Doyle (2011, p. 45) states correctly that “colleges and universities work hard to define the skills and knowledge they want their graduates to have, but unfortunately they use traditional assessment tools that often don’t measure whether the learning has occurred”. Traditional assessment tools can be exchanged for technology-based alternative methods to match the demands and expectations of all stakeholders and to ensure that graduates are competent and capable to take on the challenges of life and work in an information-based network society. This study evaluates possible technology-based alternative assessment tools that could be used to enhance effective education in an Open Distance Learning*1(ODL) environment through the use of a blended learning* approach.
BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY AND LITERATURE REVIEW
Although the world we live in is constantly changing, it has often been said that higher education is reluctant to change and that the same methods and models of teaching, learning and assessment that were introduced when universities first developed, are still in use. Bates (2010, p. 22) quotes a vice-chancellor who said: “Universities are like graveyards. When you want to move them, you don’t get a lot of help from the people inside.” There are however, some important developments in the post-modern world that are of such importance to society that their influence cannot be ignored by the higher education sector. Higher education must take note of the changes brought about in society by the move from industrial-based economies to information-based economies on the one hand and by the influence of a so-called fourth revolution (see Section 2.2) or the creation of a network society2 on the other hand.
During the last few centuries, education mainly provided a workforce for an industrialised society. Currently, however, the industrialised world is changing towards an information- based society (Pillay, 2010), causing major changes to the goal of education, a motion that already started more than half a century ago. “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations
1 Words and terms printed in bold and marked with an asterisk are explained under the heading: Clarification of terms and concepts (see Section 1.4).
2 The term “network society” was coined in 1981 by Stein Braten and it relates to social, political, economic and cultural changes caused or influenced by the spread of networked, digital information and communications technologies. Issues such as religion, culture, politics and social status all influence the network society (Castells, 2010).
have done…The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered…”3 (Piaget, 1964, p. 496). A number of African countries, including South Africa, are only taking their first steps on the road towards an information-based society and moving towards “multimedia complexities” (Constantina, Raffa, Alvares, & Moron, 2012, p. 123) that are replacing the linearity of the written word in the education industry. The changes in the aim of education, referred to above, should therefore be emphasised at all levels of education in South Africa to bring about positive and effective change. Higher education could act as a supporting vehicle for the transformation process, leading from the front.
Numerous universities are currently striving towards improving the quality of teaching and learning in order to provide effective education*. The focus of change and adaptation in higher education is both on the “what” (content) and on the “how” (means through which) teaching and learning are done. The “what” (content) has rapidly and seemingly uncontrollably expanded, opening up and facilitating an ever-growing number of messages (content) and possible interpretations for students to access and evaluate, or to use for creating new content. The method (how) of transfer of knowledge and skills is affected by the development of the network society (see also Section 2.2), through the implementation of technology. These methods constantly need adjustment to stay relevant and applicable for the world we live in. However, the solution to this challenge is not to be found in a single technological paradigm shift, but in the adaptation of and commitment to a process of continuous change (Ice, 2010) in sync with the developments in technology and society. Technology literacy and fluency are requirements to succeed in education and a graduation requirement; people need these skills to be successful in a global, network world (Oblinger, 2000).
The University of South Africa (Unisa) is an established ODL institute that uses a blended approach (Unisa, 2013a) to provide higher education, mainly to the people of Africa. The mission of the university is formulated as “Towards the African University in the service of Humanity” (Unisa, 2014, p. 8). In order to achieve this, Louw (2010, p. 46) emphasises that there should be a “renewed focus on indigenous knowledge as the rebirth of the African voice and identity in higher education”. Bringing these aspects of ODL, blended learning and the challenges regarding an African environment together, presents Unisa with a challenging
3 The original text by Jean Piaget contained the phrase “principle goal”. The phrase probably should read “principal goal” and the term “men” should be read as inclusive of women. (1964 November, The Arithmetic Teacher, Volume 11, Number 7, Piaget rediscovered by Eleanor Duckworth, Start Page 496, Quote Page 499, Published by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (JSTOR). Retrieved from http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/06/04/education/)
task to provide effective education* to all students. The three corner pillars of the triangle of effective education will be discussed next to explain why assessment is an equal and important part of effective education and therefore the focus of this investigation.
The triangle of effective education
The concept of effective education brings the three most important aspects of education together. The triangle of effective education is constructed by teaching and learning that forms the bottom line with assessment linking these two aspects to the pinnacle to create a triangle that serves as a firm foundational framework for educators4. Although learning is often seen as the main focus point of education, it is assessment that determines whether learning actually took place and if the student is able to implement the learning through cognitive and transferable skills (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2003, 2004). From a student point of view it is assumed that assessment determines the actual curriculum because most students tend to learn only what they think or know will be assessed in summative assessment tasks (Becker, Geer, & Hughes, 1968), but this assumption is seen as an oversimplified interpretation of a much more complex issue (Joughin, 2010). The work of educators in their teaching, and more specifically in their assessment should guide, promote and focus the learning process of students towards success, underpinning the “fundamental aspects of the interactions between assessment and learning” (Joughin, 2010, p. 335). Although each of the three aspects of education deserves continuous academic research to ensure sustainable high level standards of education, this study will focus mainly on the aspect of assessment.
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