Sunday, August 30, 2009

Role of Teachers in Distance Education

The Social Science Discussion Forum (SSDF) of the School of Social Science, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) organized a Panel Discussion on “Role of Teachers in Distance Education: Challenges and Prospects” on 26th August 2009. The Panelists were Prof. J.M. Parekh, Prof. P.R.Ramanujam, Prof. A.S. Narang, and Prof. Swaraj Basu. I attended the same and shared my observations and reflections on the presentations vis-à-vis the developments in the University. This is interesting to note that the topic of the discussion came out of the suggestion made by Prof. Basu to the Convener, Dr. Japgpal Singh on the basis of a University wide appeal sent by Dr. Ranjith of the School of Journalism and New Media Studies to discuss on the challenges before the University due to start of face-to-face classes. While all the Panelist and most of the speakers shared their views that the start of face-to-face is beyond the scope of IGNOU Act, I personally emphasized on the topic as I had written about dual-mode teaching at IGNOU previously in my blog, and the discussion was expected to be on role of teachers in distance education.

As a teacher of distance education as a discipline, I have always considered that teaching is teaching, irrespective of the mode, and urged the teaching community of the University not to consider themselves different as there has always been attempts to marginalize teachers as “academic managers”. The roles of teachers irrespective of the mode of teaching are: Curriculum design and development, Content presentation, Assessment of learner performance (continuous and term-end), Learner support, Research and publication (disciplinary and on learning technology), and Extension service and consultancy. So, it is only in the area of content presentation the method differs in distance education, as it uses media (print, audio, video, multimedia, web-based courses) to deliver teaching. These materials are designed with special care to facilitate learning, and are said to have the qualities of a teacher. In the face-to-face teaching, the teacher only delivers lectures and engage the class in various interactive methods. The other roles being same, there is on reason for always comparing distance education to face-to-face education system. Moreover, we do not compare oranges and apples!

The most important activity as such is preparation of learning materials. Interestingly, in order to quickly develop learning materials, the University adopted in the beginning a mode of taking help from teachers from the face-to-face colleges and universities to develop materials. Thus, without use of the term “Outsource”, it practiced outsourcing of the unit writing tasks. The teacher in the University writes only some units of a course that he/she teaches, and thus is labeled as “Course coordinator”. This is a serious issue, and teachers in the University need to assert themselves of their role as teachers, and develop courses without depending on external course writers. So, as we outsource unit writing, the University has taken it little further to outsource development of programmes to external agencies through MoUs and partnerships! This is marginalization of the teaching function, as there is a growing belief that courses and programmes can be developed elsewhere and can be delivered by an Institute/University without having faculty on its roll. In this connection, the role of Distance Education Council (DEC) needs to be re-looked. Interestingly the DEC is supposed to maintain quality and standards in the Distance Education System in the country; but it has failed to develop a credible system, and it is teachers of IGNOU who go in accreditation teams to different institutions in the country and approves them, without questioning the process adopted by the DEC.

There has been a serious degradation in professional ethics of teachers at IGNOU, as all the programmes and courses are approved by statutory bodies like the School Board, Academic Council, where there is sufficient representation of teachers. There is rarely any instance of dissent to any item in any of these statutory bodies. Thus, all the recent developments are proposed and approved by the teachers in the University. Once these items are approved, people talk about these issues outside in private (non-relevant platforms). It also seems that there is serious lack of integrity of teachers!

Many times, colleagues at IGNOU boast of their quality materials. It is time to have self-reflection. Who certified that our material is good? Even if, it is good, what is the “goodness of the good”? Are we aware of these? IGNOU is one kind of distance education system, and that can’t be a benchmark for others to follow. Most of the time, decisions are taken that are not in tune with distance education practices worldwide, making our system vulnerable to criticism and others looking at us as untouchables. If the recent developments in the University are not addressed seriously, there is every danger that the students of the distance education system shall be at a disadvantage!
I thank the convener of SSDF for organising a Panel discussion on such an important topic. The participation in the meeting was highly satisfactory as over 25 faculty members attended the same. Interestingly, non of the Directors of the 22 Schools of Studies of IGNOU attended the meeting!

1 comment:

Ignou said...

Yes i Totally Agree with you as its very important for students like us who are studying in Distance learning University.
This is good topic you raised and hope other distance learning university will red it and also implement it.