ approach the institution must feel, necessarily, that one way or another the candidate is meeting all the criteria to meet the learning outcomes, that a combination of attendance, contributions, assessments and so on will bring them up to a standard that is common to any student at this level.
Whilst the institution can be prescriptive, the candidate has to make the time, make the space, organise their lives all the better in order to accommodate their work
Depending on their circumstances they become dependent on the contribution being made by a partner, but will always be faced with other hurdles, such as being made redundant in the middle of it all, or a child being sick (or a relative), or the partner being made redundant. All manner of problems can arise that might not be the lot of the typical, full time, undergraduate student who is fed and sheltered, may even have a grant, and just has to get out of bed on time for lectures!
A support network of tutors, assistants and technical staff
Support infrastructure to provide resources and to facilitate meetings, discussions and interaction. i.e. the institution needs to be a host, to be supportive.
The division of course work into discrete time periods based on modules, units within these and dates for assignments. I.e. highly structured to ensure, despite what else is going on in this person’s life, there are clear markers/deadlines/guide lines regarding what is required/expected of them.
Whilst it is the student who has to juggle, in some respects the institution is the ring master.
The student requires the institution to be a presence, both real and virtual, to provide the venues and platforms … even the skills to juggle and the items to juggle!