"... if (human beings) had not become capable of valuation, of dedication to the point of sacrifice to the dream they fight for, of singing and praising the world, of admiring beauty, there would be no reason for talking about the impossibility of neutrality in education." (Paulo Freire, 1999:86)
I thought it was going to be easy to write about inclusion/exclusion, but it has turned out to be harder than I thought and it's turning out to be more of a sort of blog entry and the start of articulating my position in the study. One of the reasons it's difficult is that I find myself slipping between (neo-)Marxist metanarratives, particularly of hegemony (which come from my Development Studies background) and between post-modern discourse of local identities and contexts in ongoing construction. I find myself getting fuzzy when I focus on one at the expense of the other and have not yet managed to locate the words for the (dis-)connections and my space between the two. (Better re-read Giddens).
In the meantime I am inspired by a paper written by Nicki Hedge who writes in more general terms about what Sally and I were looking at specifically in our chapter on "Exclusion in international online learning communities" (Mavor & Trayner, 2002). In her article Hedge explores three discourses: distance education, globalization and inclusion. I am going to summarise some of Hedge's ideas here, as they help me to focus. (Until I hear from her it is not properly referenced as I am referring to an early draft she kindly sent me two years ago.)
Keywords:inclusion, exclusion, clusion, critical education and learning, cultural vigilance INCLUSION, EXCLUSION, 'CLUSION
A friend of mine, John Smith, said he had difficulty in thinking of inclusion/exclusion as he felt there were degrees of "inclusion" rather than one state of inclusion or exclusion. What he was saying contrasts with Wegeriff (2002) who observed that people seem to cross a threshold of exclusion to inclusion in an online community, inferring a point (in time) you cross from one state to the other. However, John's challenge remains with me as I increasingly come to see inclusion/exclusion as a non-linear process or trajectory rather than a fixed state, whether it is referring to an individual, an insitution or a country. But I also want to distinguish it from legitimate peripheral participation, LPP, (Lave and Wenger, 1991) in that 'clusion problemitises the engagement or not of participants in a community, whereas LPP doesn't.
In this conversation with John we were referring to inclusion/exclusion as an individual process, or something that is the responsibility of individuals (say facilitators or course designers or participants). But it doesn't stop (or start) there. Another layer of 'clusion is that of equitable practice (or not) on the part of educators and institutions. And then on an even broader lever 'clusion is also structural in the sense that it is partly dependent on your position in "the network" referred to by Castells. "Because networks shape in an uneven way societies, segments of society, social groups, and individuals, the most fundamental social distinction refers to the position in a given network." (1999:58) Community members, students, participants and designers, facilitators, educators, institutions are agents in a network that both structures and is structured by the agents who have unequal positions in this network.
As an example of these different layers of 'clusion in my context, on the outer level will be Portugal's 'clusion as a "semi-periphery" country (Sousa Santos, 1993) in terms of economic and social development, while on an inner level there will be 'clusion issues for individual Portuguese participants in particular online learning communities . TOP
SUMMARY OF AN ARTICLE BY NICKI HEDGE
In her paper "Global distance education: learning and inclusion?" Hedge explores three dimensions of higher education: distance education, globalization and inclusion. She posits it as a concern that "these three dimensions sit uncomfortably alongside each other on the changing landscape of higher education" and questions "if, indeed, inclusion has yet to find a location on that landscape at all" (p.2).
Hedge refers to the dialectic of different discourses in higher education and invites us to "join in the dance". She says that:
"The ultimate endeavour is to co-locate the three dimensions in a dance that both acknowledges and values the dialectic through an underlying choreography that will allow the development of inclusive global distance education premised on the values of social justice, empowerment and equity." (p. 3)
The discourse of distance education is often one of entrepreneurialism and borderlessness on the one hand or digital divide on the other. Education is also a contested concept of performance and learning; useful, commodified or disembodied knowledge. The debate about face-to-face v online is set in the context of debates on quality learning and teaching. At the same time Globalisation is another contested term and she suggests using Tomlinson's "complex connectivity thesis" to see globalisation as a complex connectivity full of paradoxes, dilemmas and challenges for globalised distance education. She questions the assumption that if the driver for development comes from technology then the digital divide between technologically enabled and information rich will grow, suggesting that this also raises questions of equity and access for all, including "developed" states. She does warn that if the driver is exclusively the commercialisation and commodification of university 'products' then people involved in distance education may lose site of the educational principles they should have at their core (p.13)
Hedge traces discussions on the concept of inclusion in education which have challenged notions of diversity (Booth & Ainscow, 1998) as benevolent humanitarianism to the current paradigm of inclusive education as human rights. As she says, the discourse of "rights" makes it a socio-political issue that goes beyond the integration of individuals and groups. She refers to Corbett and Slee (2000:134) who suggest that inclusive education requires us to become "cultural vigilantes". Hedge draws the parallel with the concept of inclusive education in a higher education system with widening access, which resonates strongly with the hugely increased numbers of students in Portuguese higher education and the discourse here. These increased numbers require increased vigilance if higher education is to be truly inclusive.
