Computer assisted education : design, development and evaluation.
Educational institutions throughout the world are increasingly facing classes of educationally, culturally and linguistically diverse student groups. At the same time economic constraints require these institutions to expand their student base and they are therefore looking to distance education and continuing education modules to meet these challenges. Simultaneously rapid advances in desktop computing capabilities and Internet delivered information have revived interest in Computer Assisted Education (CAE). The University of Natal is no exception to these trends; schools, departments and individual members of staff are increasingly exploring the possibility of using the University's computer infrastructure to assist in delivering quality education, maintaining current standards, and addressing the multiple needs of the students. To investigate these issues a CAE program was developed for use in the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine to investigate how students would make use 'of the technology, and to report on the development and evaluation processes of such a development. In doing so various lessons could be learnt which could inform the further development of such software at the University. In order to support the development of the CAE program an extensive literature survey into current educational theory was conducted. Its objectives were to explore and understand all the factors affecting the development and use of computer based systems as an educational tool. Particular aspects considered were • the debate between constructivist and instructivist theory in their applicability to both the medium and the subject material. • instructional styles, and with them the learning styles, that could be used to support the educational goals of the diverse student population. • instructional design methodologies that are currently used as well as media production methodologies. The goal of this aspect of the research was to advise both the development of the case study and to gain a broader understanding of the methodology that could be used for other developments. Included in this phase of the research are methods and criteria for selection of authoring systems and interface design issues in a multi-cultural multi-lingual environment. • the review of different evaluation strategies in order to incorporate appropriate evaluation in the CAE case study. • the investigation of broader sociological and historical factors that may influence the way in which CAE can be used effectively in a South African context. The presumption was that students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds and those with English as a second language would be less willing to use technological interventions than those who were more likely to have had access to computers earlier in their education. The case study set out to investigate if this presumption was valid, and if so what elements of design and delivery could facilitate these students' usage of such systems. However, these presumptions were not validated by the case study, showing the exact opposite of expectations, with more historically disadvantaged students showing a willingness to use the module.