The term ‘distance education’ conjures up different images for
different persons depending on where in the world they are situated. For persons
in economically affluent societies distance education revolves primarily around
practices requiring use of “high” technology. Distance education
for such persons is usually synonymous to online, web-based learning and real
time (synchronous) learning activities with less reliance on delayed (asynchronous)
learning that is dependent on the printed text. In developing countries such
as the Caribbean, where this distance programme is situated, however, it is
mainly understood as delayed (asynchronous) learning and mixed modes of learning
facilitated through ‘low’ technology. This conception however is
not based on lack of knowledge of the benefits of ‘high’ technology
and its potential as a mechanism through which change can be accomplished in
the region, but by the reality that considerations of economic constraints as
well as cultural implications must serve as primary ‘drivers’ in
the conception of a distance programme if it is to be successful. As the instructional
designer/Programme Coordinator of an Undergraduate Diploma Programme in Gender
and Development Studies I was cognizant of this fact, especially in view of
the context, which required a shift from the traditional behavioural paradigm
that objectifies learners and reduces them to passive learners, to a feminist
approach that requires active learners.
In the remainder of his paper I will examine the context in which this Diploma
Programme in Gender and Development Studies evolved, the underlying frameworks
influencing its design, the choice of pedagogy and philosophy and the distinctiveness
of the Caribbean situation that accounts for the corresponding choice of technology.
Essentially my thesis is pedagogy must not be “derailed” at the
expense of promoting “high” technology. In designing this distance
programme, therefore, consideration for the cultural context of the participants
and desirable pedagogy took precedence over choice of technology used. Consideration
therefore became how best to find appropriate “low” technology that
could adequately do the job. The paper concludes with insights into future implications
for the target group and the programme design.
THE CARIBBEAN CONTEXT – FRAMEWORKS FOR THE DISTANCE PROGRAMME:
Issues of unequal power have long been a deterrent to national development
in Caribbean societies. With the conclusion of the Bejing Platform for Action
in which governments were called upon to challenge their existing social structures
and to create opportunities for women, and the subsequent Millennium Development
goals in 2000, many governments in the region have now committed to promoting
gender equality. This commitment however requires individuals with not only
understandings of gender issues but skills to challenge existing structures
of inequality, particularly those based on gender and to create opportunities
for promoting gender equality. In response to this need the Centre for Gender
and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Unit (CGDSRCU) at the Mona Campus
of the University of the West Indies (UWI), in 2003, introduced the 18-month
distance Undergraduate Diploma Programme in Gender and Development Studies.
The programme was intended to equip individuals with the understandings and
skills to challenge existing structures of inequality, particularly those based
on gender, and to create opportunities for promoting gender equality. The programme
aimed to develop a cadre of persons in the Caribbean who would both acquire
the skills of gender analysis and be willing to challenge existing social structures
and promote change in their respective societies. These understandings and skills
are of particular relevance at this time to personnel charged with the responsibility
of carrying forward governments’ mandate for change.
The rationale for this distance programme was structured primarily around three
frameworks. One framework emerged from the mission and objectives of the CGDSRCU,
which articulate a commitment to a programme of teaching, research and outreach
in which gender and other related factors are used as tools of analysis in the
generation and reconstruction of knowledge, which acts as a catalyst for change.
The second framework emerged from issues raised in the Bejing Platform for Action.
These had been identified as critical issues in the region and served as stimulus
for the initial conceptualization of the programme. This was a precursor to
the Millennium Development Goals of which goal three, “the empowerment
of women”, now drives the programme. The third and final framework emerged
from the strategic goals of UWI to expand access to students in the Caribbean
region through distance learning to achieve qualitative transformation. To promote
the type of change envisioned, modern technology is viewed by UWI as a major
force for not only triggering change but as a mechanism though which change
can be accomplished (Leo-Rhynie, 2006).
The CGDSRCU responded to this challenge through development of a distance mode
prgramme. The intention was to expand the reach of the CGDS’ teaching
programmes to groups geographically distanced from the three main teaching campuses
of the University, and therefore to target individuals in the twelve non-campus
countries. All three frameworks came together to influence the design of the
distance Undergraduate Programme in Gender and Development Studies. However,
while the need for modern technology for the 21st century features prominently
in the UWI vision for expansion and access to students, the current facilities
of UWI and the context of the target group for this distance programme did not
make it feasible to use ‘high’ technology. The benefit of “high”
technology, though a valuable tool, was not considered the best way to proceed
then to meet the particular needs of this target group.
