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Quality improvement at a university of technology using internet technologies
Advances in internet technologies have created opportunities for facilitating learning and improving performance in education. The applications of these technologies have given rise to the phenomenon widely referred to as e-Learning. E-Learning has been widely adopted by tertiary institutions globally as a strategic initiative to improve the knowledge delivery process. This study was carried out at a University of Technology (UoT) in the Western Cape, South Africa, where e-Learning technology is used mainly for distribution of course materials. The study focuses on the impact of a web-based e-Learning program on the quality of teaching and learning; with an overall aim of creating awareness of the extent to which the quality of teaching and learning can be improved through a learning environment that engages an e-Learning program for leverage. The need to maximize the return on investments (ROI) by the institution on an enterprise e-Learning platform (Blackboard), the learning enablement which educational technologies afford, and the dividends promised by a strategic implementation of e–Learning in enhancing and enriching learning environments makes this study relevant and timely. The research was conducted using the UoT as a case study, and utilised the principles of both qualitative and qualitative research paradigms. The research was based on a review of relevant literature, administration of survey questionnaires to specific faculty and students’ populations, and statistical comparisons of students’ test results based on instruction delivery methods. The findings of this study underline that students’ satisfaction with a teaching method can positively influence how they learn and the outcomes they achieve, that instruction methods can greatly affect students’ performance, and consequently the quality of learning. The result of this study conforms to the view of many authors that instruction methods can be improved by systematic use of specific internet technologies (or simply, e-Learning tools) in the teaching and learning process. It was found that student achieved better results in modules of a subject that were taught using a combination of e-Learning program and face-to-face learning method than in the module taught using the traditional method only. Other emerging findings from this study suggest that lecturers at the institution are biased against the term e-Learning mainly because of their negative experiences with the e-Learning platform, lack of knowledge of the potentials of an e-Learning program and the challenges it poses. However, some faculty members show some willingness to use this e-Learning approach if conditions for its success are favourable with the necessary support systems in place. The main conclusion drawn from this research as a consequence of the findings is that powerful learning environments that meet the needs and enhance the learning of students would be in place at the institution if academic staff are duly aware of the benefits of an e-Learning program to them and their students; and if they are well resourced and capacitated. This study therefore argues for a multipronged approach to facilitate the institution-wide use of e-Learning program in teaching and learning. This includes but is not limited to educating the academic staff on the advantages/benefits of using technology as an effective tool for learner engagement, providing meaningful pedagogical training with the specific aim of preparing them for integrating e-Learning into their teaching, identifying learning objectives and learning processes that can best be supported by either e-Learning components or face-to-face, or by both and adequate support structure.