Dr Ruth Aluko
Unit for Distance Education Researcher
Research in the Unit for Distance Education
The University of Pretoria’s vision is to be a leading research‐intensive university in Africa, recognised internationally for its quality, relevance and impact, as well as developing people, creating knowledge and making a difference locally and globally. In line with this, the University actively promotes a research culture and applies the highest ethical standards to its research outputs. Therefore, the University is committed to ongoing research into its own distance education practices and emerging external research. Furthermore, the University is committed to scholarly teaching so that action-based research feeds back into improved programme design, development and teaching.
Research in the Unit for Distance Education (UDE) in relation to quality control
The Unit for Distance Education (UDE) believes enhancing the quality of its distance education programmes is directly linked to research. Quality is a priority at the University of Pretoria. Therefore, the broad policy of the University on distance education is that all its programmes and other operations must meet the same quality standards required of its contact education programmes (University of Pretoria, 2009: Section 12.1). The purpose of quality assurance management in distance education is to develop appropriate structures to monitor, review and evaluate its practices in order to improve practice. The policy that determines the quality assurance practices at the UDE is guided by the quality criteria of the National Association of Distance Education Organisations of South Africa (NADEOSA, https://www.saide.org.za/documents/Nadeosa_Quality_Critiera.pdf), as agreed upon by distance education providers in South Africa. Rooted in national evaluation criteria and recognised international practices, the quality assurance procedures cover both administrative and academic practices. All stakeholders are involved in monitoring the practices, using the various instruments UDE developed to ensure this.
Research foci in the Unit
Research in the Unit focuses on the core element ‘Policy and Planning’, which indirectly affects all other core elements of the distance education initiative: Quality Assurance, Learners, Program Development, Course Design, Course Material, Assessment, Learner Support, Human Resource & Strategy, Management & Administration, and Collaborative Relationships. When departments run programmes in distance mode, such programmes only serve as units of study for the UDE research.
Classification of research in the UDE
The Unit has classified its research activities into three categories that are not mutually exclusive.
Operational research: This is conducted continuously and has a short-term focus. It is mainly used to inform management decisions and to improve practice.
Operational and academic research: Some of the results/findings from the operational research are often reworked into conference papers, articles, book chapters and other publications.
Academic research support: Through this, the Unit supports and collaborates with academic staff members and postgraduate students from the faculty conducting research in the field of distance education. Qualified UDE staff members also serve as supervisors of MEd and PhD studies upon request by faculty members.
Ethical clearance and research tools
The Unit has obtained ethical clearance from the Faculty’s Research Ethics Committee for all research conducted at all levels. The student application form and the relevant Admin Booklet include a section on students’ involvement in operational research. Evaluation tools have metamorphosed from paper format to online tools such as Survey Monkey and Qualtrics, and Google forms, the results of which are part of an ongoing effort to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The evaluation process involves all students, service providers and both academic and administrative staff members.
Current Research initiatives
The Unit for Distance Education’s goal is to maintain its high quality standards. With the change from a paper-based mode of delivery to web-supported delivery (a move by the University regarding all its programmes), the Unit has tailored its research activities to online delivery. Areas of research are based on principal components in the new programme. Some of these are: Student general profile (age, geographical, gender, ICT, work and finance) to assist with the provision of relevant and adequate support; Student support; Tutor/academic supporter training and their subsequent role; Compulsory ICT training for prospective students; Contact sessions; Student online engagement; Student assessment in a hybrid environment; Student administration; Call centre; Staff support; Teacher resilience; Emerging technologies; and other emerging areas of research.
The Distance Education and Teachers’ Training in Africa (DETA) biennial conference
The Unit for Distance Education hosts the Distance Education and Teachers’ Training in Africa (DETA) conference biennially. Click here for more information.
Teacher Education through Flexible Learning in Africa (and other developing contexts) - TETFLE
The UDE is the publisher of the Teacher Education through Flexible Learning in Africa (and other developing contexts) – TETFLE open journal. This publication has evolved from the DETA Conference Proceedings. Click here for more information.