Mobile Devices – Bridging the Digital Divide of Online Education
Concurrent Session 8
With increased demand for online higher education, technological challenges can hinder some students’ success. Among these challenges, the digital divide...a reality that affects some online students. Using the case of University of the West Indies, I will explore how mobile devices can bridge the divide in online learning
The demand for online education is becoming the norm, and increasingly filling a niche for students who are far away from a regular campus, want to fit continuing education into their busy lifestyles, or to take advantage of academic resources in other parts of the state, country, or even the world (Scribner-MacLean & Miller, 2011).
Results of ongoing research suggest the main reason demand for online education has become the popular mode for pursuing higher education, is the autonomy it affords. Learners can carry on their lives with multiple engagements, while pursuing their education without the added pressure of being in a physical class room dictated by location and time. As some students will come to realize after enrolling in online programme, the ease and flexibility anticipated are fraught with technological challenges. The challenges are likely to include, acquiring and learning to use new technological devices, navigating in the virtual environment and just learning to communicate with instructors and peers. However, the most challenging technological issue some may face is Internet access.
UWIOC online enrollment is approximately 6,000 across seventeen (17) English-speaking countries in the Caribbean. Like its sister Campuses that offer face to face programs, sustainability and viability rely on a growing student population. The University is in restructuring mode to facilitate the conversion and delivery of some existing face to face programmes to offer online in the Region and beyond. There is always potential for greater intake, and retention of online students, but the focus remains on ensuring that the current, and future population experience learning of the highest standards.
Even with the University’s best efforts, some students’ experiences are compromised because of not being able to have fulsome participation in their online courses. This if often due to unreliable, or lack of Internet service, and malfunctioning computer equipment. These Technology challenges are prime reason some students get discouraged and consider reverting to face to face learning. It is also a barrier for potential applicants.
With approximately 44% of the Caribbean having access to Internet, more than half of the Region’s population are left off the digital grid. The connectivity and digital disparity suggest that the digital divide is widespread. The idea of the "digital divide" refers to the growing gap between portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet (cs.stanford.edu). As a University, how can strategies be implemented to mitigate the potential for attrition of its online students, and stymied future growth due to technological challenges?
As a manager for online programmes at UWIOC, I am faced with the challenges shared by students who are not able to access courses due to technology and Internet issues. The challenges get more severe during hurricane season, as was the case last year when majority of online students in Islands such as Dominica and Antigua had to defer their studies until Internet connections were restored. There are some places in those Islands that still do not have Internet, and students who want to continue seek to utilize UWIOC Sites or Internet Cafés. With my unique position, I have embarked on a project to look at the technological challenges with online learning at the tertiary level. Currently enrolled in the MPhil Communication Studies, my thesis will focus on the digital divide and the effectiveness of mobile devices in online learning. The data could prove useful in providing additional information to inform the University’s target markets, how to position its online products, and the designing of programs to meet the growing demand for online education.
Attendees should come to the session expecting to gain insights on what research is showing on the status of the digital divide regionally and internationally, mobile learning, and whether mobile devices can help to advance online educational needs. I will also share my research methodology, and the next steps in the process. Attendees will also be invited to give feedback, ideas and possibly recommend relevant and current literature on the topics.