Distance education is an integral part of modern day higher education in Australia. Every brick and mortar university offers almost every course available to on-campus students as a distance education option. There are several reasons for universities to offer distance education, such as cost, want and desire of potential students who cannot attend a traditional campus for various reasons and also political interest. We will look at the question if distance education and on-campus students have the same opportunities to gain an equivalent education and if it is unfair to treat these two distinct groups unequally to achieve an equal outcome.
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Alternatively, others may have a physiological condition that makes social interaction difficult. Whatever the reason DE students are provided with resources to undertake their study. At Charles Sturt University students undertaking EML 102 – Written Communication are provided with a package of material on-line and communication from the lecturer via a web based system called Interact. These resources contain suggested reading material, information about text books that the students should purchase and a subject outline that clearly informs the students about assignment tasks, the marking criteria and pertinent dates for handing in of assignments and their return. Other subjects, such as Charles Sturt University EMT 103 – Design and Technology provides the students with a package of reading material via the postal system and also contains resources in the interact site.
OC students may receive some pre-study material but in the majority of cases lecturers provide material and resources in smaller packages covering maybe just one or two classes at a time. There are sometimes resources provided on-line such as recorded tutorials or other items that are required specifically for that course. But is being on-campus with their instant contact with the lecturer, personal interaction with fellow students and seemingly immense resources of a bricks and mortar university an advantage to learning over the isolated and some would say detached DE student? On the other hand, does a DE student have some advantages by having to self teach and work harder to attain their learning?
M. Luck raises a very good point when he states that “distance education students are worse off in terms of the availability of resources” (Luck, 2009, p. 443). However, we need to understand what resources may be required by a student to achieve the learning of their chosen subject and attain education standard set by the institution.
One resource will certainly be access to the lecturer. While on-campus students have the opportunity to communicate with the lecturer verbally face to face and receive not only facial expressions, gestures, haptic, eye contact and other non-verbal signals that constitutes total communication (Cherry, 2004, p. 34) the distance education student is limited to non contact communication such as email, telephone or other forms of electronic communication. This deprives the distance education student of the emotional contact enjoyed by the on-campus student. As pointed out by Mehrabian (1972, p. 29) most communication is only around 7% verbal, while 38% is tone of voice and 55% body language. It could therefore be interpreted that the distance education student is disadvantaged by the loss of so much emotional communication.
Nevertheless, a DE student receives other forms of communication that is not available to OC students. Packages of written material, which are not just reading material but offer the student the opportunity to self, teach. “Students are...