THEORISING THE ODL INSTITUTION AND ITS ROLE IN PRODUCING AND ASSESSING PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTANTS

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THE ODL INSTITUTION IN A THEORETICAL CONTEXT

An institution is defined as “an organisation, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or programme, especially one of a public, educational, or charitable character” (DHET 2014b:20). The use of distance education methods allows for the realisation of open learning purposes and principles. Students in an ODL environment study through self-instruction, as they do not have the benefit of a face-to-face lecturer. Distance learning is available to students wherever they live or wish to study according to their own personal schedules and needs, and does not require them to assemble in a particular location. Students can therefore have a university experience while working, making it a cost-effective and flexible method for further education (Altbach et al 2009:125,137; CHE 2014:4,12; DHET 2014b:20; Subotzky & Prinsloo 2011:177–178; Tung 2012:312). Unisa became the first public university in the world in 1946, to teach exclusively by way of tertiary distance education (Commonwealth of Learning [COL] 2017:7). All open universities in the COL also make use of ODL as their primary mode of teaching and learning (COL 2017:8). At Unisa (2018a:2), ODL is defined as: [A] multi-dimensional concept aimed at bridging the time, geographical, economic, social, educational and communication distance between student and institution, student and academics, student and courseware and student and peers. Open distance e-learning focuses on removing barriers to access learning, flexibility of learning provision, student-centredness, supporting students and constructing learning programmes with the expectation that students can succeed. These aspects all play a role in an ODL institution and it is therefore important to make use of a strong theoretical basis to support the study. A grand theory forms the cornerstones or building blocks of most social sciences where the formal organisation and related arrangements have priority over the social world (Mills 1959). Foundational theory can explain the similarity of the actual structure of the study, because of its relationship with or similarity to the real structure (Sklar 2003:426). Various theories Developing an alternative assessment framework for undergraduate accountancy modules in open distance learning (ODL)
were applicable to the current study, for example stakeholder and institutional theories. In Table 2.1 below, the most relevant seminal articles on stakeholder and institutional theories are summarised to support the decision to use the institutional theory as a foundational theory in this study.

THE NEW INSTITUTION

Neo-institutionalism evolved from the old institutionalism with a strong theoretical basis over decades. Two seminal works by DiMaggio and Powell (1983) and Meyer and Rowan (1977) formed the basis of the neo-institutional theory. Formal organisations in a modern society are in a highly institutionalised context of professions, policies and programmes along with products and services (Meyer & Rowan 1977:340). These organisations should align their structures with the institutional context to increase legitimacy, resources, stability and better chances on survival independently from the acquired practices (Lawrence & Shadnam 2008:2290). The influence of broader social structures of the organisation on its social action, and how this results in the organisational structures and practices, are the primary concerns of neo-institutionalism (Mahmood & Ahmad 2015:140,143). There is thus a stronger focus with neo-institutionalism on the relationship between stability and legitimacy (Powell & DiMaggio 1991:12). Meyer and Rowan (1977:360) propose a radical new way of thinking about formal structures and the decision-making that resulted in these structures. Formal structures should have both symbolic properties and practical activities that inform internal and external stakeholders of the causes and consequences of structure (Meyer & Rowan 1977:360; Tolbert & Zucker 1996:177).
Structural organisational changes are the response of the institution to various isomorphic forces (DiMaggio & Powell 1983:148). Isomorphic forces are forces that are similar in form and practice to each other and can be grouped into coercive, normative and mimetic forces (DiMaggio & Powell 1983:150; González & Hassall 2008:15–16; Karataş Acer & Güçlü 2017:1915; Lawrence & Shadnam 2008:2290). Refer to Figure 2.2 for a diagram summarising these forces.

