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Learning Communities and Academic Services Program (CASA) of the University of Guadalajara.

INTRODUCTION

The Universidad of Guadalajara (UdeG, for its acronym in Spanish) is the second largest public University in Mexico. It has among its purposes form and update technicians, professionals, graduates and other human resources required for the economic development of the state of Jalisco (Universidad de Guadalajara, 2010). It has among its aim to organize, encourage and disseminate scientific, technical, and humanistic investigation; rescue, maintain, and spread culture; and of course to promote the orientation of middle and higher education with the state education authorities.

In order to fulfill its goals, the UdeG is structured through a university network comprising 14 university centers (see Figure 1). Six thematic university centers, which are: the University Center for Economic Management Sciences, University Center of Arts, Architecture and Design; University Center of Health Sciences; University Center for Science and Engineering; University Center for Biological and Agricultural Sciences; and the University Center of Social Sciences and Humanities, all of which are located in the metropolitan area of Guadalajaraa, and eight regional University Centers, the Northern University Center; University Center of Los Altos; University Centers of Lagos, University Center of Cienega; University Center of Valles; the Coast University Center; the South Coast University Center; and the Southern University Center. The Regional University centers are strategically distributed in all the State of Jalisco (Universidad de Guadalajara, n.d.). Systems of High School Education that bring together this network of metropolitan and regional high schools, and the Virtual University System are integrated to this university network.

BACKGROUND

Higher education institutions, especially the public ones, face challenges of coverage, equity, and quality of their academic programs. Some alternatives have been developed to address the social requirements and labor market. Thus higher education institutions regardless of educational modality, should be understood as entities that promote opportunities for reflection and critical analysis, producing scientific and technological knowledge; it is imperative that these institutions have the infrastructure, human resources, and projects enabling them to incorporate advances in information and communication technology.

The UdeG has created conditions to introduce innovations in the teaching work that has benefited the teaching-learning process, promoting new values in the university community. Two distinctive features can be mentioned; the first refers to the receptive atmosphere towards generating new learning environments based on information and communication technology. The second feature has to do with the region of influence of the University Centers Network, which covers the total of the municipalities in the State, and they have been receptive to technological innovations and the use of media that encourage them.

The state of Jalisco is comprised of 126 municipalities. More than 80% of students are concentrated in five municipalities in the metropolitan area of Guadalajara; this phenomenon promotes a lack of equity in the top-level education system. Some University Centers maintain permanent interaction with their environment through research activities and liaison with the localities.

One problem most reiterated by mayors of the municipal councils in the region of influence of the Universities Centers is the lack of opportunities for secondary and higher education in rural and indigenous communities. Many young high school students truncate their wishes to access a higher education program because of lack of financial resources. Even though there are scholarship programs to support students from indigenous communities, these have not been sufficient.

The UdeG has made efforts to expand its education coverage in the State of Jalisco through strategies of diversification and flexibility that allow access to university education services to communities that because of their living conditions, or geographical location, need nontraditional education modalities (Universidad de Guadalajara, 2010). This vision has efficiently impacted the opportunity to enable professional education that considers the living conditions of the communities.

The Virtual University System

The Virtual University System (SUV, for its acronym in Spanish) is a unit of the UdeG that has the responsibility to manage and develop educational programs for school and higher education levels in nonconventional education modalities (Sistema de Universidad Virtual, 2005). Some of the arguments that led to the creation of the SUV were strengthening open education and distance learning, expanding education coverage so as to reach communities that for various reasons do not have access to higher education programs.

The current student population attending the SUV is 4,954, distributed as follows: 363 students in higher middle education and 4,546 in higher education; 17 in master's programs and 28 in doctoral programs (Moreno, 2011). The academic model of the SUV since its creation, is centered on the person and his or her way of being and learning; is innovative and responds to the requirements of the new learning society; it also promotes self-learning, collaborative, meaningful, creative, and anticipatory learning (Universidad de Guadalajara, 2006).

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The SUV has the Institute of Knowledge Management and Learning in Virtual Environments (IGCAAV for its acronym in Spanish) responsible for establishing the organizational forms of academic work, considering the special elements of the nonconventional modes (not in school), the search for efficient ways of academic organization that will strengthen the generation of knowledge applicable to the education processes of the system. The UdeG in its educational task recovers fundamental experiences of diverse social, geographical, and theoretical origins, always from an educational management process point of view that comes from or arises from the community.

The CASA Universitaria Program

Within the extension of services offered by the SUV the Learning Communities and Academic Services (CASA Universitaria,) program stands out for its importance. This program is a key strategy in maintaining a closer social relationship between communities and the UdeG. This program is carried out in facilities equipped to access educational services that provide the SUV, established in spaces provided by the community. There are currently 47 CASA Universitarias operating in different communities in the municipalities of Jalisco (see Figure 1). CASA Universitaria has a small library, as well as the virtual services that are offered as a virtual library with access to the databases of the University, which includes links to sites of interest, and on academic journals (E. Moreno, personal communication, November 22, 2011).

