We have done some initial trials in 2 of our courses, accepting informal engagement by people simply interested in our course, and supporting their learning free of charge along with the formally enrolled and fee paying participants. In both these trials, all the informal participants completed the course and enrolled afterwards for RPL. They were free to leave the course at any time, or free to engage at any level. It just so happened that in these trials, the informal participants were actually the most engaged and most motivated in the course. Much more so than the fee paying participants. It would be fair to say that their motivation and engagement carried the course somewhat, where the lack of engagement or motivation on the part of the formally enrolled would have seen it drag considerably. So the informal and free participants actively contributed to the formally enrolled learning.

This approach is not a new idea in this blog, I talked about free learning/fee education early in 2006. It seems like some people in Otago Polytechnic are ready to extend this trial to courses outside our Educational Development Unit. A proposal is afoot to develop 3 midwifery courses into open access courses along the free learning, fee education model. I hope it is accepted, there’s a lot that could be done with open access learning to topics relating to midwifery and child birth.

Way back in 2005 I think it was, I presented a model for free learning and discounted if not free education to Western Sydney Institute of TAFE. It included giving a student a laptop and broadband connection.. I think this would be a great next step for the Open Access Midwifery šŸ™‚ here’s how it goes:

Application: Single mum makes herself known to Outreach coordinator as someone wanting to train at home while looking after her baby. A curriculum is negotiated and it is decided that she could complete competencies in word processing and Internet research, learning online from home. (replace wordprocessing and Internet research with what ever learning outcome you think appropriate).

Issued laptop and network connection: The student is issued a laptop complete with a range of open source software needed to complete her course. She is also given a broadband connection. The laptop and connection cost the Outreach center a total of $1000 per year. (Such a laptop is now available in the NZ market. It is the Asus Eee PC, available at Dicksmith for NZ$599. Good broadband costs $30 per month. Total of package = $929).

Learn online through the wikiCourses: The student has an option to attend face to face sessions to help her with digital literacies and familiarise herself with the devices she will need to use to complete the online course. A range of competency based courses are made available on a wiki, and maintained through International collaboration.

Course fees discounted: Each competency unit has an assignment that requires the student to develop a resource that teaches someone new to the subject how to obtain that same competency. The student keeps notes and loads each assignment to her web journal. When she has finished a targeted number of assignments she submits her web journal for assessment and recognition.

Resources published: The RPL process notes the assignments and any excellent examples are given to the course coordinator for consideration to include in the course wiki. If that student’s work is used in the course wiki credit is given in the form of attribution and a discount to the course fees that are totalled at the end of the course.

Gap Training: Any gaps in competencies are forwarded to the coordinator and the curriculum is renegotiated, encouraging the student to repeat or attend face to face sessions to fill any gaps and achieve the competency.

Collaboration pays the way: When the student has successfully completed all competencies she is ready for qualification. Before obtaining her qualification she must pay her fees, including the cost of the laptop and connection (which she will own).

The final amount owed is determined by: (course costs + laptop and connection) – (assignments used in the course wiki) – (willingness to serve as a mentor to the next student learning online).

For example:

(Course costs @ $1000 + laptop and connection @ $1000 = $2000)

– (4 assignments used $800) – (20hrs mentoring $400)

= $800 owed by student.

Student has bought, teaching services, a qualification and laptop for $800, which could be still further reduced with more resource production and mentoring.