Coercive pressures on universities and other higher education institutions

Over the last two decades, the traditional role of universities globally, as well as the legitimacy of the university as an institution, experienced political, economic and technological pressures (Croucher & Woelert 2016:442; Krücken 2014:1439). During the late 1980s, there was a radical national policy reform of the university system in Australia (Croucher & Woelert 2016:440). The government policy changes, as well as external pressures, resulted in many uncertainties. These coercive pressures had a significant effect on the organisational change in universities in Australia (Croucher & Woelert 2016:442–443). The change in policy was intended to create increased diversity in higher education in Australia (Croucher & Woelert 2016:440,452). However, based on empirical studies, Croucher and Woelert (2016:452) claim that this change in policy had the opposite effect on the formal features of the institution and Developing an alternative assessment framework for undergraduate accountancy modules in open distance learning (ODL) provided evidence of the institutional isomorphism and converging characteristics in Australian universities.
There was also a remarkable transformation of higher education in Europe over the last two decades, and specifically in Germany, in the last decade (Krücken 2014:1439). This was the result of new national and European policies with the purpose of increasing the national and global competitiveness of these universities. Strong state regulation and academic self-governance regulated the universities in the past, but with accreditation and evaluation bodies, and university boards playing a bigger role in the regulations, the transformation of the organisation resulted in management playing a more important role in these integrated, goal-orientated, competitive entities (Krücken 2014:1439). These coercive organisational changes can be viewed from the perspectives of the neo-institutional theory. There was also a rapid expansion in HEIs in Turkey between 2006 and 2016 (Karataş Acer & Güçlü 2017:1912,1914). Due to the financial support for public universities and the governance and supervisory role of the Turkish Council of Higher Education, the emphasis was placed on coercive isomorphism with homogeneity and centralisation as a result (Karataş Acer & Güçlü 2017:1915–1916,1926).
In 1983, coercive pressures resulted in the educational policy being changed in Spain, with the introduction of the University Reform Organic Law (González & Hassall 2008:14). The purpose of the introduction of the new law was to allow the establishment of private universities. In addition, it allowed universities to offer their own degree programmes with a greater autonomy in terms of finance, as well as curriculum development. Previously, these universities were under direct control of the government. Student numbers more than doubled between 1983 and 2001 but the number of graduates did not increase accordingly (González & Hassall 2008:14). In 2001 the new University Organic Law (see Chamber of Deputies 2001) was introduced with the purpose of increasing legitimacy by way of coercive pressure, thereby causing important changes in Spanish higher education (González & Hassall 2008:14–15, 22).
Due to the skills shortage in South Africa (see WEF 2016a), coercive pressure is applied by the NPC through the 2030 NDP (see NPC 2012) from outside the institution, to improve the quality of teaching and learning and the educational outcomes throughout the education system (NPC 2012:318). Universities do not have enough Developing an alternative assessment framework for undergraduate accountancy modules in open distance learning (ODL) capacity to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of students, and one of the proposals of the NDP is to extend the use of distance education by expanding the university infrastructure (NPC 2012:318,320). The number of public universities in South Africa, increased from 23 in 2011 to 26 during 2014 and 2015 to allow for more HEI enrolments (DHET 2019:3,26). Students worldwide compete for scarce places in universities, especially in developing countries (Altbach et al 2009:14,123). Distance education is extremely important to expand higher education in order to meet the growing needs of students for higher education and the ambitious national development agendas of countries (Altbach et al 2009:123–124). Following the requirements set by the NDP (NPC 2012:320), the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training, was released in 2013 to make distance education available to all universities in South Africa (DHET 2013:51).
