A study of distance education students choosing computer-mediated communications as a function of cultural capital: perceptions, access, and barriers revisited.
Distance education institutions are increasingly using computer-mediated communications (CMC) to deliver undergraduate university courses. It is important that distance educators know who this mode of delivery attracts, who it does not, and who may have difficulty accessing it and why. Without knowing students' perceptions of the inducements for and barriers to registering in CMC-based courses, the barriers they encounter in accessing CMC-based courses, and their demographics, misperceptions and barriers are unlikely to be addressed effectively. With this information, student counseling, marketing strategies, course technology selection, and resource allocation may be performed more effectively. The purpose of this study was to discover the reasons why distance education students choose, do not choose, or cannot choose to study by CMC. The study explored the inducements for and barriers to studying by CMC, those that students articulate and those inferred from demographic information. Additionally, the question of whether a student might choose to study by CMC as a function of their possession of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986; Persell & Cookson, 1987) was investigated. Bourdieu's (1977, 1984) theory of social reproduction was used as the theoretical base of the study. The study was designed to gather the required data from ViTAL/CMC and Homestudy/correspondence students in Athabasca University's (AU) Accounting 253 course. Using data provided by AU's student record system, all the current and complete ViTAL students registered between April 30, 1996, and September 30, 1997, and a random sample of current and complete Homestudy students registered in the same period were surveyed by telephone. The sample consisted of 58 participants, 29 in each of the groups, ViTAL (CMC-based) and Homestudy print-based). It was found that ViTAL and Homestudy students differed in their needs and in their ability to access the required equipment to study by CMC. A significant number of Homestudy students did not know what CMC was. Students with more education, higher occupational status, higher income levels, more distance education experience, and who did not declare visible minority status in the telephone interview were more likely to choose CMC. Gender, geographical location, age, and employment status did not act as predictors of choosing CMC. Socio-economic background was not significantly related to choosing CMC, possessing symbolic and instrumental cultural capital, or socio-economic status. Possessing cultural capital and having higher socio-economic status were related to choosing CMC. The results suggest that there are barriers to choosing CMC. Low socio-economic status and a lack of symbolic and instrumental cultural capital appear to be barriers. For distance education institutions to meet the needs of the wider student population and to not reproduce inequities, it is suggested that pre-requisite undergraduate courses should be available by both modes of delivery, correspondence and CMC. Policies should be developed and implemented to enable students without the necessary equipment and skills to access CMC.