This week I officially begin Year 3 and Unit 5 of my MA in Open and Distance Education. The subject has enhanced and deepened my engagement with my work, given me a theoretical background and opportunities to meet and debate relevant issues with a wider audience; I couldn’t have had a better subject to work with. Unit 5 is Identity in Question. This takes me back to the research of my first MA in Gender Studies and forward to issues I want to research in the future; social and cultural attitudes towards difference. I’m looking forward to re-engaging with the theoretical baselines and testing their application to issues around to student’s perceptions of themselves in relation to higher education.
The first four Units were delivered online but this is a traditional distance learning course and already I feel isolated. I’ve got used to the textual introductions and emoticons, the sharing of photographs, of where we are and what we do. I’ve actively taken part in the creation of Wenger’s community of practice, the first stages in Salmon’s 5step model, constructing Laurillard’s conversational framework, building Garrison and Anderson’s Social Presence. I’ve experienced, tried and tested, all these theories over the past two years but this is going to be different. I’ve had one email from my tutor about dates for ‘telephone tutorials’ but no reference to how this will take place. I’m assuming Skype but I don’t know for sure. In previous units we used First Class but have no software this time. I don’t like telephones. I don’t even have one at home. I prefer the keyboard. In previous units we’ve been encouraged to blog, to build an electronic portfolio and collaborate through wikis as well as use the traditional discussion forum. Suddenly all of that is missing. How can I ‘learn’ interactively with my colleagues when we are not virtually connected? The loneliness of the distance learner will be exacerbated by the lack of digital engagement. It feels like a backward step into a pre-internet world. Without the regular logging on to see what others are saying about the week’s subject matter, how will I stay motivated and engaged?
The benefit of blogging is the provision of a unique forum for reflection. The reality is it takes time. I know that multiple blogs will not work so this blog will become my work and my study blog. The integration will be interesting process.