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ODL Articles

Digital Fluency

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A Snapshot of Distance Education in Africa.

African countries face tremendous challenges vis-à-vis other geographies and regions. Rapidly increasing demands for all levels and forms of education coupled with local and regional governments’ limited capacity to expand provision of education through traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions leave ODL as a viable option to address and match growing demand for education. It offers one way to increase the capacity of educational systems without incurring the cost of building facilities by allowing learners the flexibility to remain in their communities or in their duty post. Distance education was and is seen as one of the solutions to training education and health services personnel who are working full-time and who are unable to attend and/or afford to register in full-time residential institutions. It is also seen as a solution to the depleting ranks of teachers and healthcare and other professionals, which have been decimated by HIV/AIDS, as distance education can provide effective pre-service and in-service training programs.

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The Practice of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in Tanzania

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An Evaluative Study of a Distance Teacher Education Program in a University in Ghana

The study used an adaptation of Provus’ discrepancy evaluation model to evaluate a distance teacher education program in the University of Cape Coast, the premier teacher education institution in Ghana. The study involved comparing performance data of the program as perceived by students and faculty/administrators to standards prepared from the program’s design. Performance data was obtained by administering two survey instruments to a random sample of students and faculty/administrators. Discrepancies between performance and standards were reported. The study concluded that although there were some discrepancies between program standards and performance the program is fulfilling its purpose of upgrading the professional and academic performance of a large number of teachers in the public K-8 schools in Ghana.

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Crossing the Chasm – Introducing Flexible Learning into the Botswana Technical Education Programme: From Policy to Action

This paper reports on a longitudinal, ethnomethodological case study of the development towards flexible delivery of the Botswana Technical Education Programme (BTEP), offered by Francistown College of Technical & Vocational Education (FCTVE). Data collection methods included documentary analysis, naturalistic participant observation, and semi-structured interviews. The author identifies and analyses the technical, staffing, and cultural barriers to change when introducing technology-enhanced, flexible delivery methods. The study recommends that strategies to advance flexible learning should focus on the following goals: establish flexible policy and administration systems, change how staff utilization is calculated when flexible learning methodologies are used, embed flexible delivery in individual performance development and department/college strategic plans, ensure managerial leadership, hire and support permanent specialists, identify champions and share success stories, and address issues of inflexible organisational culture. This study may be of value in developing countries where mass-based models are sought to expand access to vocational education and training.

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Designing to Promote Access, Quality, and Student Support in an Advanced Certificate Programme for Rural Teachers in South Africa

This paper reports on the re-design of the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) programme, which is offered by the University of Pretoria through distance education (DE) to teachers in rural South Africa. In 2007, a team re-designed the programme with the goal of promoting access, quality, and student support. The team included an independent body, the South African Institute of Distance Education (SAIDE), and various education specialists. Training workshops for academics and a comprehensive internal and external review process contributed to the quality of the re-designed programme. Interactive web-based technologies were not included because of poor Internet connectivity; however, the authors note the use and potential of cell phone technology for DE programmes. Student support was enhanced by an additional short contact session, a capping assignment, a CD-ROM, and decentralised tutoring at contact venues. The programme was re-evaluated and approved in 2008, and the re-design methodology now guides similar projects.

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Distance Learning and Teacher Education in Botswana: Opportunities and Challenges

This paper reports on a study at Molepolole College of Education (MCE) involving teachers and tutors in the Diploma in Primary Education (DPE) program by distance mode, an in-service program aimed at upgrading academic and professional qualifications of primary school teachers in Botswana. The study sought to understand the level of access and the challenges faced by teachers and tutors. Data was collected through in-depth interviews, survey, and document analysis. Findings showed that teachers should be enrolled in the program at a younger age, and issues that lead to delays in completion must be addressed. The paper recommends that the Ministry of Education (MOE) hire full-time tutors to support teachers at their bases, provide resources for practical subjects, organize workshops to familiarize tutors with appropriate strategies for adult learners, increase the duration of residential sessions, explore the use of alternative instructional technologies, and institute regular customer evaluations.

