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The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between lecturers’ computing competence and preparedness to function in an electronic learning (eLearning), focusing on software tools such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, statistical analysis, Internet browsing and e-mail. A cross-sectional survey design with both quantitative and qualitative approaches was applied to source data from 212 lecturers and 108 administrative staff. Quantitative analysis yielded descriptive statistics, cross tabulation with Chi square (χ2) statistic, as well as odds ratios and beta co-efficients. The study found that participants whose competence in working with word processing tools was above average had about 5.7 the odds of being prepared for eLearning as those whose competence was below average. Again, preparedness for eLearning significantly related to competence in applying spreadsheet tools, where participants whose competence was above average were about 2.2 times as likely to be prepared for eLearning as those whose competence was below average. Participants whose competence in presentation tools was above average had about 5.1 times the odds of being prepared for eLearning as those whose competence was below average. Those whose competence in statistical analysis tools was above average were about 1.7 times as likely to be prepared for eLearning, as those whose competence was below average.
KEYWORDS: Computing competence, eLearning, Preparedness, Software tools, Training, Change Management
INTRODUCTIONThe unprecedented improvement of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Internet after the Second World War has significantly influenced the delivery of university education, both in developing and developed countries (Naidu, 2006; Datuk & Ali, 2008). Over the past two decades, many institutions of higher learning have increasingly integrated ICT to support course delivery. The interest in ICT has been necessitated by the need to expand access to university education, particularly for corporate sector workers by creating a flexible mode that results to minimal or no inconveniences to their work schedule (Naidu, 2006). The application of ICT and the Internet to support course delivery is collectively referred to as Electronic Learning (eLearning) (Farahani, 2003; Omwenga, 2004).
Various terminologies are often used in place of eLearning; for instance, online learning, virtual learning, distributed learning, network or web-based learning. Whatever the terminology used, the primary connotation is the application of ICT tools, including the Internet, Intranet, satellite broadcast, audio or video tapes, interactive GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 464 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1 television or CD-ROMs (Trombley & Lee, 2002; Tavangarian, Leypold, Nölting & Röser, 2004).
ELearning is applauded for various reasons, including providing an alternative for learners who want to improve their skills but are unable to attend training centres situated away from their usual residence (Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Shephard, 2008). The method provides access to resource materials round the clock; implying that learners can access and use such materials at the most convenient time, place and pace. Again due to its flexibility, institutions of higher learning are often able to meet learning needs of their students and lecturers at a time, place and pace that are most convenient (Becta, 2003; Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Naidu, 2006).
ELearning improves teaching and learning processes by encouraging the use of modern instructional methods supported by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools (Selim, 2007). As part of preparedness for eLearning, institutions of higher learning must put in place appropriate ICT infrastructure and develop human resource (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005). This makes its necessary for all lecturers to build their computing skills in order to function effectively in an eLearning environment. Instruction over the Internet is perceived by many education scholars to be a significant breakthrough in teaching and learning, particularly at the institutions of higher learning (Keller & Cernerud, 2002; Abbad, Morris & Nahlik, 2009). Being a mode that is Internet-driven, the stability and reliability of internet connectivity is a crucial part of infrastructural requirement for the adoption of eLearning.
ELearning has four distinct modalities; namely, individualised self-paced online, individualised self-paced offline, group-based synchronously and group-based asynchronously (Romiszowski, 2004; Naidu, 2006).
Under the individualised self-paced online modality, a learner accesses learning resources through the Internet or Intranet. The modality is appropriate for learners in contexts where Internet infrastructure is reliable. A typical example is a learner studying alone or conducting some research through the Internet or a local network (Naidu, 2006). Contrastingly, the individualised self-paced offline modality refers to situations where an individual learner accesses learning resources without connection to the Internet or Intranet. The modality is suited for learners in contexts where Internet infrastructure is unreliable or nonexistent, with an example being a learner working alone off a hard drive, a CD or DVD (Romiszowski, 2004; Naidu, 2006).
The group-based synchronously modality reflects a situation where groups of learners work together in real time via the Internet or Intranet; for instance, through videoconferencing. The synchronous mode is appropriate within contexts where Internet is stable. It may include text-based conferencing, and one or two-way audio and videoconferencing. Examples of this include learners engaged in a real-time chat or an audio-videoconference (Naidu, 2006). The group-based asynchronously modality refers to a situation where groups of learners work over the Internet or Intranet but where feedback occurs later; for instance, communication through electronic mail (Romiszowski, 2004; Naidu, 2006). The asynchronous mode is commonly applied in countries, where the Internet infrastructure is too weak or unreliable. Typical examples of this kind of activity include on-line discussions via electronic mailing lists and text-based conferencing within learning management systems (Romiszowski, 2004; Naidu, 2006).
