An Investigation of the academic performance of distant and conventional students studying Commerce at the University of Swaziland
An approach to the early diagnosis of academic problems on courses for Distance Education (DE) students at the University Of Swaziland (UNISWA) is proposed. The first stage involved the analysis of the academic performance of three cohorts of Diploma of Commerce students to identify problem courses. This was followed up by brief interviews with staff exploring potential explanations based on Mayes’ (1995) conceptual framework. Finally recommendations to improve the courses can be made. // The findings showed that in general the DE students’ academic performance was significantly below that of their FT equivalents. From the data and the interviews it would appear that for the worse cases this poor performance could be explained by a combination of factors. First, many of the printed modules were out of date, and consequently face-to-face time was being used nearly entirely to provide additional lectures at the expense of tutorials. Second, the DE students did not receive any practicals for a number of key courses. And third, the students themselves neither wanted nor were fully prepared to undertake DE courses. This latter effect diminished over the years. // The continually reviewing and updating of printed modules is a slow and expensive business, but clearly if not undertaken creates very significant disadvantages for the DE student. One solution is to move more material online where it is easier to update, but access technology in Swaziland is still poor so web-based solutions are still some way off. In the meantime, lecturers are being encouraged to create supplementary handouts for students, and being positively encouraged not to use too much of their face-to-face time for ‘catch-up’ and updating lectures. // The overall approach seemed successful and there are plans to continue to use it to identify and rectify problems. One future development is to use the University’s computerised marking system to assist the analysis. This should make the task easier and less time consuming.
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