Study to examine IT use in teaching

14 March 2005

A R2-million Andrew W Mellon Foundation grant is set to put the use of digital resources in higher education institutions in the spotlight.

Professors Johan Muller, Johann Louw and Crain Soudien are the principal investigators of the study, said to be the first of its kind in South Africa.

By means of a survey, the team will examine the use of instructional technologies in the social sciences at South African higher education institutions. This will provide a data-rich understanding of the landscape of instructional technology at these institutions.

The project also includes a study of a particular set of software, the Johns Hopkins population statistics modules, as it is being (or has been) used at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. "The age of information technology is here," explained Muller, who is director of the Graduate School for Humanities. "This study is not about whether IT use is good or bad, but rather what works and what doesn't. There is no avoiding it, so we need to understand how to use it properly."

Louw, from the Department of Psychology, pointed out that the project will not only bring a substantial amount of money into the university, but UCT will also benefit from the results of the study.

"Not only will we know what works well, but we will be able to determine what is the most cost-effective option and what UCT's requirements are for making sure the use of instructional technology runs smoothly."

According to Soudien, who is from the School of Education, the Mellon Foundation has been making grants and investments in South Africa and Africa with the intent to fast-track the learning process.

"Technology has made good some of the weaknesses in developing countries such as our own. Traditionally, the humanities and social sciences fields have not been well-served by this type of 'use research' and a survey across institutions can improve the situation."

Dr Laura Czerniewicz, director of UCT's Centre for Educational Technology (CET), said the Foundation has also been consistent in its generous support for technology in education research, both through its five present projects funded through CET and previously through its major funding of the Multimedia Education Group.

"We are delighted that such an ambitious project is being funded," she said. "This new project will also build on current work in Western Cape higher education institutions investigating access to and use of ICTS in teaching and learning."

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