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Two beneficial problems for UK higher education are student confinement and the usage of Information communication technologies. Recently, a number of claims have been registered about the cost reduction and proficiency brought in through the introduction of e-learning (Twigg, 2003); on the other hand, the belief on the part of students showed that ICTs would be a curricula for their learning experience (e.g Fielden, 2002). Meanwhile, the 'widening participation' held by the government has clarified the on-going higher education institution concern with the early departure of students, as compression to attract greater rates of students especially from 'non-traditional' context has grown (e.g Johnston, 2002). The online survey and interview taken by me in this thesis discusses about two grave issues, evaluating the claims that have been accomplished for the role of ICTs in aiding student custody or confinement in HE (higher education) and the exploration of the role of VLEs as to how they can support the participation of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the parameter of mixed mode courses in which they are supposed to attend lectures and e-learning materials are built to enhance face-to-face rule rather than replace it.
It has been apparent that Blackboard learning was one of the most broadly adopted VLEs in UK HE sector during the year 2000 and had been started in Kingston University. An assessment research project pondering upon its use to support students from different backgrounds to promote to and succeed in, higher education examined that it was utilized in a number of ways by tutors and students (Heaton-shrestha et al, 2005 and 2008; Edirisingha et al, 2005) which meant that they would have come across a variety of pedagogies and distinctly structured learning environments. Authors Linsey, Katsifli and Gipps (2005) believe that the way in which students used the VLE was created by subject matter and particular area and of course by the comfort of accessing the computers. Because of this, the research analysed the features of the VLE accustomed by all students which is a constant access to a variety of learning materials and guides, communications with a diverse network of students through discussion boards, blogs and emails and the essentiality of anonymity. This thesis explores the way a VLE can support processes and data known through institutional case study and wider research to augment the decision to withdraw. The main focus is on graduation students on courses that are being taught largely face-to-face on campus but were enhanced by VLE. The data collected from online survey of students have been analysed to present a rich interpretation of its causes lying beneath and the potency of its implications.
National Audit Office, 2007 found in England during a report of student confinement that there has to be a scope for enhancements in retention and that the vitality to address this will become growingly beneficial as widening participation fetches more students who are likely to need assistance; it also emphasizes a necessity to go beyond than simply answering learning deficits.
Perhaps the model developed had a great impact to calculate the early departure of students from the HE is that of author Tinto (1987) according to which, the reason behind the stay or withdrawal of a student largely depends on the fact that how much he or she has succeeded in becoming socially and academically involved into the institution. Forbes (2008) has adapted this by taking more into account of the necessities of part-time pupil and added external factors such as the requirement for paid employment. By doing so, this 'new confinement model' stresses the importance of peer interaction to support retention through both academic assimilation and social adjustment, and of exact and accurate information being given to prospective students before enrolment. This is approved by research at Kingston University which examined the main reported reasons for student withdrawal, particularly in the beginning of the semester, to be associated to unmet expectations and the inevitable pressure of finance (May and Bousted, 2003). Examples of good practice was identified by Thomas (2002) which included the arrangement of peer- assisted learning scenarios and targeted services for low class groups and likewise, research at Kingston university found that civil engagement and peer support were main factors for the 1st year students in their decisions to continue the courses (May and Bousted 2004; Hodgson) ICTs have been reportedly used to provide support and online guidance in the widening participation and confinement initiatives conducted by the North East Universities (Dodgson and Bolam 2002; May and Marks- Maran 2008). A very crucial contribution to student confinement was decided to be its significant role in enhancing social integration by proposing improved means of communication and interaction. Considerably, ICTs played an important role in improving student confinement by putting in effort for more flexible learning patterns, permitting students to scroll down through resources and services without the physical need to attend and to use them beyond traditional opening hours. Having said that, authors Dodgson and Bolam (2002, 3) commented that 'universities believe that progression in flexible learning will outcast the likelihood of student dropouts'.
On the other hand, empirical studies evaluating the role of ICTs in enhancing confinement rates in campus-based undergraduate courses have been primarily lacking. This brings in more regret since the mixture of flexibility with opportunities for social interaction in 'composite learning' (i.e merging face-to-face and electronic media) may lead us to anticipate higher retention rates on 'composite'- mode programmes.
Expansion of Flexible Learning
In her book 'University of Google' Tara Brabazon shares an insightful story of her work which started at 3am in the morning, followed by answering about 300 emails from students a day, stressfully converting her job from an academic to counsellor. The everyday life of a busy academic is written beautifully, emphasizing on the fact that while e-learning or technologies has made the life of students more flexible, and the life of teachers had been shuffling with general duties and academic work of 17 hours at a stretch. In some cases, they forget what their life is all about or they do not seem to get adequate time to sit and think for themselves. This thing especially holds true when I tried to probe about the situation in an interview with my previous module leader Jo Littler. She believes that "there is sometimes an idea that technology can replace teaching time, but in fact it requires as much or as more tutor time to use them in a manner useful for students". Yet Tara described her apparent exhaustion for working more hours to be 'few talk' about the contemporary university system. In another instance, i.e in October 2004, she was clearly occupied answering desperate questions of students waiting outside her office whole day but when she was about to leave, a young woman, drunk and upset, 'cutting' herself (more precisely her arm) with razor appeared from nowhere. Tara had to make her feel comfortable after two hours of consoling and calling her parents. But this story defines what she was meant to do in her university which demanded staffs to embrace 'flexible learning', which is represented to internet-mediated communication in lieu of the many possible media and conditions that this phrase could adapt. This is meant to be the specific 'flexibility' in her view. Students have the option to 'time-shift' and become 'consumers' in university system if they feel confused, detached or alienated. In her opinion, she states that "being a teacher she can relate to students as people who want to feel connected beyond the realms of 'ourselves' or single person, hopefully to an idea to provide meaning and context" . She reckons that 'flexibility' does not solve learner's problems as most of the time at least one from the whole ratio brings in heavy emotional baggage, challenging the classroom environment.
During university lectures and assignments, very rare cases of people having emotional challenges make tutors to evaluate the cause behind their depression and assist them to be academically on track. The role of teaching thus goes beyond the realms of normal classroom discussions. Making it seem and obliviously 'flexible'. Contradicting most of the above theories and discussions I presented in this thesis for supporting 'flexibility', Tara believes that it doesn't merely come in the context of technologies if they are meant to be ideological by nature, "then let the theorists look at the model for corporeal flexibility that requires no investment in technology; but builds on decades of Knowledge, practice and reflection". (Tara Brabazon, University of Google, P 71-75)