DESIGNING THE PROGRAMME – INTEGRATING IMPORTANT FEATURES OF THE
Conceptualization of this programme design required careful examination of
the aims of the programme and its compatibility with the course content, the
implications of pedagogy for teaching Gender Studies as a discipline and the
underlying philosophy required to ‘drive’ the programme. These considerations
consequently placed the target group and their cultural context at the nucleus
of the curriculum design process. .
The Target Group - Distinctiveness of the Caribbean Reality
In any successful curriculum design the target group becomes the most important
consideration for the instructional designer. For this curriculum design it
was particularly important because of the distinctiveness of the Caribbean situation.
For a number of persons in the Caribbean, computer technology is not always
readily available. In view of this limited educational resource, and challenges
faced by potential clients to access education due to geographical constraints,
the UWI had established Centres in strategically located sections in the 14
English-speaking Caribbean countries which it services. While the quality resources
of the centres may differ, essentially each Centre is staffed to provide both
academic and technology support for students. Services provided include distribution
of printed materials to students for distance learning programmes, studios for
teleconference classes, computer labs, and classrooms for tutoring and/or face-to-face
It’s within this framework, mediated by the specific characteristics
of participants, that the decision for the type of technology to be used was
Participants targeted for this programme were adult women and men working in
non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Women’s Bureaux, community and
international development agencies, social service agencies and national planning
institutions. While there have been a few exceptions, this target group usually
consisted of persons in their 40s. With this age group, implications for the
type of technology used in the programme became a critical issue. Participants
were intimidated by computer technology. Access to personal computers was limited,
and consequently any reliance on this technology would mean mainly using the
limited facilities of the computer lab at the UWI local centres, or use of computers
in the work place if available. In some cases computers were available in workplaces
but there was no Internet access. Participants also entered with different academic
qualifications ranging from low level matriculation to persons with masters
degrees. Consideration for the design of the programme was further complicated
because participants’ initial orientation to learning had made them highly
dependent on the teacher. This held implications for achievement of the programme
aims through the application of “feminist pedagogy”.
Aims of the Programme
Given the diversity of participants in the programme, and inadequate “high”
technology to facilitate distance learning, very creative planning was needed
to find the best mix between pedagogy and available technology that could achieve
the following aims of the programme:
- To develop an awareness of how gender shapes personal consciousness and
interpersonal relationships and determines the social, political, and economic
inequalities between men and women in Caribbean society; and
- To develop the ability to use gender as a tool of analysis in the development
of projects, programmes and policies, and so make them more responsive to
the specific needs of women and men.
The first aim was facilitated through print mode in the form of course manuals
distributed to students through their local Centres. The second, although not
explicitly stated is to develop the participants as “change agents”,
given the course content and the programme rationale. However, given the constraints
already mentioned, this posed some challenges.
The cluster of eight courses in the programme was included primarily to address
a range of critical gender issues pertinent to the Caribbean region, including
issues of economics and development, education, health, religion and the law.
In addition to these critical issues two courses, one on feminist theory and
another on research methods, were included to provide learners with a theoretical
and practical base for conducting gender analyses. Theory is viewed as an essential
element in the programme. According to bell hooks (2000, p.6) “Everything
we do in life is rooted in theory. Whether we consciously explore the reasons
we have a particular perspective or take a particular action there is also an
underlying system shaping thought and practice”. Both theory and research
served to form the integrative thread for the other courses in the programme
and therefore influenced the sequence of the eight courses. Both were also essential
for the Research Project.
Figure 1: Courses
Nature of Gender Studies as a Discipline
Ideally, the location of Gender Studies within feminist academic enterprise
required use of “feminist pedagogy”. In this programme “feminist
pedagogy” was taken to mean teaching practices that removed structures
of domination [dictators within the classroom], promoted student accountability,
and aided self actualization and life-long learning. The term “feminist
pedagogy” however, is not clearly defined in the literature. One may even
argue that there is no such approach. However, since the imperatives that propel
Gender Studies require interrogation of knowledge, a constructivist theory of
learning was selected as the most suitable working definition for the programme
design. Constructivism, a contrasting view to the objectivist/behaviorist model,
and more in keeping with feminist views of knowledge, saw knowledge as being
constructed rather than received.
