CHAPTER3 THE IMPLEMENTATION OF STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES AT UNISA
The Broad South African Context
Extensive developments have occurred in the field of distance education since the introduction of the democratic government in South Africa in 1994. The South African Institute of Distance Education (SAIDE) pointed out that the emerging vision and higher education framework made a case for « transforming institutions in South Africa which are already using a correspondence mode into institutions using sound distance education modes » (SAIDE, 1994, p.7). One ofthe most notable features of such a sound distance education mode was seen to be the provision of effective support to the distance student in order to ensure success in matters pertaining to their educational goals.
A number of key policy documents, which preceded the new Higher Education Act of 1997, highlighted the importance of distance education methods in addressing some of South Africa’s educational problems. For example, The National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE, 1996, p.16) put the matter as follows:
A key challenge for higher education is to enhance the quality of higher education programmes and to improve success and throughput rates. This challenge must be met in the context of greatly increased access to a wide diversity of students at varying entry levels and within a higher education budget that increases significantly slower than the emolments rise. The Commission believes that distance education and resource- based learning are a fundamental part of meeting this challenge.
The repeatedly highlighted constraint that hampered distance education provision in South Africa was seen to be the absence of student support. For one, Professor Simon Maimela (UNISA Vice-Principal of Tuition at the time) pointed out, in 1995, that the new South African context was placing new demands on all institutions of higher learning, compelling them to play a key role in developing new strategies to deal with the emerging economic, human resource and social development of the country. He also pointed out that greater emphasis was being placed on the role which distance education was to play in meeting both these new demands and eliminating the backlog in education (UNISA, 1996). For another, the Directorate for Distance Education of the National Department of Education emphasised, in 1996, that student support was one of the key safeguards that underpin a well-functioning distance education model (DEQ, 1996).It emphasised that learners needed to be supported to the extent that various forms of tutoring, such as, contact tutoring, counselling and peer support structures, needed to be provided.
A number ofpoints, which flow from the quality safeguards just mentioned, include some of the following:
- The need for academic support for students.
- The appointment of tutors who would be selected as facilitators of learning.
- Adequate administrative and professional support for tutors.
- The onus would be on the educational institution to monitor and evaluate tutor performance on a regular basis.
The Draft Report on Integrated Learner Support summed the matter up by pointing out that the changing internal and external environment made it incumbent on educational institutions to reappraise their activities internally in order to ensure continued relevance (UNISA, 1997). Externally, the fundamental values enshrined in the Constitution, and the principles contained in various policy documents, such as the NCHE report and the Green and white papers on higher education (as well as the Higher Education Act of 1997), embraced the concepts of open education and layed an emphasis on increased student support (UNISA, 1997).
In response to the movements in the broad South African context, UNISA responded by developing decentralised learning centres and the tutorial support programme, to mention only two of its efforts.
UNISA’S Response to the Changing External Context
As early as 1987, at UNISA’ S distance education conference, a number of presenter- lecturers grappled with the idea that, if distance education was to be considered as effective as contact teaching, it would have to undergo some revision: Van den Bogaerde (1987), ofUNISA, in his paper on distance education and preparing it for the 21st century, looked largely at whether one could find an instructional model that would make distance education as effective as contact teaching, as well as foster greater understanding between distance education and traditional universities. Booyse (1987), also of UNISA, addressed the issue that, if students were to broaden their intellectual horizons, they needed involvement with a human person, namely the tutor.To address this matter, it would be necessary to dispose of the myth that students in the distance education situation were independent adults in need of no more than knowledge. Rather, the involvement of students with lecturers should no longer be considered in terms ofpedagogic (teaching) categories, but in terms of the need for involvement and interaction.
In this regard, Smit (1987), ofUNISA, urged lecturers involved in distance education to address the dearth of face-to-face influence and provide additional help to students, in order to guide them in developing their critical thinking. Muller (1987), ofthe Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), pointed out that students required more personalised and individual help with courses and suggested that a system of tutors could be used. Tutors were conceptualised by him to be subject matter experts who would require orientation and training before being placed at the disposal of students.
Adey, Gous and Potgieter (1987) urged that the tutor be trained to assume a facilitator role rather than a didactic one, by concentrating more on the learner than on the content. Finally, Neuland1 Cronje and Hugo (1987) felt that group discussions between tutors and students would help to overcome the educational barriers inherent in distance education and in so doing, provide a more holistic view of education.
