Integrating the Elements of Open Distance Learning (ODL) to Enhance Service to Students in a Developing Country

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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)

PCF5 Sub-theme: Livelihoods // The University of South Africa (Unisa) was the first university in the world to teach at a distance. It initially started as what Taylor (2001) has labeled first generation or correspondence education. Gradually it added elements of technology and contact. But essentially, these were add ons, not integrated well with the academic endeavours of the university, or used effectively. The merger between Unisa, the Technikon South Africa (TSA) and the distance education campus of Vista University (Vudec) in 2004 created a single, dedicated distance education institution for South Africa. The merger emphasized the fragmented nature of the various add ons at the three institutions. As a consequence, an initiative was started to investigate open distance learning best practice internationally as well as to analyse the existing situation in the university with a view to transforming towards a technology-enabled fourth generation ODL. // The vision of Unisa is ‘Towards the African University in the Service of Humanity’. The social mandate of the university is to provide access to higher education in a developing country for people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to study: working adults, people in rural areas remote from facilities; students coming straight from school into the tertiary system without the school achievements or the means to attend contact universities. Access to the university and access to various support mechanisms once registered are hallmarks of ODL. // The Unisa student profile has shifted over the past two decades from the traditional, working adult towards more students choosing Unisa straight from school for reasons of access. About twenty percent of the students registered fall into this younger group. This is a group that demands more contact and has less access to technology than the working adult. // The paper addresses the basic aspects underlying effective ODL in a changing environment, where the focus is on development. The contribution of the paper is therefore in the focus on access to appropriate learning for development. The paper will uncover various initiatives aimed at integrating current good practice effectively to better support the student: managed open admission, which enables the university to identify students at risk prior to registration and put interventions in place; integrated development of courseware for ‘power’ courses; an extended tutor system more integrated with mainstream academic departments; a more technology-enabled system for registration, administration of assessment and student tracking as well as more access to technology for students. // Paper ID 331

South Africa