So, What Happened in Kabul Today? Flexible Learning in Conflict and Social Justice Programs at the Australian National University

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2008-09
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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
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PCF5 Sub-theme: Governance and social justice // A major challenge for people working in areas of conflict and social justice in developing countries is finding high-level opportunities to engage in structured, critical reflection on their work, and to learn from their peers. This paper describes how open learning and flexible delivery in the Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development (MAAPD) at the Australian National University (ANU) is giving development workers in the field the chance for advanced study in a stimulating and peer-supported way that not only enriches their career functionality and long-term prospects, but also enhances their day-to-day activities. // For many interested in this conference theme, the focus will be on open learning as a tool to help victims of conflict and marginalisation. In contrast, our paper considers the opportunities for open, flexible learning to support those working with such groups. The MAAPD program offers a blended approach, combining the use of online learning platforms and streamed audio lectures with opportunities for short intensive anchor courses at ANU’s Canberra campus. Using the accounts of MAAPD students who have been studying off-campus at the same time as working in areas of conflict across the world, this paper examines the benefits of open learning to development workers, showing that it not only provides individual students with opportunities for structured and supported reflection as they apply theory to practice, but also allows them to incorporate into their work insights from their peers elsewhere with an immediacy that directly benefits the communities with which they are working. This concept is well known in a developed country context (Harasim 2000), but extending it to students working in developing countries introduces a new dimension, whereby the emphasis on social justice content that is central to the MAAPD is directly linked to the delivery mechanism. // We will describe how students can bring their day-to-day experiences of conflict and social justice issues in places such as Afghanistan, Colombia or East Timor to their ANU ‘class’, thoughtfully reflecting on the ‘real life’ case studies in which they are living in online workshops with their peers and in more formal assignments. These off-campus students can access ANU’s research community and fellow students in Canberra, ask about similar situations of conflict in other countries, and, in real time, consider the potential outcomes of different strategies to deal with that conflict. This paper thus advances the arguments of McClellan and Dominguez (2006) regarding the importance of social justice curricula in challenging the status quo, contending that delivery mechanisms are also important in bringing immediacy and relevance to learning experiences. However, the need for immediacy can itself be a drawback, with problems still to be overcome in matching the technology available in Canberra with capacity in the developing countries or remote areas of Australia where our off-campus students are based. // Paper ID 359

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Australia
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Pacific
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