Social justice and distance education: Advancing arguments of access to providing quality teaching & learning

Year: 2019

Author: Downes, Natalie, Roberts, Philip

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Abstract:
Distance education facilitated by ICT is increasingly recognised as having a crucial role in supporting the schooling of students in rural and remote regions. However, the technological infrastructure and ‘access’ is often conflated with the learning method. In this logic connecting students to school subjects and resources they can’t readily access in their community is positioned as the most effective (and cost effective) solution to overcoming the limitations imposed by isolation.

In this paper we argue that the focus on ‘access’ is limiting the potential of distance education and ICT use, whilst fundamentally changing the nature of education in rural, regional and remote communities. From a theoretical perspective online access to the curriculum changes the nature of the curriculum and educational interaction. Such that the learning relationship between teacher and student risks being redefined into content transmission and content mastery. It is not certain that the curriculum is designed from this perspective, and that this rearticulation enhances student learning.

To demonstrate these issues we draw on Australian examples constituting a document analysis of some key education policy documents, distance education literature in an Australian rural education research journal, and an ethnographic study of distance education parent supervisors. In the policy documents and journal literature, the focus is on the provision of access to resources and experiences and using these methods to overcome perceived rural disadvantage. However, the experiences of parents supporting their students in distance education indicate that it is important to consider the nature of teaching and learning that takes place. Specifically, their experiences highlight the importance of ensuring that teachers working with students from a distance are able to create contextually relevant learning experience using ICT technology. These contradictions highlight that it is necessary to look more closely at the nature of distance education to ensure the best possible system is provided for all students.

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