Online tertiary education will play a pivotal role in the University of West Indies’ (UWI) future. In a phone interview with the university’s new Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal (Ag) of the Open Campus Dr Luz Longsworth, said a strong online component, will form a large part of the university’s future. The Open Campus accounts for approximately ten percent of the entire university body.
Longsworth, who has over 25 years in both academia and business in Jamaica, Belize and the British Virgin Islands, was appointed as the campus’ principal on May 1 this year.
And as one of the few female figures in the university’s senior management team, Longsworth said when asked how she felt, as a woman, being appointed to the top position,“Well, I know that the senior management of the university seems to be dominated by males but you know we do have a history of very distinguished women who have gone before me and I think though that you’re right this is the first time we have two females in the executive management. And it is heart-warming and inspirational for other women, young women in particular in the university setting.”
Longsworth was very honored to be appointed, saying it was quite a responsibility to head a campus.
The university’s biography on her, said, “ she is a Caribbean national who was born to Venezulean and Jamaican parents and who lived and worked in Belize for many years raising two children. Fluent in Spanish and French, Dr Longsworth also holds a Doctorate in Business Administration in Higher Education Management from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. She is also a graduate of The University of the West Indies where she earned her BA in French and Spanish and MBA (Marketing) degrees. She is the holder of a Master of Arts degree in Hispanic Studies from Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada.”
She has served as one of the university’s senior administrators and has held serval positions at the Mona and Open Campuses, including Director of the School of Continuing Studies, Director of the UWI Open Campus Country Sites, and as a Director of the UWI, Mona Western Campus, Jamaica, in Montego Bay.
For Longsworth, technology plays a seminal part in the future of the open campus’ future. She said, “The use of technology in higher education is now becoming the norm, in traditional and non-traditional universities and the UWI is and has actually been on the bandride of that move since the 1980s.”
“The university has to respond to the new technologies of the 21st century and we have to do it in a modality that allows the flexibility of learning that is necessary. More and more we are finding that our students, especially our more mature students, are unable to spare the time to do the sort of traditional on campus learning. And so the online experience allows for that flexibility and allows for a more productive workforce as they are able to remain in the workplace.
“In the case of the open campus, one of our major remits is to ensure that we can open access to a University of the West Indies education across the region. And I can tell you, that we are blessed in TT of having the ability to choose. But there are many countries and parts of the region that the only way we can reach them is through this modality,” she added.
The University’s open campus, she said, allows for accessibility to higher education that, prior to the Open Campus, that was not possible. And while its role is to continue the expansion of higher education in the Caribbean part of its “new frontier” will be to go beyond the Caribbean and addressing other groups, like the diaspora in North America and Europe who are also interested in having a Caribbean experience and this is a perfect platform for that.
Technology will play a leading role in reaching the university’s new frontier. “At the moment, we are at the end of an enterprise and resource planning development, which will create a platform that will enable access form wherever in the world our students come from. It integrates the student systems from start to finish- from when they first seek information on the programme to registering to accessing their coursework, to interacting with their teachers, course coordinators, right through to graduation. So that is an integrated approach to the student learning management system.
“The second thing is, we do know as well, that there is a vast array of programmes, and courses offered across the university so we have, on one hand, the open campus and we’re developing fully online asynchronous interactive programmes, that can be done anywhere, anytime. But we also have the possibility of utilising another platform which is really built on a very robust video conferencing platform, that could allow for a student in New York to access a sociology course at St Augustine, a political science course at Mona, an economics course at Cave Hill and at the same time do a Caribbean Civilisation course online as they complete their degree. That is one way we will be uniting the programme wealth that exists within the University of the West Indies to serve our population within the region as well as outside,” she said.
And open data will play a critical role as the campus moves forward, taking the campus into the 21st century. “It will play a huge role. The open campus has always operated on utilisation of open data and open source. We have been able to do our development in quite an economical way because we rely on open educational resources so these are things we can access freely or with very little cost.” The Open Campus, Langsworth offers, the perfect opportunity to foster a greater sense of regionalism within the region. In fact, she said,“To be very honest at the moment, the open campus is the most regional campus. That if you were to sit in one of our classes, online there you will find, in one place, students from every single country in the region. Yes, it is not a face- to-face experience but they do develop friendships and links and networks that help them when they graduate later on,”she said.
“We already create that environment for regional interaction because of the technology being able to bridge the distance at an economical cost. But it also can be and we are a resource for our sister campuses. We will be expanding that in time to come...,”
She, however, encouraged younger students to have the physical university experience. The average of students attending the Open Campus was 33.
These students, she said, were more mature and were more focused on getting their qualification. “What you would miss with having an online education is that physical interaction with your colleagues, where you can hang out, you can chat and have escapades.
Naturally, those are things that mature our younger students. If you’re looking at it from a developmental perspective you will encourage young students to have that kind of experience.”