Expanding access to university education
The University of the West Indies (UWI) recently established the Office for Online Learning (OOL) to guide the rapid expansion of online delivery of courses and programmes from all four of its campuses - the Cave Hill Campus, the Mona Campus, the St Augustine Campus, and the Open Campus.
This reflects a committed effort on the part of The UWI to improve access of a number of underserved communities, regionally and globally, to university education.
The OOL seeks to facilitate greater access to university education by increasing the online delivery of its undergraduate and graduate courses and programmes, both synchronously and asynchronously.
In online synchronous delivery, the instruction is delivered and received simultaneously, whereas in online asynchronous delivery, the instruction is delivered and received at different times.
The online synchronous delivery of courses and programmes will benefit students who wish to have a university education to improve their competencies in a particular area but are unable to do so for a number of reasons, including:
(i) distance from a physical campus that offers face-to-face classes;
(ii) physical or other impediments that make it difficult to take classes at a physical campus; or
(iii) issues of age or ageing that challenge participation in a regular face-to-face programme.
However, these are not the only students who can benefit from online synchronous delivery. Students anywhere in the global community, with a time zone that is similar to that of The UWI's may easily take courses or programmes delivered synchronously from any of the four campuses and participate as if they were in the same classroom.
A few departments of The UWI have already been delivering courses and programmes in this way. Indeed, some departments have been delivering courses concurrently - face-to-face and online. The OOL will expand the number of courses and programmes delivered synchronously by the four campuses of the university.
As may be evident, online synchronous delivery becomes challenging for students in time zones that are significantly different from that of the location from which a course or programme is delivered. The UWI overcomes this challenge through asynchronous delivery of courses and programmes. Thus, a student in a markedly different time zone in the global community may still access a course or programme if delivered asynchronously. The same is true of a student in full-time employment whose hours of work militate against getting to a campus or participating synchronously at times in the day that a course or programme is delivered. For courses or programmes delivered asynchronously, the time of the day when a student is available to participate or the location of the student is inconsequential.
Through its two modes of delivery, the OOL is providing access to an increasing number of courses and programmes for students in the Caribbean and the global community. In the global community, the OOL will target:
(i) students from the Caribbean Diaspora who wish to benefit from particular offerings at The UWI to improve in areas where they would like to acquire greater expertise grounded in Caribbean experience;
(ii) members of the wider global community who wish to acquire a better understanding of issues surrounding Caribbean development because of their interests in the region, including researchers as well as staff of the global diplomatic or development-assistance community who may need to serve in the Caribbean region or participate in decision making in their respective organisations that impacts the region; and
(iii) those who wish to broaden their education of the region for personal development or in anticipation of visiting, serving, or living in the region.
The critical point is that the OOL will support the global reach of The UWI by providing global access to more of its programmes and courses.
- Professor Stafford Griffith is director of The UWI's Regional Office of Online Learning.