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Paul Prinsloo
University of South Africa (Unisa)
@14prinsp
World Conference on Online Learning:
Teaching in a Digital Age Toronto, Canada
Tuesday 17 October 2017
Expanding (digital) access, openness and
flexibility: Contradictions, complicity, costs and
contestations
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/path-end-opening-2074522/
https://pixabay.com/p-1290667/?no_redirect
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
How do we understand the potential and perils of online
learning in the context of the hype that online learning is, per
se, better, more equitable and the solution for the
“brokenness” of education and society?
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/aero-plane-damage-airplane-aircraft-2629015/
How do we understand the potential and perils of online
learning in the context of the hype that online learning is,
per se, better, more equitable and the solution for the
“brokenness” of education and society?
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/airplane-wreck-wreckage-damaged-1030855/
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
2011
Source credit: http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/08/28/the-digital-revolution-and-higher-education/
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Source credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/friedman-revolution-hits-the-universities.html
2013
“Nothing has more potential to lift more
people out of poverty — by providing them an
affordable education to get a job or improve in
the job they have. Nothing has more potential
to unlock a billion more brains to solve the
world’s biggest problems.”
Image credit: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13587160-to-save-everything-click-here
Morozov, E. (2013). To save
everything, click here: The
folly of technological
solutionism. Public Affairs
“We must not fixate on what this new
arsenal of digital technologies allows us to
do without first inquiring what is worth
doing.”
Image credit: http://www.sprayedout.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/slow-down.jpg
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/
The tree of ‘onlife’
Online learning is “a knot of social, political,
economic and cultural agendas that is riddled with
complications, contradictions and conflicts”
(Selwyn, 2014, p. 6)
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: http://d20innovation.d20blogs.org/page/2/
The tree of ‘onlife’ is in a walled garden where access
depends on your geopolitical location, your gender,
culture, capital*, data providers, infrastructure,
regulatory frameworks and politics
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: http://www.citylab.com/housing/2016/06/apartheids-urban-legacy-in-striking-aerial-photographs-south-africa-cities-
architecture-racism/487808/
What happens when we consider digital
access through the lens of intergenerational
and structural inequality?
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: http://d20innovation.d20blogs.org/page/2/
• More than 60% of the world is still offline (World Bank,
2016). Though access is increasing, access is embedded
and often perpetuates structural inequalities based on
gender, race, class/cultural formations
• 4 billion people do not have internet access, nearly 2
billion do not use a mobile phone, and almost half a
billion live outside of areas with a mobile signal (World
Bank, 2016)
• Some of the benefits of online learning are offset by
emerging risks – polarized labor markets, rising
inequality, replacing many workers, and increasing the
precariousness of many others
What happens when we consider digital access as
participating in and possibly even perpetuating
inequality?
See Watters, A. (2016, December 21). Education technologies’ inequalities. [Web log post]. Retrieved from
http://hackeducation.com/2016/12/21/top-ed-tech-trends-inequality
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/lot-pendulum-sneaker-bridge-old-357376/
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: http://d20innovation.d20blogs.org/page/2/
“Redlining was a term coined in the 1960s to describe the
practice of denying or charging more for service to
persons in certain communities—usually Black, inner-city
neighborhoods—no matter how qualified the individual.
The term originated since banks—then the most infamous
perpetrators—would draw a red line on a map to
delineate the areas they would not serve” (Prince, 2015)
Digital redlining – Digital apartheid
See Zenitha Prince (2015) http://www.afro.com/is-digital-redlining-causing-internet-
caste-system/
The podcast by Chris Gilliard (2016) - http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/digital-
redlining-privacy/
Chris Gilliard (2016, May 26). Digital redlining, access, and privacy. Retrieved from
https://www.commonsense.org/education/privacy/blog/digital-redlining-access-privacy
“Digital justice isn't only
about who has access
but also about what
kind of access they have,
how it’s regulated, and
how good it is”
(Chris Gilliard, 2016)
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: http://d20innovation.d20blogs.org/page/2/
The new Jim Crow. Mass
incarceration in the age of
colorblindness – Michelle
Alexander (2012)
A digital Jim Crow. Exclusion in a networked and
networking society…
Source credit: https://www.amazon.com/New-Jim-Crow-
Incarceration-Colorblindness/dp/1595586431
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
And once inside, we become the product
and become digital serfs to the Not-So-
Gentle-Giants
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/fence-freedom-prison-hands-fingers-2163951/
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/fence-freedom-prison-hands-fingers-2163951/
1 August 2016
Source credit: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/01/facebook-free-basics-internet-africa-mark-
zuckerberg
Digital colonialism?
