I was the TUU Education Officer for 2006, and this document was written near the end of that year. This present document was originally intended as an internal TUU document, to provide advice to future TUU officers (particularly the Education Officer). Another document regarding a proposed CD-ROM is mentioned below, I regret that I am unable to locate a copy of this document.
I am the outgoing TUU Education Officer, and as I have been a distance student (on the NW coast) this semester I have experience as to the difficulties faced by both distance students and Cradle Coast (hence forth CC) students. For the previous two and half years of my degree I was a internal student in Hobart.
Below I have outlined a number of suggestions as to what could be made better for distance students and CC students, many of which, if implemented, that could potentially affect the whole of the student population. I have also included things that I have done this year that I feel should be continued to be updated and kept going.
In brief, the proposals include a change to the library system, commentary on Internet, access to software and the cost of education for distance students, commentary regarding Student Services and access to same and a proposal for a Free Software CD for students.
The main difficulty for distance and CC students regards access to resources, the library in the NW is minimal with all the books being reference books. So, as with distance students, the main access to library resources is via the Internet. While the Library website is quite good and the catalogue service is well presented, two possible improvements could be made.
For on campus (in Launceston and Hobart) students, browsing the book shelves can be a useful way of gathering material relevant to a particular subject. For students who do not have access to these materials, such methods do not work. (I particularly noticed this, when I was able to be in Hobart for a week this semester, I was able to find a number of books that were not readily apparent from the catalogue.) So, one possible improvement that could make the library experience easier for those students who do not have access to the main libraries (and for those who do as well) is for the library catalogue to suggest other books similar to ones that have been selected. It could do this in two ways, based on the call number and closeness of call number, and based on the subject field of the book's index. In this way books that have a number of similar subjects could be suggested.
This leads obviously to the next suggestion. Library staff could suggest such books while dealing with hold requests. If a request comes through for a book, for example: The Philosophy of Science - Science and Objectivity by George Couvalis, call number: Cent Q 175 .C74 1997, both the library stuff and the catalogue could suggest: What is this thing called Science by A.F. Chalmers, call number: Cent Q 175 .C446 1999. Both books are on the topic of the philosophy of science. Library staff could suggest such books and even include with the original hold request if the books are going to the CC campus.
Another problem, specifically for distance students this time, is access to computers, software and the Internet. The University has arrangements with a number of Online Access Centres and State Libraries to provide UniAccess a method of allowing students access to computers, all the software needed and the Internet. However, for some students (such as myself) this is not really relevant. I live out of town with out a vehicle licence, and so can not access such resources without relying on others. However, I do have access to both the Internet and software needed. However, two things the software is not Windows based, I run an operating system called GNU/Linux and thus do not have access to MS Word, and I only have access to dial up Internet. This first is not a problem, as I have OpenOffice.org which opens most MS Word (and other MS Office format documents) without a problem. Only having dial up Internet (broadband is only available through satellite, which is prohibitively expensive) means that access to audio files with lectures and some lecture material is hard (and very slow) and that WebCT Vista (which has plenty of other problems) is also quite slow.
Access to software can be rectified by providing students with a copy of the CD ROM outlined in another document (which I have left in the pigeon hole in Hobart, and on the computer system at the TUU), (possibly along with other non Free Software, preferably on a separate CD). The University could mass produce this CD and provide it free of charge to both distance and internal students (I originally envisioned it as being provided by the TUU, but hey, let the Uni pay).
To help potentially alleviate the problem with Internet and alleviate an inequity in the system. The cost for students doing a semester of only distance subjects (HECS) could be reduce by an amount ($50-$100 be the suggested amount for Arts subjects). This would recognise two things. One distance students do not have access to the full range of resources and staff available to internal students, such as face to face with lecturers, tutorials, lectures the ability to easily communicate with other students, as well as the issues outlined both above (with regards to Library resources) and below (Student Services). The second issue is that often distance students have to travel some way to access a University campus (myself it is 50 minutes by car), reducing the cost of subjects for distance students would allow that money to be used on accessing a campus.
The University provides a number of services through Student Services and other parts of the University. Many students require such services, but do not know that the University offers them. Some of these services could be offered online and if all ready online could be more readily promoted. More effective promotion of such services would be advantages. Such schemes as the books available for borrowing from Student Services could be integrated into the Library system to enable students to order them online and have them delivered to distance students.
Job information is one such service that could be, at least partly, put online. However, some services, such as counselling, are not readily converted to an electronic format. For CC students, such services may be offered at the CC campus at least some of the time.
I have outlined (in another document that Marian has and I will try and provide to Gus) the basis for a CD ROM that included a variety of software. This software would be Free Software (free in the freedom sense, rather then in price) for preference. This would be very useful for students, both distance (especially when lecturers send things in MS Word Document Format) and internal. It would save the cost of purchasing software (such as MS Office) and provide compatibility with commonly used document formats (such as MS Office).
As I mentioned above, I would prefer it to be provided free of charge to all students, however, for internal students a nominal charge (such as $1) could be charged to help cover costs.