The usefulness of computer facilities in distance learning in colleges
Distance education is taking a new dimension in the history of education in Nigeria. The Nigerian Government has demonstrated commitment to the development of distance learning by going into cooperation and partnership with International Organizations like the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), UNESCO and UNICEF. Distance Learning programmes embraces minimal physical contact between the teacher and student but emphasize much reliance on electronic communications.
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This implies that the learner receives the formalised learning while he/she is on a location outside the university-campus. Distance learning is variously described as external degree, part-time degree, correspondence or sandwich programmes.
The Information Communication Technology (ICT) driven economy requires highly skilled educated and globally competitive workforce with skills and aptitude in the application of ICT for sustainable development. The choice of technical subjects especially computer studies by students is often a product of the availability of infrastructural facilities to ensure that the students are adequately exposed to projects/practical work. Effective teaching and learning required equitable and wide access to learning materials. He added that high costs of computer installation, internet connectivity and constant updating of the existing infrastructure limited public and private secondary schools from offering computer studies. Internet connectivity in schools facilitated the teaching of computer studies through the provision of information vital for the education process.
The term distance learning represents approaches that focus on opening access to education and training, freeing learners from the constraints of time and place. It offers flexible learning opportunities to individual and group learners. This is the most rapidly growing segment of education. The potential impact of distance learning on all education has been emphasised by the development of Internet-based technologies, particularly the World Wide Web. It can be described as learning involving implementation of information, computing and communications technology applications in more than one location. The basic definition of distance learning considers that the teacher and the students are separate in the spatial dimension and that this distance is filled by using technological resources. Distance learning is a contributing force to social and economic development. It is fast becoming an essential part of the mainstream of educational systems in both developed and developing countries. The globalization of distance learning provides many opportunities for countries for the realization of their education system-wide goals. The growing needs for continual skills upgrading and retraining and the technological advances have led to an explosion of interest in distance learning. The literatures and studies related to distance learning expanded considerably in the last years. Studies researched different aspects of distance learning from its technologies, methods, and pedagogy to perceptions, opinions and attitudes of students and academicians toward distance learning.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF DISTANCE LEARNING
Distance learning offers a myriad of advantages which can be evaluated by technical, social and economic criteria. Also, distance learning methods have their own pedagogical merit, leading to different ways of conceiving knowledge generation and acquisition. Distance learning increases access to learning and training opportunity, provides increased opportunities for updating, retraining and personal enrichment, improves cost effectiveness of educational resources, supports the quality and variety of existing educational structures, enhances and consolidates capacity. Another advantage of distance learning is its convenience because many of the technologies are easily accessible from home. Many forms of distance learning provide students the opportunity to participate whenever they wish, on an individual basis, because of distance learning flexibility. This kind of education is quite affordable, as many forms of distance learning involve little or no cost. Distance learning is also multi-sensory. There is a wide variety of materials that can meet everyone’s learning preference. In fact some students learn from visual stimuli and others learn best by listening or interacting with a computer program. Also, distance learning can offer increased interactions with students. In particular, introverted students who are too shy to ask questions in class will often “open up” when provided an opportunity to interact via e-mail or other individualized means. There a some other related benefits of distance learning such as: balancing inequalities between age groups, geographical expansion of education access, delivering education for large audiences, offering the combination of education with work or family life, etc. While there are countless distance education advantages, there are also various disadvantages of distance learning, that students and institutions should be aware of before starting any distance learning program. Distance learning requires advance planning. Both the instructors and students involved in distance learning will need to make sacrifices, at times, in order to get things done on time. Distance learning, although affordable, may come with hidden costs (for example extra shipping and handling costs). Distance learning does not offer immediate feedback. In a traditional classroom setting, a student’s performance can be immediately assessed through questions and informal testing. With distance learning, a student has to wait for feedback until the instructor has reviewed his or her work and responded to it. Compared with traditional course delivery method, distance learning demands a disproportionate amount of effort on the part of instructors. Namely, teaching distance courses includes not only the time required for actual delivery of course materials, but it must also involve a great deal of time dedicated to student support and preparation. Also, time spent on e-mail correspondence is very significant. Distance learning does not always offer all the required coursework online for every degree program. In fact, physical classroom attendance is mandatory for the completion of some degree programs. Distance learning degrees may not be acknowledged by all employers although most employers do. Students who want to work for a specific employer upon graduation should be sure of that employer’s perspective about online education. Distance learning does not give students the opportunity to work on oral communication skills. Students in distance learning courses do not get the experience of practicing verbal interaction with professors and other students. Another disadvantage of distance learning is social isolation. Distance learners may feel isolated or miss the social-physical interaction that comes with attending a traditional classroom. However, many distance learning participants have reported that this sense of isolation has been decreasing with the use of communication technologies such as bulletin boards, threaded discussions, chats, email, and video conferencing.
COMPUTER FACILITIES AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN COLLEGES
In the context of computing support for education, a development that has had far-reaching impact has been the increase in computer connectivity. Schools and colleges now almost universally link their computers into local area and even campus-wide networks, and hooking up to the Internet has never been easier or cheaper. With the current trend being to teach everlarger numbers of students without corresponding increases in human resources, it comes as no surprise that many researchers have devoted their efforts to exploiting the educational potential of computer networks. Within this evolution, it is impossible to overstate the impact that the World Wide Web has had on making networked computers more accessible to educators and learners alike. As a medium for making course material available and for structuring and presenting information connected with such courses, the Web is unsurpassed when considered in terms of the sheer numbers who make use of it in this way. It is for this reason that the survey that follows is partitioned into Web-based and non-Web-based systems. Within each of these two categories, a distinction was made between distributed systems and distance learning systems. This secondary classification is admittedly less clear-cut, since distance learning systems tend to be distributed, and there are many properties common to both camps. However, the literature suggests that distance learners have their own particular needs requiring research tailored to their situation. Traditionally, students undertaking distance education courses have been at a disadvantage in comparison to those attending an institution, in that communication with their tutors and peers has been severely limited. One of the promises of increased access to networked computing technology is that the physical barrier of distance need no longer be an obstacle to interactive tuition.