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The SUV permanently organizes chairs of Educational Innovation and annually organizes the International Meeting on Distance Education, which has become a forum in the exchange of experiences, ideas, and research results in the area of distance education.

The UdeG has been a major operator in the development of telecommunications in support of social programs on education. The desire to offer higher education to indigenous communities who are unable to access the traditional educational system has been materialized through the CASA Universitaria program system. The University CASA program is aware of the learning communities as a group of people who choose to learn in a collaborative environment, where they take responsibility of their own learning process (Moreno, 2011). Figure 1 shows the distribution of the CASA Universitaria implemented by the SUV in the State of Jalisco.

The CASA Universitaria program provides telecommunication services through Internet link providers or through microwave systems in communities where access to these services is not available. They include education services through virtual and face-to-face media offered in physical spaces in the communities. Its purpose is to share their proposals with persons or organizations with common interests and integrate better designed and fairer educational strategies supported in telematic networks and the technological infrastructure of the participating bodies. Figures 3 and 4 show two CASA Universitaria in two indigenous locations in the State of Jalisco.

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Unfortunately, the UdeG has not been able to satisfy the needs of the society in the strict sense of education coverage due to the lack of resources, which lead to design new educational strategies that can be adapted to the conditions and demands of our society. For this reason, the UdeG has assumed its social responsibility with the strong conviction to expand its educational coverage in the State of Jalisco (Universidad de Guadalajara, 2010), through flexibility and diversification strategies that facilitate access to the university education services, sectors that because of their living conditions or geographical location require nontraditional educational modalities that take into account their social, economic and cultural conditions. It is here where the CASA Universitaria comes in to fulfill its goal.

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How Does CASA Universitaria Work?

The CASA Universitaria program is tripartite: the municipalities, communities, and the UdeG participate. The municipalities provide the physical space where furniture and technological equipment will be housed. Meanwhile, UdeG through SUV handles the technologic connectivity services of the CASA Universitaria. The UdeG is responsible for the equipment (computers, video library classroom, and multipurpose room), training of personnel responsible for equipment management, academic counseling, and the accreditation of studies.

Facilities and equipment are used for educational purposes; the surroundings and the learning process that will take place here, and for this reason enough equipment and the necessary connectivity is made available. The CASA Universitaria are spaces that include, on average, 10 PC computers, plus educational television, a multipurpose room, a small newspaper library, and interactive videoconferencing and audioconferencing equipment. The media is carefully made available in the CASA Universitaria and are carefully selected so that they foster and enhance the creation of learning environments based on collaboration; facilitate access to information and university services. Figures 5 and 6 show pictures of students Huicholes in State of Jalisco

Educational Services. Different regions in which the CASA Universitaria are established have different problems. These problems or needs are evaluated by SUV researchers, and are transformed into educational proposals where a multidisciplinary group of professionals are involved, that include instructional designers and experts in educational content, to design educational proposals according to the main activities in the region.

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Educational services offered by the UdeG through CASA Universitaria are: Middle and Higher Education, Distance Learning, Diploma, Professional Leveling, Graduate Programs, Continued Education, Open Studies, Audiconferences, Academic Guidance, Workshops, Extension Programs, Educational Material Holdings, and administrative management for educational purposes (Sistema de Universidad Virtual, n.d.-a). Overall education is made available to communities in all levels of education.

Academic Program Options. The academic programs are wide; they offer degrees in Organizational Management (distance modality), Library Science (nonschool mode), Education (open and distance learning), cultural management (nonschool mode), undergraduate in public safety and information technologies (non-school mode), an online high school program, two master's programs, and a doctoral program.

The CASA Universitaria are designed as educational spaces for the development of training activities in open and distance learning, technical assistance, continuing education, and academic tutoring (Sistema de Universidad Virtual, n.d.-b). The purpose of the CASA Universitaria program is to provide educational opportunities to marginalized sectors through the use of technological tools to develop and enhance their activities (Moreno, 2011).

The learning model of the CASA Universitaria program is based on the needs of the student; considers each individual as an integral part of a community and of course the educational model it operates under is the distance modality. This is how The UdeG contributes to building equality due to multiple existing inequalities in our communities.

On the other hand, innovation strategies ranging from marginalized groups of educational services, to professionals with specific needs to update knowledge either through refresher courses, graduate or postgraduate programs that through the support of information and communication technology--promote new training scenarios.

THE IMPACT OF CASA UNIVERSITARIA PROGRAM IN THE COMMUNITIES

The communities where CASA Universitarias are established are due to an observed tendency to the economic activities of the primary sector. Hence the relevance of the spaces of the CASA Universitaria is measured primarily by the impact these have on community the development.