In 2014, the “policy for the provision of distance education in South African universities in the context of an integrated post-school system” (see DHET 2014b:1–22) was approved by government, to regulate distance education at South African universities. The purpose of this policy is to provide clarity on terminology used in distance education and to promote greater access in distance education with a reasonable chance of success (DHET 2014b:6). The quality assurance of tuition and assessment, resulting in good-quality ethical students, and the improvement of retention, pass rates and throughput of distance education students in South Africa, is critical (DHET 2014b:6). The policy also confirms the minimum requirements for quality distance education as required by the National Association of Distance Education and Open Learning in South Africa (NADEOSA) (DHET 2014b:14). The coercive pressure of government on universities is forcing the institutions to change and to find more innovative ways of assessing students. In a study by Pincus, Stout, Sorensen, Stocks and Lawson (2017:7), it was found that there should be a focus on the measuring of learning, by way of competency-based education and assessment of learning, as information technology has been adapted as an add-on to ways of teaching, but it is not integrated as part of the programme. Higher education policies and government regulations would not play such a significant role in the reform of universities in future due to the greater emphasis on technology, and the emphasis will thus move to mimetic pressures (Krücken 2014:1449). There is currently a gap in available Developing an alternative assessment framework for undergraduate accountancy modules in open distance learning (ODL)  technology and the limited actual utilisation of technology in the university sector (Pincus et al 2017:6).
There are strong forces for change in higher education due to rapidly advancing technology and a financial model that is dramatically challenged (Pincus et al 2017:14). Mimetic pressures are confirmed by converging tendencies that mostly occur in professional fields, for example law and accounting, which lead to more conformity in the university system, and therefore resulting in homogenisation (Croucher & Woelert 2016:443; Greenwood & Hinings 1996:1027,1042; Meyer & Rowan 1977:344). The effect of the interaction between mimetic pressures (such as uncertainty in technology) and coercive pressures (such as legitimacy of qualifications) on the institution results in universities remaining similar or becoming more uniform (Croucher & Woelert 2016:451–452). The potential for distance education has expanded vastly due to the latest innovations in technology allowing for more interactive involvement or even providing content more efficiently in the ODL environment (Altbach et al 2009:134,137; CHE 2014:6, 12). ICT access will be improved in South Africa through an integrated national ICT plan that will increase the technological potential for student support in teaching and learning for distance education institutions (DHET 2013:53; DTPS 2016:11–12,64–65). Distance education programmes could include a variety of media, ranging from without any internet access to being fully online (DHET 2014b:8–9) with the aim to create a quality learning environment with student support (DHET 2014b:11). Technology as a mimetic force on the institution is crucial, as it must be able to support technology-enhanced initiatives for teaching, learning and assessment of students.
The legitimacy of technology-enhanced non-venue-based assessments may be questioned if the identity of students taking part in a programme cannot be verified by the university or the HEI. This may result in an increase in coercive pressures (Meyer & Rowan 1977:350). According to the Unisa assessment policy (see Unisa 2015e), authenticity is important, and therefore the university must be satisfied that “the work being assessed is attributable to the person being assessed” (Unisa 2015e:6). Letseka and Pitsoe (2013:204) argue that lecturers in an ODL environment do not have a way of knowing whether work submitted by students is their own work or a collaborative effort. Inconsistencies in performance are evident when students perform well in non-Developing an alternative assessment framework for undergraduate accountancy modules in open distance learning (ODL) venue-based formative assessments, but poorly in venue-based summative assessments. Nyoni (2014:157) also concludes that the ODL environment might compromise the accuracy, fairness and appropriateness of assessments given the large student numbers, if assessments are not aligned with the e-learning environment. The quality and validity of assessments in an ODL environment are therefore very important aspects that must be addressed in an online environment. In addition to the range of coercive pressures on the online environment, various normative pressures have an influence on the institution.

