|South African College for Open Learning: A Model of an Inservice Distance Education Programme for Initial Teacher Education (CIE, 2002, 37 p.)|
|6. The Initial Teacher Education Curriculum and its Evaluation|
The SACOL distance education curriculum is delivered through materials (study guides, tutorial letters, assignments, feedback to assignments), contact sessions and regional learner centres. A distance education curriculum has two important components: the materials and student support services. An 'open learning' system has to be evaluated for its provision of learner centres, materials, contact sessions and student support services. SACOL is defined as an open learning system but from the various interviews and observations it seems that SACOL is more of a distance learning institution than an open learning institution. In evaluating the certificate and diploma courses it is important to evaluate the aspects of the materials and student support against the backdrop of the client base of SACOL.
6.2.1 Materials: study guides
The materials used by SACOL in 2000 are materials that have been developed previously by each of the amalgamating institutions. Because of the issues of amalgamation and now incorporation, no new materials have been developed since about 1997.
I have read through some of the study guides (Mathematics, English, Communication, Natural Sciences, Technology, Economic Literacy and Education). In evaluating the materials I have not subjected it to deep scrutiny but rather will raise a set of questions around distance materials for SACOL teachers who have registered for certificate and diploma courses:
· Are the materials linked to an outcomes-based education?
· Do the materials indicate the aims and objectives?
· Are the study guides distance learning materials or readers to students?
· What are the skills, knowledge and expectations that learners possess?
· Is the content sequenced appropriately?
· Is there an appropriate selection of teaching media to be used with the materials?
· Are the materials interactive?
· Are the materials readable?
· Are the materials pleasant and pleasing to look at?
· To what extent do the materials include both content and how to teach issues?
· Is there feedback on exercises given?
· What supplementary materials are there to the study guides?
A quick appraisal of the materials indicates that the materials vary from those that are interactive and stand alone as self-instructional materials to materials which look like textbooks to be read through. Not all study guides are interactive and suitable for distance learning. In science it is mostly standard didactic materials, but lecturers indicate that they have worksheets for contact sessions which make it interactive. I was surprised to learn that English communication (oral) was offered through distance mode to English second language users and that the only learning material was the written study guide. There were no tapes or language laboratories to supplement the learning guides.
In interviews with lecturers they indicated that not all lecturers had a theory of the development of distance materials. Some lecturers had been on courses for the development of distance materials, but most had simply 'learnt' about materials development on the job.
A very important issue in distance learning is the quality of materials as self-instructional materials. This issue becomes even more critical when the clients are learners who are involved in initial teacher training. There are some courses (like Basic Mathematics Course in the Certificate in Education) which students have not studied in high school but have to take in their certificate courses. These students have difficulty with the course at college. The lack of pre-knowledge would have implications for the type of materials produced and the delivery mode chosen to assist these students
In the survey instrument students were asked to evaluate the study guides for education or integrated studies and for mathematics. About one-fifth of students did not answer about mathematics - possibly because they were not studying this subject this year. About one-fifth of the integrated studies students indicated they received their education study guides on time. For mathematics, about half the students indicated they received the study guides on time. Between half and three-quarters of students rated the ease to read, exercises based on the work, help with classroom teaching, content area of the subject, and aims and objectives of the guide, as good. Students ratings were higher for mathematics than integrated studies.
6.2.2 Contact sessions
At present there are two contact sessions per year. All students from around the province who are registered for certificate courses attend the contact sessions during the holidays at Comtech in Umlazi. SACOL staff indicated that the students on the certificate course indicated a preference for a centralised residential course. The students felt that in this environment they could learn more from each other. Students who are registered for diploma courses attend one of the regional workshops (Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Umlazi, Empangeni. Port Shepstone, Stanger, Newcastle, Ladysmith).
Lecturers indicated that the contact sessions were very important for students to engage with the materials. The number of contact sessions for the different subjects varied, with some subjects having 6 hours for each of two sessions to subjects like mathematics with 8 days per year (both during holidays and weekends) and science having contact time plus time for practical work. Lecturers indicated that students do not work with the study guides on their own and wait for the contact sessions before they do so. Teachers' disciplinary knowledge is very weak. In the contact sessions lecturers have to deal with very basic information and find it difficult to finish the syllabus. Lecturers often take the decision that giving the teachers the disciplinary knowledge is more important than discussing OBE and Curriculum 2005.
I observed contact sessions at the SACOL Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Comtech sites. The contact sessions I observed seemed to be very disorganised, there were large groups students squeezed into rooms too small to accommodate them. The lecturer stood in front of the class delivering a lecture. There wasn't evidence of an enthusiastic delivery of the content or of modelling ways of teaching. Students would have travelled long distances to go to the contact sessions. While my observations indicated a very poor effort from the college on the contact sessions, around 95% of students thought that the contact session was useful. Peacock (1995) makes the methodological point that students have a great deal of loyalty to the programme and their rating of a programme as good could also be an indication of how few courses they have been on.
Analysis of the survey instrument indicates that during contact sessions the diploma group have mostly lectures in a big group and the certificate group have discussions in small groups. About one-third of the students indicated that there were small group activities in the contact sessions and about one-fifth indicated there was modelling of good teaching. Two-thirds of the students indicated that the activities during the contact session were structured around the assignments. Lecturers also indicated that there was a discussion of the assignments during the contact sessions.
It would seems that students were not given adequate notice of the plans for the contact sessions. Less than half the students indicated that they were given a timetable early enough to make plans to attend or read the study guides before the contact sessions, or knew what the lecturers would discuss in the contact session.
6.2.3 Regional learner centres
To support student learning the college has supported the setting up of learner regional support services. SACOL presently has 7 regional learning centres (Port Shepstone, Umlazi Comtech, Greyville, Natal College of Education, Vryheid, Newcastle, Ladysmith). Most learning centres are schools during the day, are run by a co-ordinator and have student leaders to support students in the different subject areas. SACOL pays for the co-ordinator and student leaders from the student fees.
The idea of setting up the regional centres comes from ideas used at the Open University to offer support to the students. When NCE observed that the students were having difficulty with engaging with the materials, they wrote to the students asking if they would like support. If there are about 30 students in a region (any programme or course) who requested the setting up of a centre, then the regional learning centre was set up and supported by SACOL. SACOL trained the student leaders who would provide support to the students. The student leaders were ex-students of the SACOL programmes and would have had to have performed well in their studies.
The role of the student leaders is to work with students to help them engage with the materials. It is not to do the assignments. The usage patterns show that there was increased usage before an assignment was due and decreased usage after the assignment was handed in. With the incorporation by UNISA it is not yet clear how the system of regional learning centres will operate.