Minding the Digital Gap; A Segmented Peer-Groups Learner-Support Approach for Digitally Under-Connected Online Distance Learners – A Case of Busitema University, Eastern Uganda

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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)

PCF10 Sub-theme: Promoting Equity and Inclusion // The massive shut-downs of face-to-face educational institutions occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic in the year 2020 forced most educational institutions, especially Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to inevitably switch to online distance learning (ODL) to ensure continuity of learning despite not having prepared adequately for such a switch. Busitema University located in rural Eastern Uganda is one such HEI. In Uganda, the digital gap in terms of ICT access for education is substantial with many learners unable to afford gadgets for online connectivity, low or no internet bandwidth, unaffordable internet connectivity rates, and intermittent or no power supply to run the IT gadgets. Asking such learners to follow an ODL programme was an uphill task calling for massive learner support (LS) to handhold the learners through the programme. // This paper documents how Busitema University found itself in the ODL provision conundrum and quickly realised that while LS was direly needed, conventional modes of LS like email and phone were either non-applicable or unsuitable in the present context. Using an action research design to systematically determine the best interventions and reflect on their effectiveness, the study sought to determine the best strategies for supporting under-connected learners to effectively continue their academic programmes at a distance, online. This paper demonstrates how a segmented approach that bears in mind the digital access differences among various learners, and the use of non-conventional learner support methods like peer-grouping have been instrumental in recording some acceptable level of success in the online distance learning programmes at Busitema University. // Paper ID 7266

Online Learning,Learner Support,Digital Equity,Distance Education,Access