Since 2003 the University West in Sweden offers distance courses in Social work and Social pedagogy. The three year program is given in collaboration with a number of local learning centers throughout the country. The technology of videoconferencing enables the teacher to interact with students even though they are separated geographically.
The study deals with this kind of education seen from the perspective of both students and teachers. The main objective is to illuminate significant aspects of this kind of phenomenon in terms of how students and teachers describe and experience problems and potential embedded in this model. The discussion rests on four overall questions:
1) What are the motives for students to choose this kind of education?
2) What kind of expectations did the students have before they started the program?
3) How do students experience/describe strengths and weaknesses connected to this model?
4) What experiences do the teacher's have working with this kind of distance education?
The empirical data has been collected using mainly group interviews and observations. The analysis rests heavily on theories concerning symbolic interactionism and socio-cultural learning. The study underlines that both students and teachers embrace the potential in this form of education, giving more groups the possibility of combining their studies with a sense of regional belonging. However the interviews and observations also reveal weaknesses with this kind of educational model. There is a risk that students at the local learning centers consider themselves as being excluded by teachers and other students at campus; and that the gap between the university and the local learning centers becomes too wide. To prevent this from happening communication and confirmation from the teacher is crucial. But eventhough this scrutiny identifies weaknesses within the technology of videoconferencing, technology alone does not determine the outcome of the teaching. If a teacher manages to show great engagement and structure, this functions as a mechanism weakening the barrierof technology. At the same time it is clear that the model of videoconferencing, from a teacher perspective, can be an obstacle, which emphasizes the importance of developing the technology further and how this technology is being handled by the teacher.
Finally, we consider the model with local learning centers and videoconferencing as a unique model for education, but that the model, when it comes to areas such as pedagogy, organization and technology, must be allowed to function and develop according to its own premises.
Trollhättan: Högskolan Väst , 2011. , 65 p.