19 September 2009

Apparent Gaps

The situation in higher education right now for the Williams Lake community appears to have significant gaps that prevent students to succeed. For many students who wish to pursue academic degrees (Bachelors of Arts/Science), the advertised program offerings call for students to reside in Williams Lake for 2 years (or slightly more, if they are taking "university prep" courses to remedy poor performance in secondary courses) while taking their lower level academic requirements. After these requirements are met, the conventional classroom approach to education would require them to move, either to the main TRU campus at Kamloops or to some other university location.
Students who wish to pursue B.A. and B.Sc. degrees without leaving Williams Lake must plan to complete their requirements online or by distance education courses of some type.
There is a two-fold problem for students who use either strategy for education. On the one hand, courses advertised as available in Williams Lake are often cancelled due to: 1) poor enrolment (apparently, the present budget requires a minimum of 16 students for a section to "break even"); or 2) absence of qualified instructors. As a result, students enrolled in the university prep courses often have to wait more than a year for courses they need (at a time that fits into their work schedule!).
If students attempt to complete course requirements by online or distance education, they sometimes receive curriculum materials that are little more than the textbook, assigned tasks, and recorded lectures, with standardized, machine-scored tests as the major way they can show competence leading to a passing grade. Because the tests are standardized and machine-scored, students who perform poorly often cannot find out the problem areas in their performance or the gaps in their competence (giving students the correct answers to tests is seen as tantamount to "giving away" the test for all future students).
The government of the province of British Columbia has gone on record setting a goal to make the province the most literate geographic region in all of North America and to make educational parity between urban and rural residents a reality by the year 2020. However, the current situation in Williams Lake seems to be a very long way from this. The current situation cannot be expected to change until:
  1. Universities such as TRU provide budgetary assistance to satellite campuses in order to encourage a local student-base for viable academic programs and stop using these satellite campuses only to increase its own enrolments;
  2. Standards for online and distance education are set and enforced that are aimed at increasing the current (very poor) completion and success rates for students attempting the courses; and
  3. Attention is directed towards efforts to provide face-to-face educational support for online learning in rural areas.
We need to change the way we do things in higher education.

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