Exploration of factors that inform curriculum studies students to use e-resources in conducting Masters of Education dissertations at a South African university.
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This study is an exploration of factors that inform Curriculum Studies students to use e-resources in conducting their Masters of Education dissertations at a South African university. With rapid developments in online learning and perpetual advancements in technology, amidst the increasing numbers of students enrolling for postgraduate studies, the study sought to gain an understanding and interpretation of the e-resources students mainly use to conduct their dissertations and the critical factors that support such practises. Establishing this invigorated a critical perspective of the e-resources employed in research in the field of curriculum. The field of curriculum is vast and ever changing due to the evolving needs of society. Coupled to this transformation is the influence of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that enables higher education institutions to create online platforms for the culmination of e-resources that can improve students’ research imperatives. To this effect the rationale for the study was to explore why certain e-resources are used above others, and how this informs students’ ability to do research. This process involved understanding the factors of content, societal and personal which provided an analytical lens in exploring the premise for their choices of e-resources. Consequently, the study was guided by three research questions that framed each chapter. The first research question stated, “What are factors that inform Curriculum Studies students to use e-resources in conducting Masters of Education dissertations at a South African university?, the second, “How do Curriculum Studies students use e-resources in conducting Masters of Education dissertations at a South African university?, and the third, “Why do Curriculum Studies students use e-resources in conducting Masters of Education dissertations in a particular way at a South African university? To answer the three research questions, the study adopted a qualitative research approach which enabled a platform for seeking detailed accounts of participants’ experiences, perspectives, beliefs and opinions of using e-resources to undertake research. The qualitative research approach paralleled the use of the interpretive paradigm that allowed the study to delve into the deep, subjective meanings of participants’ experiences that enhanced the epistemological and ontological assumptions thereof. This was supported by the implementation of a case study style of research in which a small group of participants from the university were targeted in order to source thick descriptions regarding their use of e-resources in research. In selecting participants, the non-probability sampling methods of purposive sampling infused with convenience sampling was affiliated to coincide with the features of a qualitative, interpretivist case study approach to this study. This was further conditioned by the three data generation methods chosen: one-to-one semi structured interviews, document analysis and an online reflection activity. Ensuring trustworthiness of the data was analysed according to the criteria of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability. To further probe, analyse and make sense of the data, the theoretical framework of the Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) was merged with the Curriculum concepts to produce the Curriculum CHAT theory. This invoked the precepts of guided analysis that provided a foundation for eliciting themes and categories to present the data. Eight themes were conceived, afforded by categories (sub-themes) that culminated patterns and trends of the factors that inform students (researchers) to use particular e-resources in research. These themes were divided into researcher; e-resources; research knowledge; accessibility; research activities; research environment and time; research targets; and assessment. The themes were additionally structured in a manner of interrogating the three research questions of the study. The findings postulated that certain e-resources were privileged in use over others, as these were driven by ideological-ware (IW) resources. E-resources were explored in the context of hard-ware (HW), soft-ware (SW) and ideological-ware (IW). This suggests that using e-resources were first informed by theories of research, paradigms and the literature (IW resources) in construction of students’ dissertations. Having a firm grasp of IW resources ensured that students’ were able to maintain the true goals of research by eliminating e-resources that would distort their judgement. Consequently, the research targets were achievable which indicated that they were able to successfully complete their dissertations and acquire a Master’s degree. The study recommends, firstly, that curriculum courses and programmes should be geared by potential IW resources to scaffold the implementation of HW and SW e-resources to avoid the entertainment or social media incentives that can obscure the essence of conducting research. Secondly, pinpointing factors along the corridors of content, societal and personal ingrains a process of reflection in which students can identify key concepts from the literature, theory and research design and methodology through interrogation and analyses in doing research. The third recommendation galvanised by the study is the cultivation of research activities such as supervisory meetings, cohort sessions and peer involvement that enable a platform for students to seek help and guidance into the strategic procedures of initiating research. Fourthly, universities should utilise e-resources that create better access for students to gain deeper, credible information, as some online sites are restricted. The fifth recommendation envisaged is that curriculum driven courses or programmes should be steeped into Curriculum Spider Web concepts since these are not only foundational but universal to implementation of any curriculum, and serves as an excellent conceptual framework for making decisions on what works and does not work in a curriculum. Finally, the study recommends that further research be undertaken in other branches of curriculum as well as other levels of postgraduate studies to expand the existing body of literature and establish greater awareness as to how e-resources can be implemented without overcoming the essential goals of research.