During the nine years of the program, 47 CASA Universitarias have been implemented in different parts in the state of Jalisco. The average number of program users is 5,160, of which 1,660 are students of different regional University Centers, regional high schools, and SUVs, and 3520 users correspond to different communities (Moreno, 2011). The CASA Universitaria program has linked institutions like the Department of Communications and Transportation, the National Commission for Indigenous Development, the State Institute for Adult Education, the Food Bank, some People's Savings Banks, and City Halls (M. Moreno, personal communication, November 23, 2011).

The CASA program builds an inclusive university that supports sustainable productive projects in communities. The specialized professional advice for the development of a business plan is an essential process to access funding sources. On the other hand, the program also includes services such as supply chain counseling and marketing of community products through agreements with government agencies. University authorities have made a n assessment of the impact of CASA Universitaria and it has been considered successful as an educational strategy for social inclusion and development of change agents that offer rural communities access to high school and higher education.

Fortunately there are many successful experiences that are gestated in our continent and that have self-management as the main core in the educational processes in the communities. Some programs that share similar characteristics to the CASA program is the program of learning without borders (UNESCO, n.d.), and global development learning (Global Development Learning Network, n.d.), the latter created by the World Bank; it incorporates over 70 affiliated institutions to the learning network that make use of advanced information and communication systems to connect people who share the vision of integrating socially in order to learn and to learn how to community study, with the inclusion of culture and life projects of those involved.

THE CHALLENGES OF THE UNIVERSITY CASA PROGRAM

The challenge facing the University CASA program is to maintain its academic services in the communities where they are installed. Municipalities in the state of Jalisco and the area of influence of CASA Universitaria mostly do not have comprehensive projects using the Internet as technology to support local and regional development. By 2020 the program is expected to reach 80 CASA Universitaria in the state of Jalisco.

In rural areas, the introduction of technology is slow, and the skills required for the management and operation of the media has made it difficult to extend services of the CASA Universitaria. Thus UdeG has undertaken management policies together with municipalities to promote the empowerment of broadband services in the rural communities of the state.

CONCLUSIONS

The CASA Universitaria program is in a way a form of response to the university authorities of the UdeG, towards the educational needs of rural communities in the state of Jalisco. The relevance of the CASA program has been its contribution towards improving the conditions of equality. The active participation of the actors responsible for the project is highly desirable, as it requires an increase in these areas in the region, which implies a management process for equipping and setting up, personnel management is very important, scheduling activities and the implementation of a common working methodology.

It is necessary to spread the work being done by the CASA Universitaria in order to motivate and attract new users. Program short- and medium term strategies with the objective of energizing and making CASA Universitarias sustainable; these are just some of the elements that have affected the work proposal until now.

The success of CASA Universitaria is the implementation of a work plan according to the needs of the area. The program promoters should have the skills to act on current needs and anticipate short term ones. CASA Universitaria is socially fulfilling their program, it is effective; participants are being integrated to the call of the information society and are facilitating the process of lifelong learning in the communities.

REFERENCES

Global Development Learning Network. (n.d.). Connecting the world through learning. Retrieved from http://www.gdln.org

Moreno, C. M. (2011). Informe de actividades. Guadalajara, Mexico: Universidad de Guadalajara.

Sistema de Universidad Virtual. (2005). Plan de desarrollo 2005-2010. Guadalajara, Mexico: Universidad de Guadalajara.

Sistema de Universidad Virtual. (n.d.-a). Oferta academica. Retrieved from http://www.udg virtual.udg.mx/casa_universitaria/acerca/ oferta_academica

Sistema de Universidad Virtual. (n.d.-b). iQue es casa universitaria? Retrieved from http:// www.udgvirtual.udg.mx/casa_universitaria/ acerca/que_es_casa_universitaria

UNESCO. (n.d.). Aprender sin fronteras. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/ images/0010/001021/102195sb.pdf

Universidad de Guadalajara. (2006). Dictamen de creacion del sistema de universidad virtual. H. Consejo General Universitario. Retrieved from http://www.udgvirtual .udg.mx/portal_suv/dict-menes

Universidad de Guadalajara. (2010). Plan de desarrollo institucional: Vision 2030. Retrieved from http://www.udg.mx/sites/ default/files/Universidad de Guadalajara--Plan de Desarrollo Institucional--Visi%C3%B3n 2030-1.pdf

Universidad de Guadalajara. (n.d.). Red universitaria. Retrieved from http://www.udg.mx/ red-universitaria

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Manuel Pio Rosales Almendra, Research Professor for Engineering Department of University Center of South Coast, University of Guadalajara, Independencia Nacional # 151, Autlan, Jalisco, Mexico. Telephone: +52 (317) 3825010, ext 57141

Bertha Leticia Gonzalez Becerra, Research Professor for Engineering Department of University Center of South Coast, University of Guadalajara, Independencia Nacional # 151, Autlan, Jalisco, Mexico. Telephone: +52 (317) 3825010, ext 57141
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Author:Almendra, Manuel Pio Rosales; Becerra, Bertha Leticia Gonzalez
Publication:Distance Learning
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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