I went a bit out of the box and decided to talk to 2 people in education but in different organisations- (going global?!) - a facilitator of an online education service for a early childhood certificate and diploma program (Lesley) and a university lecturer (Steve).
Utilizing the 5 dimensions of flexibility to guide my questions (Casey & Moonen, 2005): I have chosen to concentrate on 2 areas on that illustrate the contrasts between the 2 interviews
Time: Lesley: The majority of students are looking for time flexibility as to when their study can be worked on. The students often have external circumstances that mean that traditional face to face sessions or meeting up are not optimal- whether than be location, family situation, financial, work or have tried face to face in past and not benefits from the experience. There are no on-campus courses. Students have the majority of their resources from the beginning of the course (course folder) or online so they can set out how their time will be allocated (also full or part time). There are 3 admissions a year to start the papers. Interaction within the course participants is minimal but there is for online linking between students through an asynchronous forum. Lecturers have set guidelines for contact e.g. If a student contacts by email, then the return has to be within 2 days.
In comparison, Steve’s undergraduate students have a set schedule and timetable for classes; with all his lectures face to face. In this case, according to Collis and Moonen (2001), the time dimension is ‘fixed’.
Regardless of when a student completes to work or in what context, a study by Neuhauser (2010) looked at a course presented online and asynchronous and the second as face-to-face. The results showed no significant differences in test scores, assignments, participation grades, and final grades. So, in terms of time and grades, the student can be as flexible or fixed and have the same outcome. For some students, the choice of time may be based on their particular learning style or personal situation.
Instructional approach: Lesley: Online work mostly asynchronous or reading of material from folder at own pace. The online education service has an online library- interloan and articles sent online. Instructional organisation- email in assessments, monitoring is by email or phone and often when a student is having an issue.
Steve- instruction is face to face utilizing a few forms of pedagogy- powerpoint, slides, pictures, vidoes, lectures, occasional groupwork. There is an increase in referring students to online material although students have access to the library. Students can make appointments, email but usually ask questions in tutorials.
In reading the article by Akyol, Garrison and Ozden (2009), we would assume that there is a social presence in the face to face lectures and tutorials- however, university lectures and tutorials can vary in size from 10-200- (‘social presence was better in small groups’ p. 75). Without talking with the students, this would be difficult to ascertain.
I also make note of Delivery and logistics Lesley’s students need computer with internet access (this has been one of the few areas that is fixed). University- has computer labs so a student does not necessarily need a computer but need to be able to get to the face to face lectures. Course materials and information about assessments are online. Location is set for lectures.
According to the flexibility grid, university has a level of ‘not flexible’ overall. The online institution fits overall into the medium category with some aspects of more flexibility (Casey & Wilson, 2005).
In my reflection, it is a personal preference or learner choice (Casey & Wilson, 2001) for the student as to how they choose to study and the degree of flexibility. It is important for institutions to offer varying choices to students to enable them to be able to make informed decisions about their study based on their own situation, needs and goals. Learning styles and contexts of the student lives come into the decision. We need ensure that prospective students are informed of the different methods of time, delivery, instructional methods, entry, and resources needed- so the student can be successful in their study no matter what degree of flexibility they choose.
Casey, J., & Wilson, P. (2005). A practical guide to providing flexible learning in further and higher education. Retrieved from http://www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/docs/publications/flexible-delivery-a-practical-guide-to-providing-flexible-learning-in-further-and-higher-education.pdf
Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2001). Flexible learning in a digital world. Open and Distance Learning Series: Kogan Page Ltd.
Neuhauser, C. (2002). Learning style and effectiveness of online and face to face instruction. American Journal of Distance Education, 16(2), 99-113.
Akyol, Z., Garrison, D.R., & Ozden, M.Y. (2009). Online and blended communities of inquiry: exploring the developmental and perceptual differences. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(6), 65- 83. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/765/1463