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Exploring Blended Learning for Science Teacher Professional Development in an African Context

This paper explores a case of teacher professional development in Botswana where a blended learning solution was attempted. The analysis of the implementation environment reveals deficiencies in policy, schools (workplaces), and training providers. The paper concludes with three recommendations: 1) Schools should support ongoing teacher learning in the workplace and should manage ICT resources for use by both teachers and students; 2) Government should support participatory and localised learning and institutionalise ICT access and use; and 3) Training providers should use blended methods and should model good ICT practices. The author also notes that change is needed in the culture of teaching and learning so that ongoing, situated, participatory, and collaborative approaches are accepted. Finally, collaboration between the training providers and the schools is necessary as is a change in beliefs about the use of ICTs in education.

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Harnessing Open Educational Resources to the Challenges of Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

The challenges to teacher educators in sub-Saharan Africa are acute. This paper describes how the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) consortium is working within institutional and national policy systems to support school-based teacher professional development. The TESSA consortium (13 African institutions and 5 international organisations delivering teacher education across 9 countries) designed and produced a bank of open educational resources (OERs) to guide teachers’ classroom practices in school-based teacher education. Drawing on examples from the TESSA consortium and from the University of Fort Hare, South Africa, the authors categorize the forms of TESSA OER integration as highly structured, loosely structured, or guided use. The paper concludes by outlining success factors for the integration of OERs: accessibility, adequate resources, support for teachers, accommodation of local cultural and institutional practices, and sustainable funding.

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Policy Deficit in Distance Education: A Transactional Distance

This paper innovatively extends the application of transactional distance theory (TDT) to evidence-based policy development in Mauritius. In-depth interview data on student persistence from a range of stakeholders is used to understand the implications of distance education (DE) policy deficit. Policy deficit has surfaced as another dimension of transactional distance and student persistence as an appropriate measuring instrument. Transactional distance is salient in the non-alignment of national and institutional DE planning. Associated results are myopic institutional vision, stagnating national plans, poor resource deployment, and ill-understood opportunities for personal development. This research validates TDT as an instrument for policy development and concludes that supporting advocacy plans will help to achieve sustainable distance education in the region. Lessons from the field in Mauritius can be usefully adapted to the sub-Saharan African context (SSA). These preliminary indications require further research and discussion.

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Successful distance education programs in sub-Saharan Africa

This paper explains the purposes, delivery methods, and program characteristics of successful distance education (DE) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This paper investigates the design and delivery systems of these programs and identifies ways the DE programs are working to improve. There are about 150 formidable distance education programs working in SSA. They aim to increase and improve a variety of existing programs, including primary and high school education, college-level and graduate programs, language training, teacher training, and continuing education foradults. The primary delivery system used by most institutions consists of printed manuals and texts that are distributed to all students. Despite the continued development of information and communication technology (ICT), including videos, online training modules, and web-based training (WBT) systems, traditional DE delivery methods continue to prove as the most reliable, most sustainable, and most widely used

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Teaching and Learning Against all Odds: A Video-Based Study of Learner-to-Instructor Interaction in International Distance Education

Distance education and information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been marketed as cost-effective ways to rescue struggling educational institutions in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This study uses classroom video analysis and follow-up interviews with teachers, students, and local tutors to analyse the interaction at a distance between learners in Mali and Burkina Faso and their French and Canadian instructors. Findings reveal multiple obstacles to quality interaction: frequent Internet disconnections, limited student access to computers, lack of instructor presence, ill-prepared local tutors, student unfamiliarity with typing and computer technology, ineffective technical support, poor social dynamics, learner-learner conflict, learner-instructor conflict, and student withdrawal and resignation. In light of the near death of the costly World Bank-initiated African Virtual University (AVU), this paper concludes by re-visiting the educational potential of traditional technologies, such as radio and video, to foster development in poor countries.

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The case for using SMS technologies to support distance education students in South Africa

The rate of adoption of mobile technologies in Africa's developing countries is amongst the highest in the world and by 2005 there may be almost 100 billion mobile users in Africa (Keegan, 2002; Brown, 2005). This is just one of the reasons why servicing distance students in this country through m-learning1 support tools should enjoy consideration. At the Unit for Distance Education at the University of Pretoria most of our students are from remote rural areas in South Africa where there is very little infrastructure for access, yet most have mobile phones. We started using Short Message Services (SMSs) for basic administrative support during 2002 in three existing teacher training programmes for inservice teachers offered by this unit. Recently we have begun preliminary research on the use of SMSs for academic learning support purposes. We are currently running a second exploratory pilot project in one of our modules where four asynchronous academic SMS learning support tools have been introduced. The purpose of this research is to explore how adult learners, registered at UP's Unit for Distance Education, experience the academic short message service as a learning support tool, for a specific module. The first pilot ran from October 2004 and ended in April 2005 and the second runs from April 2005 to October 2005. This article aims to describe our experiences with SMS technologies in the hope that we can contribute towards delivering quality mlearning interventions to student populations previously excluded from the e-learning environment.

