Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Can you be everything to everyone?

We are working on a course that may have more than one delivery mode. We're considering having these two delivery modes:

1) Distance learning course.
2) Traditional classroom course.

As for instructional materials, we are leaning towards producing a paper-based set of course notes and an accompanying set of multi-media CDs with video, audio, and other multimedia. The course notes would refer to the CD at appropriate times in the contents.

For the Distance course, we'd like to have a student to instructor ratio of 100:1. Whereas in the classroom course, we would like to have a 30:2 student ratio. In effect this means the classroom course is approximately six times more expensive to run than the distance course. The instructor salary is the major cost.

One possible solution for cutting down the cost of the onsite course is to distribute no material to the students. No course notes and no accompanying multimedia CD. Therefore, the in-class students would have only the instructor's "song and dance" delivered in the lecture as resources.

I'm beginning to wonder about the ethical nature of this possible cost cutting measure. We are deliberately holding back existing resources (course notes and CDs) from in-class students due to cost. Is this cost cutting measure putting the in-class students at a disadvantage? Does the fact that the in-class students have a higher instructor to student ratio compensate for this potential disadvantage? Does the fact that all students, regardless of delivery mode,will write the exact same final exam affect the conclusions in the above two questions?

Comments are welcome!!!


Cee Cee said...

Hi Eric
I think the issue you've described is one of a number of dangers of e-learning. Very interesting ethically, and I think there will be a lot of pressure on you (I imagine) to not spend the extra $$, which ultimately will be at the expense of Education (with a capital "E")- thus undermining one of the core arguments of e-learning (that it assists in Education)... I think that a true "blended learning" approach must inherently welcome the use of course notes and a living, breathing instructor... I have designed a couple of courses where I got the trainee to make telephone calls and collect information in a real-life manner before coming back to the screen.
I think also that the ethical issue raises a bit of a red flag for the future... in that the cost issue is going to become more and more of a justification to lean more towards e-learning, at the expense of real-life people .. extending to the mainstream schooling system too. For me that is a very scary thought indeed - electronic 'education' of the next generation, with the knowledge being packaged and controlled by someone else. I think that this situation pushes you into choosing between being truly an "Educator" or simply a means of production of commodified e-learning pakages. The bean counters could argue that some other course will miss out if you spend all the money on the first course - but I think that would be a bit of blackmail and would be asking you to compromise your professionalism in terms of making the best pedagogical choices for the learner. My suggestion - spend the money and retain your pedagogical integrity.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Eric said...

Hi Cee Cee,

Great to hear from you finally! I was hoping you'd put a comment here since we've been chatting via email on the topic recently.

I feel much the same way as you do that education is not so much about content but about the interaction between student-to-student and student-to-instructor while exploring content, so the idea of creating stand alone e-learning courseware doesn't appeal to me so much. In every modality that I support, be it paper-based correspondence, classroom, web-enabled or a hybrid of any of these, I believe they all necessitate the involvement of an instructor, tutor or facilitator (whichever word you prefer... *grin*).

Can we afford to create the same course offered in multiple modalities because of an over-arching vision or mandate that can be stated as “to provide the full range of academic programmes to our entire student population” when our student population is dispersed geographically, like is the case with the Canadian Military? OUCH! Maybe not. So what do we do at the Royal Military College of Canada?

Do we scrap classroom courses because they’re not universally accessible due to the fact that they are offered only in one location while our Canadian Military members can be found around the world?

Do we focus on web-enabled distance courses because they can foster high degrees of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction? But what about students who have limited Internet access due to military deployments?

Do we sacrifice the student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in order to roll out a suite of correspondence-type courses that students can take anywhere, including Afghanistan?

It’s not really clear in my mind which of these is the best. So, what we’re doing is a mix of them all. Some courses are only offered onsite or via correspondence, others are offered in two modalities, onsite or web-enabled, still others are currently offered in all three modalities! We’ve got a rag-tag combination of all these things with no apparent pattern. Because of this, we lack effectiveness and efficiency.

Time will tell how we solve this issue.

Thanks for your comment!