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Table of contents :

Declaration
Acknowledgements
Abstract
Table of contents
List of tables
List of figures
List of abbreviations and acronyms
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
1.1 INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND INFORMATION
1.2 OVERVIEW
1.3 LITERATURE REVIEW
1.3.1 Take-home assessments
1.3.2 Timed online assessments
1.3.3 Portfolios
1.3.4 E-portfolios
1.3.5 Webinars
1.3.6 Peer review
1.3.7 Continuous assessment
1.3.8 Challenges with non-venue-based alternative assessments
1.3.9 Assessment practices of professional accounting associations
1.4 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.5 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
1.6 RESEARCH STATEMENT
1.7 DELINEATION AND LIMITATIONS
1.8 DEFINITIONS OF TERMS AND CONCEPTS
1.9 RESEARCH DESIGN
1.9.1 Credibility and trustworthiness
1.9.2 Ethical considerations
1.9.3 Protection and security of information or data collected
1.10 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
1.11 CHAPTER OVERVIEW
CHAPTER 2 THEORISING THE ODL INSTITUTION AND ITS ROLE IN PRODUCING AND ASSESSING PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTANTS
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 OVERVIEW
2.3 THE ODL INSTITUTION IN A THEORETICAL CONTEXT
2.4 THE NEW INSTITUTION
2.4.1 Coercive pressures on universities and other higher education institutions
2.4.2 Normative pressures on accounting sciences, programme accreditation and professional bodies
2.4.3 The changing environment of assessment and technology influencing mimetic isomorphism
2.5 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3 CONTEXTUALISING ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS IN ACCOUNTING SCIENCES IN ODL
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 OVERVIEW
3.3 THE NEED FOR ASSESSMENT
3.4 ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT AND LIFELONG LEARNING
3.5 ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS IN ACCOUNTING SCIENCES
3.6 VENUE-BASED ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS
3.6.1 Alternative assessment practices of various professional accounting bodies
3.6.1.1 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
3.6.1.2 AICPA
3.6.1.3 CIMA
3.6.1.4 ACCA
3.6.1.5 SAICA
3.7 NON-VENUE-BASED ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS
3.7.1 Types of alternative non-venue-based assessments
3.7.1.1 Recognition of prior learning
3.7.1.2 Portfolio
3.7.1.3 E-portfolio
3.7.1.4 Take-home assessment
3.7.1.5 Timed online assessment
3.7.1.6 Peer review
3.7.1.7 Webinar
3.7.1.8 Continuous assessment
3.7.1.9 Case studies and simulations
3.7.2 Academic integrity in a non-venue-based environment
3.7.2.1 Identity verification
3.7.2.2 Validation of authorship
3.7.2.3 Monitoring and control
3.7.2.4 Methods to increase academic integrity
3.8 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORKS BASED ON THEORY
3.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH DESIGN
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 OVERVIEW
4.3 METHODOLOGICAL DECISION-MAKING
4.4 RESEARCH PHILOSOPHIES AND PARADIGMS
4.5 RESEARCH APPROACH
4.6 RESEARCH DESIGN
4.6.1 Design-based: Preliminary phase
4.6.2 Design-based: Development/prototyping phase
4.6.3 Design-based: Assessment phase
4.7 METHODS
4.7.1 Data collection
4.7.1.1 Interviews
4.7.1.2 Document analysis
4.7.2 Data analysis
4.8 METHODOLOGICAL CRITERIA
4.8.1 Trustworthiness
4.8.2 Ethical considerations
4.8.2.1 Discipline and study specific ethics
4.8.2.2 Scholarly ethics
4.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 5 PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF DATA GATHERED
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 OVERVIEW
5.3 RECAP OF THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
5.4 DEMOGRAPHICS
5.5 THEMES IN RESPONSE TO RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
5.5.1 Theme 1: ODL institutions
5.5.1.1 Opportunities in ODL
5.5.1.2 Concerns and challenges in ODL
5.5.2 Theme 2: Assessment in accounting sciences
5.5.2.1 Experience with alternative assessments – venue-based and non-venue-based
5.5.2.2 Non-venue-based alternative assessment methods
5.5.2.3 Learning skills and professional skills/competencies
5.5.2.4 Benefits of non-venue-based alternative assessments
5.5.2.5 Concerns of non-venue-based alternative assessment
5.5.3 Theme 3: Accreditation
5.5.3.1 Accreditation of professional bodies
5.5.3.2 Accreditation of qualifications by governing and regulatory bodies
5.5.4 Theme 4: Legitimacy
5.5.4.1 Ethics
5.5.4.2 Identity verification
5.5.5 Theme 5: Technology
5.5.5.1 Systems
5.5.5.2 Technology-enhanced assessments
5.5.5.3 Innovative ways
5.6 AMENDMENT OF CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
5.7 TRIANGULATION IN ASSESSMENT PHASE
5.7.1 Assessment theme
5.7.1.1 Venue-based vs non-venue-based
5.7.1.2 Non-venue-based alternative assessment methods
5.7.1.3 Learning skills
5.7.1.4 Benefits of non-venue-based alternative assessment
5.7.1.5 Concerns of non-venue-based alternative assessment
5.7.2 Legitimacy theme
5.7.2.1 Ethics
5.7.3 Technology theme
5.7.3.1 Systems
5.7.3.2 Technology-enhanced assessments
5.8 EVALUATION OF FINAL CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
5.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 6 PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF THEORETICAL CONTRIBUTIONS RESULTING FROM DATA GATHERED
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 OVERVIEW
6.3 THEORETICAL GAPS RECAPPED
6.4 THEORETICAL CONTRIBUTIONS RESULTING FROM THE DATA ANALYSIS
6.4.1 Themes relating to institutional and neo-institutional theory
6.4.1.3 Theme 3: Legitimacy achieved with examples
6.4.1.4 Assertion relating to institutional and neo-institutional theory
6.4.2 Themes relating to stakeholder theory
6.4.2.1 Theme 1: Technology as stakeholder: Anthropomorphic oviding potential for innovation
6.4.2.3 Assertion relating to stakeholder theory
6.5 THEORETICAL GAPS ADDRESSED
6.6 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 7 CONTRIBUTION – SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 OVERVIEW
7.3 SUMMARY
7.4 DISCUSSION
7.4.1 Methodological contribution
7.4.2 Substantive contribution
7.4.3 Scientific contribution
7.4.3.1 Institutional and neo-institutional theory
7.4.3.2 Stakeholder theory
7.5 RECOMMENDATIONS
7.6 LIMITATIONS
REFERENCES

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