Providing Information Communication Technology-Based Support to Distance Education Students: A Case Study of the University of Zambia
Chifwepa, Vitalicy, African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science
Student support is a major factor in distance education. This study was concerned with the use of ICT as a medium for providing student support at the University of Zambia. It was necessary to study the factors that would affect the application of ICT, in order to inform policy makers and managers of distance education which ICTs would be feasible within the context of the students of the University. A questionnaire was sent to 393 randomly selected students of the programme. The findings have shown that students had a positive attitude towards ICTs. However, access to the ICTs had an influence on the types that the students were willing to use for their studies.
The University of Zambia has been offering distance education mode since 1966, the time of its inception. Distance education was identified as a means of providing access to the university level of education to those who missed it after their school, for various reasons, and those who may be working but wanting to study without being in full-time mode. It was recognised that there was need to provide an alternative mode of delivery of higher education, in order to increase opportunities to people of Zambia who may not be able to enrol for the full-time studies.
The factors that led to the development of distance education at that time included response to the country's need for human resource development at the time of political independence and the demand for this level of education from people who had got into employment without university education. Distance education was, therefore, identified as a means of expanding enrolment for university education (Siaciwena, 1988; University of Zambia, 2001).
According to the University of Zambia's Strategic Plan (University of Zambia, 2001), the distance education programme was the means of:
Providing wider access to a range of entrants through: diversified and flexible formats of study, to cater for those unable to participate in regular schemes of study, and through the effective utilization of the existing ICT infrastructure especially its use in Distance Education.
Some of the achievements of distance education are an increase in enrolment. About 18,000 were enrolled as distance education students between 1967 and 2003 (University of Zambia Directorate of Distance Education, 2004).
The University of Zambia uses what Peters (2002) calls the mixed-mode of distance education. In this approach, courses are developed along the same principles as those courses offered to the full-time students, so that the distance learners follow the same curriculum, and are subjected to the same performance requirements as the full-time students. The same lecturers, who teach the full-time students, provide the academic guidance, set and mark the assignments and examinations, and give the face-to-face lectures during residential school. The Directorate of Distance Education (DDE), which is one of the units of the University at the main campus, coordinates the programme. In addition to studying at home, distance education students attend a one-month face-to-face with lecturers or residential school ideally at the beginning of each academic year. They spend the rest of the year studying in physical separation from the institution. Print materials are the major media using the postal means of communication for assignment, feedback and all communication. Some students use the telephone and fax, depending on the urgency of an issue (Siaciwena, 2000a).
During residential school, students are given tests and some assignments that must be done within that period. Feedback is then given after marking, depending on the size of classes. After the residential school, the students write the remaining assignments from their homes and post them. The feedback to the assignments is also posted to the students by DDE after receiving them from the lecturers. …