DFLP Wk 10 accessibility and equity in online education

Disability support

This week in DFLP Pam McBride explained about the resources that are available through the disability support network, she explained the variety of resources that are available to support students on site at Otago Polytechnic. This assistance can only be offered to on site students, support for students while they are off compus needs to come from Workbridge another government agency helping people with a disability to get into the workforce. The assistance that people with disabilities require is varied and depends on the type and degree of the disability however OP disability support seem to have access to a wide range of supporting technology and structures to assist these people. Pam spoke of the stigma, perceived by some, when they acknowledge that they have a disability and how this might impact on them seeking support. Individuals need to approach disability services for assistance, and assistance is not offered unless they do so. Lecturers can suggest that assistance is sought but cannot initiate this process for the student. All services offered by disability support are confidential and will not be shared with teaching staff. I am wondering how OP students are supported when they are out on workplace training? Does this support all need to come through Workbridge? According to Pam there is only $20,000 for each individual for a lifetime of support through Workbridge, this does not seem to be a huge sum to support those with a disability in the workforce and I would have thought it should not be used up while they are still in the education system.

New Midwifery program

In the school of midwifery, when we begin our new midwifery program, students will largely be working from their own homes or local community centers. It would seem that assistance will only be available, to  students with disabilities, while they are actually on site. In the past I am aware that we have had students in our courses who have had some sort of disability, whether it be emotional or literacy issues. I beleive we may have had midwifery students who experience dyslexia for instance. We might need to give extra consideration to how these students could be supported in the new curiculum. Perhaps this is a discussion to be had with the disability support services.

Rural students

Many of our potential students will live in rural or remote areas of New Zealand as the program will be more accessible to these people than it has been in the past. In fact this is a positive aspect of the course, allowing women to participate in this course of study largely from their own homes. As there is a shortage of midwives in rural areas supporting local women to meet the needs of their local community is desirable. Women who are already an established part of a local rural community might feel less isolated in practice than those who are brought in to the community fill this role.

In a survey of rural students in Australia in 2002 the Australian Flexible Learning Framwork group found that rural women were particularly interested in using technology to support distance learning 76% of the 82 participants were female. While the participants in this study seemed to have relatively easy access to computers and internet the findings are very limited and may not be representative of the rural population as a whole as a quarter of the participants were teachers as well as students and had been involved in distance learning form both sides of this divide. Fahey and Monaghan(2005) looked at rural midwives perspectives on continuing professional development. The aspect most valued by the midwives was the opportunity to learn together and to network with each other and other rural midwives. This was also a key finding my my thesis researching rural midwives in the South Island of New Zealand. The accessibility of students to each other as well as to teaching staff and learning support in their local communities is something that we have been putting a great deal of thought to in our new program and we are looking at some innovative ways in which this can be achieved one of which will involve the supporting structure for a midwifery online learning community. Accessibility to the internet and online learning activity is a key component of our flexible program however issues of accessibility to the internet could be an issue for some students, Kildea, Barclay and Brodie (2006) found that access to reliable technology was a barrier for remote rural midwives in accessing online distance learning opportunities. However advances in technology are rapid and expansion of the broadband network is a government priority in New Zealand. None the less this is something that we need to be aware of.

Conclusion

In conclusion we need to continually review the issues around accessibilty of our midwifery program to students, particularly to those in rural areas and away from the main centers where there is a need for more midwives. In the school of midwifery we are making dramatic changes to our courses to make them more accessible to women around the South Island of new Zealand. We need to keep in mind the needs of those student s who have disabilities which may have been supported on site previously but will have to seek other avenues of support if they are studying form home.

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3 Comments

  1. Good post Carolyn. As a suggestion – if the Midwifery project gets into content creation – perhaps the principles of universal design should be in the brief. Theoretically UD will have to take into account all these issues you highlight, and develop resources that cater for the needs of the users you describe (rather than the department’s needs primarily). Trick will be to find a designer well versed in UD

    Reply
  1. Universal design « Fled: Flexible learning education design
  2. Week 16 DFLP « Fled: Flexible learning education design

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