Online learning as curricular justice? : A critical framework for higher education

  • Henk Eijkman

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis aims to contribute to the optimising of the educational engagement of low socio-economic and other historically underrepresented populations in undergraduate, web-based distance learning in higher education. It establishes, through theoretical and philosophical argument, the value of a participative justice approach to equity, a social constructionist epistemological framework for curricular praxis, and a relational conceptualisation of networked computing. The project to re-map the terrains of equity, curricular practice, and web-based distance learning in higher education emerges out of a realisation that current maps are restrictive, epistemologically flawed, and theoretically deficient, thereby inhibiting the educational engagement of disadvantaged students and obstructing systemically equitable outcomes. Without a new curricular map web-based distance learning is likely to maintain, if not exacerbate, distance education's historic record as having the highest levels of inequitable outcomes in higher education. In response, the thesis, taking a critical social constructionist stance, problematises current equity, curricular practice, and networked computing discourses in relation to culture, power, and politics. As a critical postmodernist counter-narrative, the thesis proposes paradigm shifts from an access to a participative approach to equity, from an individual to a social learning model for curricular practice in distance education, and from a technocratic to a relational conceptualisation of networked computing. Web-based distance education is positioned as a site of contestation where the need for equity is greatest and the implementation of a new model of curricular practice is most likely to succeed since web-based distance learning is still a newly emerging mode of study in which academics are themselves newcomers in search of effective curricular practices. This leads to the development of 'Critical Interdependent Acculturation' as a 'next generation' social constructionist curricular practice for web-based distance learning. Having established the capacity of networked computing to sustain such a curricular practice, this thesis offers academics a new conceptual architecture, 'Imaginative Designs for Equitable Achievement of Learning' (IDEAL) to optimise the educational engagement of all students in web-based distance learning in higher education, but especially for those least advantaged. Accordingly, the thesis invites academics to re-evaluate their approach to equity, their epistemic assumptions and to transform rather than transfer old paradigm curricular practices in networked distance learning. The remapping of equity in web-based curricular practices undertaken in this thesis represents a significant contribution to knowledge. The study, by taking a critical postmodernist approach to class, power and social relations, addresses significant research gaps in its theoretical analysis of disadvantaged students in distance education, especially its web-based mode, in which these students are most at risk of educational disengagement. The study targets the operation of social power at the micro-level of curricular practices in higher education and shifts the web-based learning debate from technological access to equitable engagement in its social practices. The reconfiguration of curricular practices to transform the operation of power in mainstream programs positions this study as a ground-breaking project, and by arguing for a systemic curricular response geared towards equitable educational engagement, it affirms that curricular focused research is a significant factor in achieving equity in web-based higher education, rather than being peripheral to it.
    Date of Award2003
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMargaret Kiley (Supervisor), Coralie Mccormack (Supervisor) & Marie Brennan (Supervisor)

    Cite this