In this article, Allan Tait (2003) reflects on the need for student support and distance learning (ODL). The article, a reflection paper as introduced by the author, deals with the historical development of ODL and the theories associated with it, more particularly on Michael Moore's (1993) theory of transactional distance…
Quoting Nonyongo (2002), Tait (2003) said the UNISA was not successful due to low success in terms of completion and throughput rates, the correspondence nature of programmes in comparison with well-functioning distance education, and inadequate learner support which is exacerbated by the lack of a co-ordinated regional network of learning centers. From here, Tait (2003) emphasizes the dangers of developing distance education without learner support.
In contrast to UNISA, Tait (2003) describes the Open University UK established in 1969 with modern distance education endowed with a range of teaching and learning media and forming an integrated student support system. The characteristics of the systems included a personal tutor for each student (one tutor for every 25 students), tutor feedback, computer-mediated tutorials, 260 study center networks, residential school experience at a minimum of one week, and career advice.
Tait (2003) then explains the main reasons for having student support integrated in an ODL system. First, the students want support. Second, drop-out rate can be reduced; and third, the nature of learning is such that the use of the Web has expanded the potential for learning outside or independently of teaching materials provided. He then summarizes the rationale for student support as being cognitive, affective, and systemic altogether. In other words, learning is both supported and developed; it relates to emotions supporting learning and its success; and the students themselves help manage the rules supporting their persistence (Tait, 2000).
In particular, Tait (2003) espouses Michael Moore's (1993) theory of transactional distance as a framework that may be used to understand student needs in a web-based learning environment. Accordingly, Moore believes that the space between the learner and the structure of teaching must be mediated by dialogue, giving the chance to the learner to participate actively in his learning. Tait (2003), however says, the theory needs to be challenged as all theories do by the application of new cases.
As the article opened up, I get the feeling that Tait (2003) is plugging for the Open University of UK because he worked there as faculty. As the article progressed, however, he presented many points valid from experience, and he became more credible. Words like, "power of mere asynchronous text to create and sustain interpersonal engagement" is true to the experience of many in this cyber-age. This now highlights the truism that face-to-face interaction may also suffer from various "distance" like psychological, interpersonal, cultural, linguistic, environmental, and the like.
Tait (2003) is well-versed with his topic on student support in web-based learning environments. Prior to this writing, he had already written scholarly publications on student support and distance learning from 1996 to 2000 to 2002. By the time he wrote this reflective item, Tait (2003) had already sharpened his arguments over much. In fact, although he was espousing Moore's (1993) theory of transactional distance, he was laying it down for examination and possible criticism. It appears that Tait (2003) is ready for new developments. I would rate the article a 4 because of his readiness ...
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