Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

(In)Equality of Access vs Outcomes: How We Measure What We Value


Reading Time: 3 minutes

this post is my initial response to Bonnie Stewart’s post encoruaging folks to contribute pre-#dlrn15 to a panel at #dlrn15. Her question is:

What effects do you see digital networks having on inequalities in higher ed? What sociocultural implications do networked practices hold for institutional practices? What are universities’ responsibilities to students who live and learn in hybrid online/offline contexts?

And of course the short answer is that digital networks in some instances subvert and other instances reproduce inequalities in…everything, but we’re talking higher ed right now.
Laura Czerniewicz recently gave a keynote at #altc (and we had a virtually connecting session with Catherine Cronin onsite and people like George Station and asimon Ensor virtually) in which she said we need to differentiate between access and outcomes. Even though we need to tackle inequalities of access, we should not assume that giving access is enough. We are in different contexts, and access does not determine outcomes. 

Access vs Outcomes

It’s like giving a computer and internet access to someone who can’t read English. Sure, they will get some access, but their outcomes will differ from the perspn with similar circumstances who can read English.

It’s like giving the same position to a man and a woman, and expecting them both to perform equally, even though the woman is of reproductive age and has to decide before a certain age whether she can (or is willing to) juggle pregnancy/motherhood (and how many times) and still maintain her career path.

It’s like assuming OERs and open access level the playing field, when what they really do is simplify some aspects of the field for some people, while widening the gap for others who e.g. Cannot afford to publish open access.

I was thinking recently of the freedom we get when we do things like publish for free. The liberty of not having to follow someone,s standards or restrictions on what you can write. But then, not everyone can afford that liberty. Some cannot afford to write for free because they ned to write for money to pay their  bills. And some cannot afford to write freely for fear of persecution, and that is a real and present threat or danger to many in the world.

The digital asks us to take risks, in public, and for many, they are worth taking, and rewarding. For others, they ar unthinkable.

Outcomes vs. Access

Now lets reverse this for a second. The digital also sometimes allows those of us with less access to achieve greater outcomes. Take me as a case study. I did my masters online, my PhD remotely. Without internet I would either have a much worse education, or a much less harmonious family life. Without digital literacy and the connecting I have beem building over the past couple of years, I would not have advanced academically compard to my peers who did their PhDs in the US or UK and actually had opportunities to meet experts in their field and other budding researchers, and be immersed in that kind of environment. But privilege is complex (intersectional?) and I am of course privileged by my private undergrad education and schooling, and by my parents, willingness and ability to pay for a remote PhD for which I was not eligible for scholarships. Sure, being a woman in this part of the world makes everything more complicated in many ways, but I navigate it to the besst of my ability and the digital is my way out.

Like Twitter, Virtually Connecting is a way to subvert the academic social capital structures. We are thinking about all the people our work now serves…those who cannot attend conferences for social, financial, logistical, or health reasons. It MATTERS because the social capital of peer networking and conference attendance and visibility MATTER. In academia, they do. And also in my own emotional complicated relationship with conferences they do, for entirely different reasons.

But what happens to people who don’t know how to convert limited access into grand outcomes? Or worse, who have lots of access but don,t have what Amartya Sen (or is it Martha Nussbaum?) calls “combined capability (I.e. How the environment or macro stuctures may help or hinder your capacity to actualllly practice or apply what you are capable of).

I need to stop here for now. This post was written while trying to care for a 4 yo who refused to sleep. But i couldn’t not write it.


I am sharing my first take, but you can also directly chat with Bonnie and others live via virtually connecting on Fri Oct 16 at 12.30ish (sign up for this time or other sessions) or you could comment on her blog or join the conference Slack. More info here

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