For a start, Absolutely Compulsory is silly; it’s either compulsory or its not. The terminology needs to change for clarity, and this is what Massey is doing. Their recommendation is two categories: Compulsory and Recommended. This proposal also offers an opportunity to consider the purpose of contact courses in distance education
If a contact course is truly compulsory there are consequences: a reduced pool of students willing to take the paper, the need to make the contact course academically essential, and the impact on students’ lives.
Accessibility, the mantra of distance education, should be a key principle on which academic delivery and support are based. Modern distance students are busy people. They are often in a life-transition period where finances are difficult or they have family responsibilities. So accessibility for a distance student means low cost and low impact on routine.
Massey is known for its quality distance provision, so compulsory contact courses that deliver essential learning are important. Students also need to be confident that compulsory contact courses are essential for the learning required. So what are recommended contact courses for, enhancing learning for those who can make it? On the face of it this seems reasonable.
Getting students together to meet is not a reason to have a compulsory contact course. So it must be clear to lecturers that a compulsory contact course must satisfy certain criteria, for example:
- The contact course must be essential for the pedagogy – the process of learning – that the paper requires
- There should be no exemptions
- The contact course should not be able to be reproduced on Stream or the web
- The contact course must be fully integrated into the course delivery
The acid test is this – is this contact course environment essential for the process of learning, and can this learning not be reproduced in a web environment?”
I would like to think that there are relatively few contact courses that satisfy this mandate. Creative Processes is one, as may be a Drama paper. If hands-on experience is needed in a laboratory environment then that would qualify.
For students, fewer compulsory contact courses would be better, but will this mean recommended contact course become the norm? With recommended contact courses students will need to be told that attendance will provide advantages, but none that are essential to course completion. For lecturers it may seem inefficient to be delivering to only a portion of the students, and they would likely put the material on the web for all students. So how many students will turn up to a ‘recommended’ contact course?
It seems to me that you either have a contact course or you do not. And if a course controller wishes to run a compulsory contact course they would need to demonstrate its essential nature to someone other than their own department – as well as the students who attend.
So that’s sorted then.