In conclusion Hedge reiterates her question of "how the apparently competing economically and educationally driven imperatives underlying global distance education might be reconciled" (p.17) and she highlights the tensions of these possibly competing discourses which may require new hybrid discourses in an attempt to "contest less and influence more" (p.19) She places the debate of distance education squarely in the larger debate on the nature of higher education in the 21st century and reminds us that, conceptually, the order is education first, distance second and technology third. TOP
Ronald Barnett, an authoritative writer of Higher Education in Britain, while not making any political calls describes something similar which he calls "social epistemology" (1997:5). He talks of social epistemology being a driver for construing and practising critical life in higher edcuation. A social epistemology acknowledges that knowledge is socially sustained and invested with interests and backed by power so we cannot leave our students thinking that knowledge structures are a given or that those knowledge structures are socially neutral. Barnett also reinforces that a social epistemology has a deeply personal character to it. It is achieved both through and by students and has transformatory or emancipatory potential (ibid.) As he says: "Truth-telling is not the antiseptic process that academics like to protray it as, but calls for commitment and existential involvement. There are not adjuncts to, but are necessary ingredients of, the critical life" (ibid.: 6)
On similar lines Ramón Flecha calls for what he calls a "communicative perspective" in critical and transformative education. He cautions that "these transformations cannot be imposed by a subject that considers itself in possession of the truth. The necessary changes must be defined through dialogue and consensus among all the parties involved. This search for consensus will involve participants with very unequal power positions." (1999:72) Flecha also makes an important clarification of the discourse of multiculturalism (ibid.:72-73) which complements what I was saying in intercultural communication about acknowledging the power dimension in "multicultural" and which is relevant to the discourse of internationalising online courses. First he makes these definitions: multiculturalism is a recognition that a number of cultures coexist in the same space; interculturalism is a form of intervention in this space which emphasises the relationship between the cultures; pluriculturalism is another form of intervention, which emphasizes the preservation of each culture's identity. Flecha suggests that where multicultural means "welcoming members of other cultures and helping them to acquire the dominant culture", this is an ethnocentric approach (ibid. 73). He criticises a relativist approach of trying to preserve the identity of each culture so that it cannot evolve (ibid. 73). And he proposes "the communicative approach" based on dialogue as a form of promoting relations between cultures and as a way of combating exclusions and inequality. He proposes that the objective of this approach "is to diminish exclusionary elements and increase egalitarian ones in relations between cultures, through dialogue. It therefore favors evolution and the rupture of cultural homogeneity, because all cultures, including the dominant one, are enriched by hybridization" (ibid. 75). He attributes this approach to Habermas (who I haven't read).
Regardless of intentions, my experience of international courses is that they tend to have underlying ethnocentric or relativist values rather than communicative ones. And if there is a social epistemology or a commitment to cultural vigilence, this is not always clear. So finding out how to design for communicative perspectives in a way that incorporates a social epistemology and cultural vigilence in international communities is the purpose of my research. I believe that we are at a critical time in history where it is more important that ever before promote an inclusive, critical and transformative learning and education for all through conversation and dialogue. TOP
BARNETT, R. (1997) Higher education: A Critical Business. Buckingham, SRHE and Open University Press
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WEGERIFF, R. (1998) The Social Dimension of Asynchronous Learning Networks in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Volume 2, Issue 1, last retrieved on 28th December, 2004: http://www.aln.org/alnweb/journal/jaln_vol2issue1.htm TOP