ICT-based Distance Education : A Study of University Students’ Views and Experiences in Early Post-Apartheid South Africa
Abstract: The overall aim of this study was to investigate how the introduction of ICT into distance education at public institutions of higher learning in South Africa during the early post-apartheid period from 1994 to 2002, provided learning opportunities for students and facilitated the delivery of learning content. More explicitly, it examined and analyzed the views and experiences of students and course facilitators at selected higher education institutions, which provided ICT-based distance education. The study also examined and analyzed the views and experiences of students regarding the services of a private on-campus Internet café located in a South African technikon (a technological institution). The empirical part of the current study was conducted in 2002, when some public higher education institutions in the country were involved in the provision of distance education as a means of increasing student participation and generating income. However, the proliferation of private actors who collaborated with some of these institutions to provide ICT-based distance education caused concern to the government that questioned their quality of content delivery.A case study research design was applied to collect, analyze and interpret quantitative and qualitative data at four universities and one technikon. Two electronic surveys were administered by email and on the Web, to self-selected students at the five case institutions. The first survey examined the views and experiences of respondents (n = 605) who participated in ICT-based distance education, while the second one investigated the views and experiences of respondents (n = 274) who used a private campus-based Internet café. Non-participant observations were made at some learning centers to understand how classes were carried out, and at the Internet café, to understand the type of services offered. Unstructured interviews were held with selected students and course facilitators at one institution, whereas informal interviews were conducted with some students and the Internet café manager. Further, a literature review was undertaken to understand certain issues and trends in ICT-based distance education, within and beyond South Africa.The findings indicate that the majority of respondents chose ICT-based distance education because it was flexible. They were also comfortable with using the English language for instruction. However, some complained that the learning materials were irrelevant and were not delivered on time. The course facilitators were generally satisfied with their work, although they were disappointed for not having the opportunity to influence changes in the study guides. Many respondents used the Internet café because they did not have any other means of accessing the Internet. Moreover, it was affordable and they used it for socializing.The study concludes that the system of instructional design and content delivery to distance education students in South Africa should be improved to become efficient. Further studies are recommended to examine the ongoing development of ICT-based distance higher education in South Africa.
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