ONLINE STUDIES: AN ALTERNATIVE METHOD TO EXPAND HIGHER EDUCATION COVERAGE
In the province of El Oro, Ecuador, there is an increasing demand for higher level studies. What the Technical University of Machala (UTMACH) offers is unique in the province but it does not supply the needs of the Orense population. In this context, the aim of this research was to establish the relevance of the modality of Online Education as an alternative method with which to expand coverage of higher education in the province of El Oro.
To meet this general purpose, the following specific objectives were set:
1) Identify good practices of universities regarding the implementation of an online delivery mode for learning;
2) Determine the factors that favor the implementation of the online learning modality in the UTMACH.
A methodology with a mixed methods (MM) descriptive investigation approach was used. There were 400 junior high school students who participated in an initial interview to identify common elements regarding their appreciation of Online Education. In addition, a review of the literature was undertaken in order to identify characteristics of students enrolled in career development or Online Education programs. Based on the findings of the interview and the documentary research, an online survey was developed to determine:
1) Demographic data and availability of Technology (Internet and Computer);
2) Factors that affect the choice of the Online Education modality;
3) Technology skills and abilities.
The survey was validated by a panel of experts and a Cronbach’s Alpha of 0.821 was obtained. The online survey was applied to 1,240 students who made an application to the UTMACH during the period of May-September in 2017.
The enrollment quotas offered by the UTMACH do not cover the needs for higher education in conventional students. Among the main factors that affect the choice of online studies are the following:
1) labor obligation,
2) residence away from the UTMACH and
3) on grounds of disability or reduced mobility.
Generally, the potential students of the Online Education modality of the UTMACH have access to the appropriate technology (Internet and Computer). The majority of the potential students of the Online Education modality in the UTMACH possess technology skills (Word, mail, internet, digital file management).
a) The use of good practices in Online Education that have been implemented in prestigious universities (International University of La Rioja, Spain - UNIR, National University of Distance Education, Madrid, Spain - UNED, Open University of Catalonia, Spain - UoC, among others), favors the application of this modality of education at the UTMACH;
b) Establishing collaboration channels with universities that have demonstrated efficiency in the Online Education modality facilitates the implementation of Online Higher Education;
c) Access to Information and Communications Technology, which potential students of the UTMACH Online Education modality possess, favors the implementation of Online Education programs or preparation for a career;
d) The economics of the student population, its geographic diversity and physical limitations to mobilize are determining factors when considering Online University Education.
If these factors are not taken into consideration then this would imply provision of coverage to the conventional population group and exclusion of a wide range of students who have difficulties entering into face-to-face education.