#DigitalInclusion & #FeesMustFall

Digital_Inclusion

Internet access does not guarantee Digital Inclusion

E-learning has been repeatedly invoked by certain friends, colleagues and practitioners as a “solution” to the #feesmustfall campus shut down. The logic, to them, is clear. If students can’t attend lectures on campus, then let’s capture the content with a video recorder or webcam and then post them onto YouTube or the LMS. Students will then be able to watch the lectures using their cell phone, tablet or laptop (if they have one). Putting classes online (according to this line of reasoning) will allow students an alternate route to progress with their studies.

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with this argument. While lecturers are to be commended being proactive and offering alternate routes to teaching and learning materials, creating “Plan B” and expecting students, without the means, to access rich learning resources on the web, simply re-enforces and perpetuates certain students sense of inequity.

Initiating “Plan B” is probably not intended to provoke a reaction among students  But before putting your videos online, get to know the access constraints facing your students. Remember, you (and I) are on the connected side of the digital divide. With our uncapped WiFi in our homes, our coffices with cappuccinos and contract cell phones with data plans, video seems like an obvious solution. Students with the combination of academic ability and “wealthy” parents will probably also be able to afford access to online course materials. But not all students are on the connected side of the digital divide. For capable students that come from homes where loans have been taken and income is already stretched, only putting lectures online in a video format will not necessarily assist, it simply creates another barrier to learning.

Data is expensive for the pay-as-you-go student.  Try it yourself. Buy a pre-paid data bundle and use it instead of your contract data or home Wi-Fi. See how much you’ve got left of your bundle the next day. Putting work online only benefits those that have the money to pay for access. Yes, there are many ways to connect. And students that have the ingenuity and gumption to make use of these different routes are to be commended. Lectures that want to reach out and use online to teach also deserve recognition. However, expecting stressed and cash strapped students to follow your Plan B may unintentionally reinforce the current inequalities that students experience daily, add another financial burden when they are cash strapped and further alienate them from the inclusive learning and teaching culture that academics intend to create.

Plan B, i.e. only putting resources on the web, without considering the costs that students have to bear, is not going to address the various issues that have been highlighted by the #feesmustfall movement. Creating a digitally inclusive learning environment requires that we go beyond simply using videos as a replacement for lectures.