Transitioning to online education in the Caribbean: The Open Campus, University of the West Indies

Woodall, Lora
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There is an increasing demand for tertiary education in several regions of the world (Kanwar & Daniel 2008), despite the often limited economic resources in developing countries. One method of meeting the demand is through distance education, specifically online education. For the purposes of this paper, the term online education will be defined as a means of instruction where contact between students, the instructor and the course material is mediated by the computer through the internet (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006). Courses can be blended (both online and face-to-face) or completely online. // Online courses are particularly important for educational provision in small states and regional universities who cater to a diverse student body in many different locations (Ezenne & Cook, 2002; Marshall, 2005). In the Caribbean, online education can provide education that is scalable, responsive to Caribbean needs, designed in collaboration with others and economical (Marshall, 2005). // The University of the West Indies (UWI) serves 16 developing countries in the Anglophone Caribbean and has been providing distance education since 1978 (Marrett & Harvey, 2001). The newest campus of UWI, the Open Campus was created to provide the non campus countries with increased access to education (Thurab-Nkosi & Marshall, 2006) by leveraging the opportunities offered by the Internet. // Transitioning to online delivery necessitates considerable changes in organizational structure, and technology use, but more importantly, it requires significant changes in teaching, in learning and in organizational culture. Several factors that have been identified as being important in educational change include a focus on teaching and learning (Stoll & Fink, 1996; Murphy & Hallinger, 1993), leadership (Anderson, 2006, Campbell & Fullan, 2006; Vogel & Muirhead, 2007) and organizational culture (Stoll, 2003). In addition, preparing a strategic plan for technology integration is essential for success (Vogel & Muirhead, 2007; Sife, Lwoga & Sanga, 2007). Levy (2003) and others (Bates, 2007; Haughey, 2007; Kuboni & Martin, 2004; Thurab-Nkosi & Marshall, 2006;) suggest that vision, curriculum, staff and student training and support, and copyright are all issues that must be addressed in successful transitions to online modes of delivery. // Stakeholder attitudes towards teaching and learning online can also severely impact the success of the transition (Kosak et al., 2000; Haughey, 2007; Hope, 2006). Davis (1989) measured attitudes based on the hypothesis that people will use technologies if they believe that it will help them to perform a task more effectively (perceived usefulness) or if they believe that the technology will be easy to use (perceived ease of use). Research on student attitudes generally shows that a more positive attitude towards online education results in an increased use of online education (Drennan, Kennedy & Pisarski, 2005; Liaw, Huang & Chen 2007; Panda & Mishra, 2007; Yuen, Allan & Ma, 2008). // Online education has the potential to increase access to tertiary education in developing countries, although the shift will require significant changes in organizational culture and methods of teaching and learning. This study examines how the Open Campus, University of the West Indies is coping with the some of the issues involved with transitioning from traditional means of distance education to the use of online courses

Formal Education,Online Learning,Open Schooling
Caribbean and Americas