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The Impact of an Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) Program on the Professional Practice of Graduates

This paper examines the impact of a distance education program offered by the University of Pretoria, South Africa, on the professional practice of teachers. A pilot study was conducted using a combination of surveys and focus group interviews. Findings reveal that the program was beneficial to graduates ’ personal development, professional practice, schools, learners, and colleagues. Further, principals who participated in the study attested to the differences they observed between the graduates and other teachers who had not been exposed to such a program. Suggestions for improvements included the introduction of subjects taught at school as areas of specialization, involvement of school principals in the assessment of enrolled students, visits to schools by the organizers, and exposure of students to the practical opportunities offered by the program (with portfolios that could be a part of the assessment).

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The Impact of Technology on Accessibility and Pedagogy: the Right to Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

The whole world has now been reduced to a form of global village. This has been made possible as a result of technological development and third-world countries can therefore not afford to sit on the fence about this lofty innovation, lest development which permeates all aspects of socio-economic fabric of any nation may not only remain a mirage, but may also totally elude such countries. Knowledge is power and such legitimate power can practically be derived from education. Education, which should be a legal right of all the citizens of the world if illiteracy is to be defeated, and for national development not to be stunted, is still largely an elusive commodity to a massive world population, due to many factors. However, the advent of open and distance learning globally could go a long way to widen accessibility to education for the majority of working adults, flexibly so that the learning and earning processes can go on side-by-side. Paradoxically however, there still abounds a gamut of militating factors which could possibly render the effectiveness of this mode of learning impotent, if care is not taken, particularly among the developing countries of the world. This paper therefore, takes a critical view of the general problems associated with the operation of open and distance learning in sub-Saharan Africa, especially for the delivery of tertiary education. The paper concludes by making some recommendations, which should be embraced by the African heads of governments on one hand, and the higher institutions of learning including their students on the other. If the problems are objectively interrogated and the recommendations systematically considered for implementation, this will obliterate the temerity with which open and distance education programmes and their products are being looked at by the public. This will therefore enhance the opportunities to access higher education programmes both for personal improvement and for national development

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The Need for Policy Framework in Maintaining Quality in Open and Distance Education Programmes in Southern Africa

The ideals of education for all as proposed by UNESCO (2000) cannot be achieved without tapping into all the existing educational delivery systems. Open and distance education system has caught the attention of a number of Southern African Universities as a viable and ‘Siamese’ twin of the conventional education in achieving flexibility, open and greater access for the heterogeneous clientele of the region. Despite the glowing virtues of distance education, this mode is still looked down upon by some people as inferior to the conventional teaching and learning processes. Paradoxically, learning through the distance education mode has a greater potential to provide education for more learners than the conventional education system. In a dynamic society such as the Southern African region, development has made education a phenomenon that transcends the four walls of the formal classrooms. Thus, a policy framework is needed to ensure that quality education is provided for learners of diverse cultures, including economic background and geographical regions. Such a framework is not only a basic requirement for positive development of the newly emerging distance education institutions but also an essential instrument for the continued success of the long established institutions, both single and dual mode. The proposed policy framework addresses some of the following (i) academic (e.g. course integrity, transferability and accreditation); (ii) governance, (e.g. tuition, fiscal regulation); (iii) faculty (e.g. training, workload, support and evaluation); (iv) legal (e.g. intellectual property, students and institutional liability); (v) technical (e.g. physical delivery networks, systems reliability, setup and infrastructural support); (vi) culture and (vii) economics, (e.g. direct and indirect costs of distance education). All these aspects can deter or stimulate certain group of people to develop interest and consequently enrol for learning through the distance education mode. In this paper, our aim is to stimulate dialogue on the significance, scope of coverage and the processes of formulating a policy framework for maintaining academic excellence as opposed to mediocrity. We are, however, mindful of the fact that practices are diverse in the region, but regardless of this diversity, a regional policy framework is possible to regulate the planning, development and implementation of quality distance education programmes

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