Distance learning challenges

Teresa from Fantsuam reflects on the technological challenges of being a distance learning student.

It was an achievement for me to have scaled the hurdles of proficiency in English, tuition fees and academic qualifications to gain admission into the Masters Distance Learning programme at the University of Southampton, UK. But I had not reckoned on coping with the ICT challenge of keeping apace with my class and courses; a reliable internet connection was one of the requirements of getting on this course and I had been given assurances that our VSAT would be adequate for my needs.

During the first week of my enrollment for the MSc Geriatrics and Gerontology course, our VSAT signal went dead. The 'tecchies' spent hours on the phone with the London-based service provider to re-position and configure the VSAT. When the configuration finally succeeded, the grid went off for weeks and I had to rely on a diesel generator for my work. I can only dream of a broadband connection which is so readily available for most of my course mates, while I struggle and juggle between using the dongles provided by three different internet services providers, none of which can be relied upon  to access the immense, rich library, available online, at the University of Southampton. For example, one of my course assignments is to write a summary and critique of three journal articles. It has taken me two weeks to download these articles due to poor connectivity and unreliable grid. And now as I settle down to savour the contents of these precious journal articles, I have a niggling worry at the back of my mind: will there be internet access and sufficient grid power for me to submit my assignments once I have finished with them? I guess I should wait until I get to that bridge before worrying about it. But it will be nice to be able to submit my assignments on time just like everybody else in my class..............

Now I have a better appreciation of what it takes to have the weekly online meeting between Dadamac-UK and Fantsuam Foundation in Nigeria. This regular linkage is a prototype of how technology can aid communication and provide a vital channel to share information in a timely fashion. When the technology (internet and grid) is not optimal, it can affect the quality of the information and communication. I hope that as Dadamac helps to keep knowledge of these challenges on the global stage, its partners will also rise to the occasion to make internet access reliable and affordable. Now back to my MSc assignments........................................