Achieving “feminist pedagogy” would require moving from a teacher-centred
to a learner-centred learning environment. This would not be an easy achievement
given the target group’s orientation to learning which was rooted in an
objectivist model where teaching is highly structured, systematic and teacher
directed, relegating learners to passive receptacles of knowledge. The challenge
in using this pedagogy therefore was how best to successfully implement it given
the constraints inherent in the target group’s years of orientation to
learning that made them highly dependent on the teacher. This was further exacerbated
because in addition to their learning orientation, distance learning was new
to the target group. For the distance learner who lacks autonomy and self-directiveness,
isolation, the enemy of the distance learner, can become a serious problem,
resulting in student drop-out from the programme. The challenge, therefore,
was to negotiate the critical space between student support from the instructor
to prevent student isolation, and development of autonomy on the part of the
Philosophical Underpinnings of the Programme
A common phenomenon of curricula practice is the tendency for each curriculum
to take on the individual philosophy of its users, primarily the instructors
providing instruction. This phenomenon in teaching can lead to the derailment
of the overall goals of a programme if individual instructors hold contrary
and divergent philosophies. Being cognizant of this I deliberately sought to
avoid this by including instructors on a regular basis in dialogue that articulated
the philosophy of the programme and encouraged discussion on how best to achieve
this philosophy in individual courses. This turned out to be an important feature
of this programme as it kept instructors focused on both the process and the
The underlying philosophy of this programme was grounded in assumptions of
the adult learner, as postulated by Malcolm Knowles, and in the principles advocated
for adult learning. Consequently, the learning environment created for adult
learners in this programme sought to accommodate the unique characteristics
of the adult learner (Knowles, 1984). These assumptions encouraged a shift from
the subject-centred, most familiar to the participants, to a problem-centered
approach, making the programme learner-centred in focus. Thus learning in the
programme goes beyond acquiring information and critical and analytical skills
but more importantly to developing the type of understanding that empowers the
learner to challenge existing social inequalities and promote change based on
Having decided on the important features in the design of the programme the
next challenge was to find the best combination of available technology to engender
development needs in the implementation of the programme.
ENGENDERING DEVELOPMENT NEEDS - THE ROLE OF PEDAGOGY AND TECHNOLOGY
IN THE PROGRAMME
Development is broadly understood as a multi-faceted process with economic,
social, cultural and political dimensions (Girvan, 1986) and has been further
elaborated in recent years to focus on the human being as both agent and beneficiary
of the process (Sen, 2000). It was clear, then, that engendering development
needs in the Caribbean would require individuals who are prepared to challenge
existing practices as well as persons willing to act as change agents. The test
of this programme therefore, through its aims, underlying philosophy of learning,
and pedagogy/andragogy, was to produce individuals with the knowledge and skills
to apply gender as a tool of analysis to promote change in their respective
societies. Encouraging passive learners would not achieve the aims and overall
goal of the programme and the “pure” form of constructivism was
not the answer at this time either. I opted, therefore, to take the middle ground
since no one metaphor of learning was sufficient to explain how all learning
takes place; both could prove useful for addressing instructional problems.
While this paper cannot adequately address this strategy I will simply point
out that the decision was to use activities that remove the teacher-centred
element and give learners more control over their learning. So although instructional
materials [course manuals] were framed within a behavioral framework, learners
were given activities that required them to develop skills as autonomous learners.
In keeping with the philosophical considerations, as well as concerns related
to distance learning, implementation began with a formal "needs assessment"
of the adults, which measured their comfort level with, and competency in, the
field of gender studies as well as with the use of technology. This assessment
provided facilitators with guidelines for implementing a learner-centred programme.
The objective was to create a learning environment which would challenge students
who already had a formal understanding of the area of Gender Studies, as well
as create for those who needed it, a climate conducive to developing the requisite
initial understandings and skills. Learners were subsequently provided with
opportunities [through learning activities and individual feedback] that coincided
with their individual situations and levels of competency.
