E-academic peer mentoring support foreducation students in an open distance learning ecosystem
Van der Westhuizen, S.
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Government’s efforts to increase access to education opportunities by means of ODL, whether to remove the barriers associated with learning, or to address education system inequalities associated with apartheid South Africa, do not currently equate to student academic success. This is evident in the dropout rates of ODL students that continue to be higher than those of on-campus students. A lack of institutional support has been identified by research as a contributing factor to ODL student dropout. Tinto’s Revised Model of Student Integration illustrates how the integration of students into higher education institutions’ academic and social structures is dependent on the experience students have while interacting with these structures. However, ODL student support, determined from an institutional perspective, hinders the integration of the ODL students into the academic and social structures of the institution. To therefore translate equity of access to equitable success opportunities for ODL students, higher education institutions should rethink existing approaches to student support within the ODL environment to design support interventions directed purposefully at ODL student academic success. The purpose of this study was to develop a multi-tiered e-academic peer mentoring support framework that may be embedded within an education ODL ecosystem to address ODL education students’ academic and social support needs and concerns. To achieve this, the needs, and concerns of education ODL students were determined relating to the support services and resources that the case institution provides to facilitate engagement with the institution, successful completion of disciplinary modules, and connection between students, and the students and the module lecturer in the cohort. A proactive action research approach was chosen, and questionnaires and document analysis were identified as the best methods for data collection. The qualitative data – collected by multiple means – were examined and analysed by means of content and thematic analysis. Significant findings included that ODL students want to be treated the same and have the same benefits as their on-campus counterparts, that their comprehension of content is impeded by a lack of timely, frequent, clear and comprehensive communication of information, guidelines and instructions, that they require the unique circumstances that motivate them to study via ODL to be taken into consideration during course planning and design and that they experience feelings of isolation due to limited connection with their peers and the module lecturer. The corroborating evidence yielded by constant comparison of the data, informed the conceptualisation of a multi-tiered e-academic peer mentoring support framework. A blueprint of the support framework is provided for the consideration of HEI faculties when conceptualising e-academic peer mentoring support frameworks within their own learning ecosystems.
- Education