Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Science Practical Work Instructional Technologies and Open Distance Learning in Science Teacher Training: A Case Study in Zimbabwe

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Science Practical Work Instructional Technologies and Open Distance Learning in Science Teacher Training: A Case Study in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The practical work component offers unique challenges for university science courses. This is even more pertinent in an Open and Distance Learning (ODL) environment like the Bindura University of Science Education's Virtual and Open Distance Learning (VODL) programme. Effective ODL education should be flexible enough to accommodate science disciplines with practical components. The main challenges with practical work in ODL are that students are geographically scattered and that they come from very different educational backgrounds. In spite of these constraints, there is an equivalence motive as justification for compulsory practical work as a means to put degrees and diplomas in science education awarded through ODL programmes on the same level of achievement as those offered conventionally as they should equally develop practical scientific inquiry and problem solving skills. This Case Study evaluates the use of instructional technologies for science practical work, adopting Kumar et al (2005)'s five-stage model. The research revealed that although lecturers place great value on practical work, in practice they prefer using lecture notes and internet downloads more than other instructional technologies. Research participants do not use online tutoring at all though the philosophy of VODL requires the use of such technologies that support student-centred learning.

Keywords: Science practical work, science education, open and distance learning, instructional technologies

INTRODUCTION

Education is a fundamental human right (UNESCO report 2000). This is exactly what Open and distance learning (ODL) programmes have been striving to provide. ODL is an amalgam of two approaches to education that focuses on expanding access to learning and the use of multimodal delivery systems such as technology and printed modules. It is characterized by two factors; - its philosophy, and its use of technology (Chikuya, 2007; Freeman, 2004). Most ODL systems have a philosophy that aims to remove barriers to education and to allow students to study what they want, when they want, and where they want. This philosophy implies that education should be made available to all, regardless of time, place, and age (Freeman, 2004; Rowe, 1994).

In addition to quality assurance, ODL programmes offer flexibility that cannot be matched by conventional programmes. These assurances have been established to the fullest by recent development in e-learning, especially in the context of online learning via the Internet. Nonscience-based ODL courses have a longer history compared to science-based ODL courses. In the field of science and engineering, the practical sessions have been conducted by some ODL providers, based on an existing practical model and often by setting up laboratories at the districts' learning centres. However, several constraints and difficulties have been observed in the implementation of science-based practical work.

Incorporating practical work into Distance Education courses is a worldwide challenge that calls for careful planning and creative curriculum development. While most science educators would agree that studying science without any exposure to practical work would result in a rather idiosyncratic qualification (Bennett, Metcalfe, Scanlon, Thomas & Williams, 1995), there has been growing realisation that the laboratory is not the only place in which all the objectives of practical work can be achieved. Consensus is spreading that the benefit students derive from practical work cannot necessarily be measured by the number of hours spent in a laboratory.

Effective ODL education should be flexible enough to accommodate science disciplines with practical components. The main challenges with practical work in ODL are that students are geographically scattered and that they come from very different educational backgrounds (Basson, 2010).

The ODL are mostly adult learners and studying in a second language. …

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