In view of the pedagogical/andragogical considerations what then would be the
appropriate role of technology? If it is not carefully framed by pedagogical/andragogical
strategies, technology could end up replicating the very institutional hierarchies
of power and access critiqued by feminists. Use of an acquisition metaphor would
only emphasize learning specific content as opposed to the participation metaphor
where emphasis would be on learning how to learn. The following technologies
were therefore combined to achieve a blended learning approach to promote a
Role of Technology
In an attempt to achieve a Blended Learning approach the programme
utilized available technologies to provide both synchronous and asynchronous
modes of instruction to Caribbean learners in the virtual classroom. The primary
modes of course delivery remained print, and teleconferencing (audio) that allow
for student and facilitator discussions.
Technology was utilized in two ways: (i) to facilitate the art of teaching
adult learners (andragogy) and (ii) to maintain ongoing communication between
students and facilitators as well as among students. In the second case, the
objective is to provide student support and promote a community of learners
that would eliminate isolation of learners. The tools used most frequently were
e-mail and chat rooms and when required, telephone conversations. The underlying
intention was to introduce available electronic technology incrementally to
meet the needs of learners and allow for participatory methodologies that best
exemplify feminist approaches in learning.
In addition to the technology, face-to-face (f2f) interaction took place once
during an academic year at which time the programme coordinator, accompanied
by an instructor visited students in their local Centre to engage in course
specific interactions involving group and individual activities. The f2f and
the audio mode of instruction continue to be the most preferred modes of instruction
for the target group.
Course assessment involved a variety of methods that supported the underlying
philosophy of the programm. Assessment strategies such as journal writing, discussions,
and problem based essays required use of interviews and other techniques to
gather data to incorporate in written essays or oral discussions. These offered
better opportunities for meaningful learning and accountability for adult learners.
In addition, these approaches allowed participants to build on their work experiences,
use data from their local contexts and allow for individualised learning. There
was no written examination.
For completion of the 18-month programme students were also required to do
a small research project. This allowed learners to focus on a topic related
to gender studies that is of interest to them, and to apply skills as a “change
This distance programme continues its cyclical process. Consequently ongoing
evaluation and needs assessment of participants serve as important elements
in its renewal each academic year. Key findings in terms of the challenges experienced,
best practices, and lessons learned are listed below:
A major challenge for this programme has been implementing a “feminist
pedagogy” because of the constraints of technology that did not allow
for adequate “discussion” sessions outside of teleconference classes
and independent of an instructor. It was also challenging to achieve a learner-centred
environment because of students’ former orientation to learning that promoted
the “Banking Concept” of education (Freire, 1970).
Some of the best practices that lead to successful learning include the following:
- Use of a Programme Coordinator committed to the overall goals of the programme
and who functions as a curriculum leader has provided overall focus and structure
for the programme. This has proven to be the single most important feature
contributing to the continuation of this programme.
- Engaging in ongoing reflective practice by learners, facilitators and the
programme coordinator for the purpose of personal development and programme
Invaluable Lessons Learned
- Development of a learning environment that inspires trust, encourages dialogue,
and reduces student isolation is critical for moving participants from a teacher-centred
to a learner-centred mode of learning.
- To facilitate a learner-centred environment a strategy of student support
was devised by using structures such as rubrics, study guides, and timelines
to develop independence and accountability as adult learners.
- The role of individual tutoring to address diagnosed student academic needs
became an important strategy which provided students with skills to make them
independent learners, and this in an environment with wide- ranging of academic
- The oral tradition of the Caribbean people should not be discounted. Its
value in this programme could not have been better served by any substitution
of a “high” technology.
- Understanding of ones target group is invaluable in deciding on the technology
to be used and how to introduce that technology. An incremental approach to
introducing technology to this target group proved extremely valuable
Glimpse into the Future
- The programme was not initially designed for online delivery/high technology.
The way of the future does, however, indicate the feasibility of using an
open source course management system such as MOODLE to facilitate this programme.
Any decision for future change however, will always place the target group
as the nucleus of the design, “feminist pedagogy” as the “driving
force”, with technology simply as the vehicle for the achievement of
the programme goals.
bell hooks (2000) Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics.
Canada: South End Press.
Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Girvan, Norman (1991). “Notes on the Meaning and Significance of Development.”
In Mohammed and Shepherd (eds.) Gender in Caribbean Development. Jamaica:
Canoe Press UWI. pp 13- 22
Knowles, M. (1984).The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.).
Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.
Leo-Rhynie, E. (2006) Old questions – New answers. Mimeograph
Address at the UWI, Mona Campus, Lodge and Conference Centre on Friday, February
Sen, A. (2000) Development as freedom. New York: First Anchor Books