Course Evaluation at a Distance Teaching University

Dassanayake, Nalin (1998). Course Evaluation at a Distance Teaching University. MPhil thesis The Open University.



Distance education is a relatively new field in the South Asian region compared with developed world. It is still in its development stages. The Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) which was established in 1980, is the only university in Sri Lanka which offers study programmes in distance mode. Most of its courses have been offered for a number of years and therefore need to be developed and improved.

At OUSL, very few course evaluation studies had been conducted. The development of a course evaluation model for OUSL courses was one objective of this particular study. Foundation level one Mathematics courses of the Diploma in Technology programme of the OUSL were the subject of this evaluation study. The samples were selected from the course participants to obtain feedback through a postal questionnaire. In addition, group discussions were conducted with number of small student groups. Information was also obtained from a sample of Day School lecturers. Their suggestions were also obtained for improving course components. Findings reveal a number of weaknesses, particularly in the two components, course materials and Day Schools. Most of them were not satisfied with the way of conducting Day Schools and expect class room style teaching. Some of the weaknesses in course material, if examined in the light of suggestions made by students, are not difficult to remove. For example : not providing the answers for the self assessment questions, insufficient worked examples in some subject areas and printing mistakes.

Majority of the respondents who followed the foundation level Mathematics courses were in 18 -24 age group. Most of them were unemployed. Around 90% were males. In both courses nearly half of the registered students had never participated in the academic activities. Almost all had passed the G.C.E. (O/L) Mathematics and Science subjects, which was considered as an advantage in following the foundation programme although no educational qualifications are requested. However, in both courses students who had followed G.C.E (A/L) in Maths stream had performed significantly better than the others. Among the participants only 35 - 40% had got the eligibility to sit the final examination. Although the final examination pass rates were good, the success rates were very low which were only 17% in Applied Mathematics and 11% in Pure Mathematics. None of the respondents who had not followed G.C.E.(A/L) in Maths stream failed to complete the Pure Mathematics course successfully.

Course evaluation studies are conducted for number of purposes. A number of course evaluation studies are discussed in the light of developing a suitable model for OUSL courses. Basically, attention is drawn to the following issues.

* identifying the areas to be investigated
* identifying the categories to obtain information
* selecting an appropriate data collection method

Several factors are to be considered under each issue. Availability of time and resources are the main factors.

Out of the data collection methods discussed postal questionnaire / discussion method which was used for this particular study is recommended as the most appropriate method in the Sri Lankan context. The importance of reminders is stressed as they doubled the initial response rates of this study.

The implementation of recommendations and suggestions is another vital stage in the evaluation process. A quick response from authorities is sought for the recommendations and suggestions to win student confidence. This may also influence future studies.

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