As early as 1987, it became evident that face-to-face support was seen as a necessary 7 component of distance education, but it was not until the 29th ofMay 1995 that UNISA’S senate accepted face-to-face student support at learning centres as a vital part to the basic study package:
In 1995 the university introduced a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the support needs of students. To this end, it resolved to establish a network of provincial learning centres and a couple of community based (satellite centres) which would provide physical facilities, study resources and academic or tutorial support to students. Between April and May 1995 the first phase of the experiment was launched, which was documented in the August 1995 progress report circulated to the Deans of Faculty (UNISA, 1998). The progress reports of the learning centres, as well as feedback from departments and the Working Group on Student Support Services, highlighted the need for practical strategies in the areas of effective coordination, as well as clarity on the role of tutors and counsellors.
As a result, in April 1996, the Student Community Liaison Department employed a person to work full-time on tutorial support at a national level, so as to ensure that it would be well coordinated for the benefit of students and staff alike.
The support service (which, as already mentioned, was launched as an experiment) can be seen as a mechanism through which UNISA sought to overcome the barrier of student isolation and put the so-called ‘human face’ back into the distance learning process. The success of the tutorial support programme, over the period from 1995 to 1999 and beyond, is being
From a qualitative standpoint, it should be noted that the support programme has managed to attract local tutors who rate highly in terms of academic qualifications and experience (UNISA, 1998). The impact of the programme has also been assessed through a quantitative evaluation. The results of students who participated have been evaluated (by the Bureau for Management Information (BMI at UNISA) against representative samples of control groups. Evaluations in 1995, 1996 and 1997 have shown that, in most cases, the pass rates for each study unit were higher for learning centre students than those calculated for corresponding control groups. The evaluation report also concluded that, in the experimental stage, the tutorial support services at the learning centres seem to be well under way to achieving a more student-centred distance education approach (UNISA/BMI, 1997).
In conclusion, as the world approaches the 21st century, it can be seen that UNISA is ‘ actively reappraising its role and function as (arguably) the largest distance education institution in the country. The university is looking to play a pro-active and supportive role in meeting the needs of its target audience. In this way it can be said to be doing good on its commitment to advance academic matters through student support. It can also be acknowledged that these fundamental changes have begun to bring UNISA in line with the practices of large distance education institutions, whose practices show that distance education institutions are moving away from the traditional industrial model that is characterised by the course design team, towards a more distributed model, based on study centres and communication networks (Sweet, 1993).
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
Aim and Rationale of the Study
Design of the Study
Format of the Study
2 CONCEPT DEFINITIONS
Definition of Terms
The Way Forward
CHAPTER 3 THE IMPLEMENTATION OF STUDENT SUPPORT
SERVICES AT UNISA
The Broad South African Context
UNISA’S Response to the Changing External Context
Library Facilities, Study Space and Technological Support
The Way Forward
CHAPTER 4 THE TUTOR IN THE TUTORIAL PROGRAMME
Tutor Recruitment and Appointment
The Learning Centre’s Expectations from a Tutor
The Nature of a Tutor’s Work
Support Given to Tutors
Links with the Respective Academic Departments at UNISA
Teaching Aids Provided by the Learning Centres
Annual Tutor Training Workshops
Training Within Departments Introduced
CHAPTER 5 AN ECOSYSTEMIC APPROACH TO TUTOR TRAINING
An Alternative Epistemology
A Meta-Level Approach: Toward Second-Order Cybernetics
CHAPTER 6 THE RESEARCH PROCESS AND DESIGN
Sampling, Selection and Research Procedure
CHAPTER 7 MS A’S VIDEO DEMONSTRATION OF A FIRST TUTORIAL
Academic!UNISA Staff Members and Their Contribution to the Study
Data Analysis and Research Results
Reliability and Validity with Reference to this Study
Limitations of the Qualitative Paradigm
CHAPTER 8 MS B’S VIDEO DEMONSTRATION OF A MIDDLE OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR TUTORIAL
Identifying Data of the Various Role Players
The Impact of the Video Setting
The Author’s General Impressions ofMs Band Her Students
CHAPTER 9 The Author’s General Impressions of the Discussion Between Ms D, Ms E and Ms F
The Author’s General Impressions of the Promoter in Discussion withMs G
The Author Discusses and Comments on Ms B’ s Comments
The Author Discusses and Comments on the Comments from the Students
The Author Discusses and Comments on the Comments of Ms D, Ms E and Ms F
The Author Discusses and Comments on the Comments of the Promoter
The Consensual Domain
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
TOWARDS THE TRAINING OF PSYCHOLOGY TUTORS: AN ECOSYSTEMIC APPROACH