Over the past two decades, eLearning has been gaining momentum in developed and developing countries alike, especially in response to the rapid advancement of ICT. The ability of new ICT facilities to support multimedia resource-based teaching and learning is fundamental to the growing interest in eLearning, world over (Farahani, 2003; Omwenga, 2004). The revolution in ICT continues to stimulate the design of eLearning courses, which in turn, influences the substance of university education. Statistical projections indicate that enrolment for university education through eLearning was expected to grow consistently from about 900,000 in 2003 to about 15.2 million learners by the end of 2012 (MENON Network, 2007).
The growing interest in eLearning seems to be coming from several directions. First, institutions of higher learning that have traditionally offered distance education perceive eLearning as a logical extension of their GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 465 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1 distance education activities. Such institutions also consider eLearning as an avenue for improving access to and expanding the market base for their academic programmes (Rosenberg, 2001), while the corporate sector views eLearning as a cost-effective way for staff training and development (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Naidu, 2006). As noted by Kihara (2005), eLearning is fast becoming the ideal mode of university education in this age of knowledge-based economies and globalisation. To remain relevant, universities all over the world will have to redefine their mission and review their curriculum to integrate the use of technology. Similarly, Dunn (2000) asserts that the integration of eLearning is inevitable for institutions of higher learning that wish to remain relevant in the era of technology, while Volery (2000) emphasises the importance of eLearning to the future relevance and survival of universities across the globe.
The group-based synchronously eLearning modalities can be used to engage learners in active discussions, sharing ideas and passing information, with fast and accurate feedback (Koo, 2008). Besides, the advancement of ICTs has provided a wide range of software applications and computer conferencing technologies, which enable learners and lecturers to engage in synchronous as well as asynchronous interaction across space, time and pace for collaborative inquiry among students (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Naidu, 2006). The application of multimedia machines, software packages and the internet motivates learners, resulting in better academic performance (Kerka, 2002; Ya-Ching, 2006), while ICTs facilitate the capture and storage of various types of information, including print, audio and video materials, which may not be possible within the spatial and temporal constraints of conventional educational settings (Kerka, 2002).
ELearning has the potential to transform the nature of university education, particularly regarding where and how learning takes place. In this regard, it brings a number of changes in the roles of lecturers (Farahani, 2003; Naidu, 2006). As noted by Naidu (2006), the transition to eLearning in universities prompts changes such as chart rooms replacing lecture halls and electronic discussions boards replacing black boards, which necessitate the mastery of new skills and competencies (Lu, Liu & Liao, 2005). However, in most institutions of higher learning, transition from the traditional mode of course delivery to eLearning is constrained by inadequate computing competence among lecturers (Farahani, 2003; Ya’acob, 2005). This challenge is real for many institutions in developing countries, including Kenya (Omwenga, 2004; Kihara, 2005). Computing competence is the ability to use a wide range of computer applications with minimal effort and constraints, to achieve a particular purpose. A high level of computing excellence is necessary for effective use of computers in an eLearning environment (van Braak, 2004). According to Albirini (2006), computing competence refers to user’s beliefs about their computer skills and it forms a key component of institutional preparedness for eLearning.
The relationship of computing competence among lecturers/teachers and preparedness for eLearning has been a subject of empirical investigation in many countries. A review of empirical literature reveals two sets. The first set comprises of literature that details lecturers’ competence in general while the second set focuses on lecturers’ competence in specific software tools including word processing, spreadsheets, database, presentations, statistical analysis, Internet and e-mailing tools. Highlighted in the subsequent paragraphs are key findings of selected studies.
Luan, Aziz, Yunus, Sidek and Bakar (2005) investigated gender differences in ICT competencies among the academic staff at the Universiti Putra Malaysia in terms of eight software tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, electronic mail, World Wide Web, multimedia and virtual class applications. The study noted that female lecturers were more competent in the application of most tools than their male counterparts. For instance, in the application of word processing tools, up to 85% of the female lecturers against 64% of their male colleagues rated themselves as ‘excellent’ in the insertions and editing of texts in word processing. Again, a higher proportion of women than men (96% and 87%, respectively) rated their competence in the application of e-mailing tools as ‘excellent’. Overall, 64% of the lecturers were above average in terms of computing competence (Luan et al., 2005). Marcinkiewicz GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 466 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1 (1994) found that the level of computing competence significantly associated with computer use among public university lecturers in the United States. Berner (2003) also found that self-perceived ICT competence was the key determinant of computer use by lecturers, especially to support teaching activities.
The studies concluded that developing the ICT competence among lecturers remains crucial for enhancing institutional preparedness for eLearning. In another study, Sime and Priestley (2005), found a positive correlation between computing competence and computer use frequency among Argentine middle-level college instructors. The study further reported that computing competence accounted for up to 7.2% of variance in the preparedness for eLearning and was the third most important factor after access to computers at the workplace and internet reliability.