Redefining interaction in open and distance learning with reference to teacher education programmes in the University of the West Indies

Kuboni, Olabisi I. (1997). Redefining interaction in open and distance learning with reference to teacher education programmes in the University of the West Indies. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study was undertaken to serve two purposes. At a theoretical level, it was undertaken to review the concept of interaction in open and distance learning (ODL).The decision to conduct this review grew out of a concern that the current dominant approach to the study of teaching and learning in ODL was focusing on social interaction. This was regarded as a restricted interpretation of the concept, hence the decision to review and revise.

At a subsidiary level, the study was aimed at examining teaching and learning in the current teacher education programmes of the University of the West Indies This aspect of the study was undertaken in light of the university's proposed expansion of these offerings in the distance mode. The concept of interaction was seen as the appropriate context for undertaking this examination.

Based on a review of the literature, a revised concept of interaction was developed,embodying three separate, yet interrelated types, namely social interaction, leamer media interaction and learner-knowledge interaction. In developing this concept,attention was also paid to the part played by power relations and knowledge from external sources in the functioning of the concept's component parts. It is this reformulated concept that provided the theoretical framework for the examination of the teacher education programmes mentioned above.

A research programme comprising two sub-studies was designed and implemented.The first sub-study was an exploratory survey based on selected attributes of social interaction and designed to examine student teachers' perception of their experience as learners. The second was an observation study based on the principles of leamer knowledge interaction and aimed at investigating student-teachers' knowledge-building processes as these revealed themselves within the interpersonal interaction of teachers and learners in an audio-conferencing environment.

A key feature of the observation study was the design and implementation of an interpretive framework to guide data analysis. The framework was developed out of the data themselves and comprised two sets of interrelated categories, the one classifying knowledge-building activities and the other, control management functions. Extended data analysis drew on selected aspects of discourse analysis and specifically on the work of Fairclough (1989, 1992) and Potter and Wetherell (1987).

The findings derived from the two sub-studies underscored the essential thesis of this study that interaction in distance education is best viewed as a multifaceted phenomenon, and that there is a functional interrelationship among the constituent parts of the concept.

The research programme also confirmed the constructivist thesis that people construct rather than acquire knowledge. At the same time, the findings seem to indicate that the imbalance in the power relations between teachers and learners can hinder learners' capability to derive meaning from their learning. The findings also suggest that student-teachers are ambivalent about their roles as learners and that this ambivalence seems, at times, to be reflected in the attempts they make to gain control of the teaching learning situation and to direct their knowledge-building activities.

The study proposes specific areas of further research, including a follow-up study to test and refine the interpretive framework used in the observation study, and another to assess the validity of the three-part concept of interaction formulated in this work.

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