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/fence-freedom-prison-hands-fingers-2163951/Source credit: https://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-apple-facebook-microsoft-
and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: http://d20innovation.d20blogs.org/page/2/
Referring to an essay by Douglas Rushkoff http://www.rushkoff.com/you-are-not-facebooks-customer/
Joshua A T Fairfield (2017). Owned. https://www.amazon.com/Owned-Property-Privacy-Digital-
Serfdom/dp/1316612201
How do we understand/scope
‘inequality’?
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/person-male-man-portrait-shadow-828630/
Three types of inequality
• Vital inequality: Life expectancy and chances of
survival directly correlates to my socio-economic
class or geopolitical (dis)location
• Existential inequality: Certain categories of
people are more vulnerable than others –
women, blacks, LGBTQI, immigrants and refugees
• Material inequality: Individuals and communities
have differentiated access to resources
Therborn, G. (2012). The killing fields of inequality. International
Journal of Health Services, 42(4), 579-589.
Four mechanisms of inequality
• Distantiation: Individuals/communities fall behind
through (un)intentional (in)action
• Exclusion: Access and inclusion depends on a
variety of criteria, and where not everyone is
included, but everyone is affected (Castells, 2009)
• Hierarchization: Hierarchies arise and are
maintained
• Exploitation: Individuals and communities are
exploited, often under the pretense of ‘free’
Therborn, G. (2012). The killing fields of inequality. International
Journal of Health Services, 42(4), 579-589.
The “killing fields of inequality” (Therborn, 2012)
The inter-generational legacy of distantiation/exclusion/ hierarchization/
exploitation
The current political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal
structuration of society
Going digital –
to save everything ‘click here’
Distantiation Exclusion Hierarchization Exploitation
Vital inequality Existential
inequality
Material inequality
Access Cost
Quality
Ethics
Social justice
See: Daniel, J., Kanwar, A., & Uvalić-Trumbić, S. (2010). Breaking higher education’s iron triangle: access, cost, and quality. Change:
The Magazine of Higher Learning, 41(2), 30—35. DOI: 10.3200/CHNG.41.2.30-35.
Access Cost
Quality
Ethics
Institutional
access: providers
Student (no*)
access
Cost of access:
Institution
Cost of (no*)
access: Students
How do we define
quality through the
lens of addressing
inequality? Who
defines quality?
Social justice
How do we balance
access with cost
without
compromising
quality* or act
unethically?
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/lost-places-rooms-leave-pforphoto-2380319/
Online learning is, for many, not the great
equalizer, and may never be…
Some pointers for a way forward
1. Understand the scope and mechanisms of inequality when
considering claims re the potential of online learning
2. Online learning is not an unqualified good – despite our best
intentions
3. Prepare students for ‘onlife’ – the need for critical capabilities
and agency
4. Deepen our considerations about access, cost and quality in
the light of the “killing fields of inequality” (Therborn, 2012)
5. Consider the cost of free, open and flexible
6. But also the cost of not exploring openness, opening and
flexibility
Imagecredit:https://pixabay.com/en/south-africa-flag-national-flag-1184103/
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/design-city-man-abstract-art-2326066/
What does online learning as
revolutionary, humanising, open and
flexible praxis look like?
(In)conclusion
Thank you
Paul Prinsloo
Research Professor in Open Distance Learning (ODL)
College of Economic and Management Sciences,
Office number 3-15, Club 1, Hazelwood, P O Box 392
Unisa, 0003, Republic of South Africa
T: +27 (0) 12 433 4719 (office)
prinsp@unisa.ac.za
Skype: paul.prinsloo59
Personal blog: http://opendistanceteachingandlearning.wordpress.com
Twitter profile: @14prinsp
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/dark-light-neon-neon-sign-open-1836961/

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