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Learner Support Approaches at the eCampus of Maseno University

by Barbara Khavugwi Makhaya
eLearning Systems Support Specialist
eCampus of Maseno University, Kenya

Maseno University is a public university in Kenya. The University established its eLearning department in 2010. The use of eLearning for high enrollment common courses is an emerging trend at Maseno University. Currently the eCampus of Maseno University supports about 3,000- 6,000 students taking up high enrollment common courses on blended mode and those taking up eLearning programmes in each semester.  With the increased use of eLearning in the offer of blended courses, the eCampus realized the need to develop a learner support model that will enable the learners get the three levels of support required i.e. Managerial, Pedagogical and technical support.  Data from the offer of one of the high enrollment courses at the eCampus reveals an improvement on student completion rates for online and bended courses after the introduction of the learner support framework.

Table 1: Learner completion rates for a high enrollment course (PHT 112 – HIV & AIDS Determinants, Prevention and Management)

Period of offer (Semester per year)No. of Students RegisteredNo. of Students Who Completed the Course% Completion Rates
May – Aug 2013 126622518%
Sept – Dec  2013225973432%
Jan – Apr 2014 258060724%
May – Aug 20142491176171%
Sep – Dec 20141700110665%
Jan – Apr 20152537169767%
May – Aug 20152164138564%
Sep – Dec 20152078133564%
Jan – Apr 20162381184477%
Sep – Dec 20166457529581%
Jan-April 20175454513294.1%
Jan-April 20183332299990%
Jan-April 20194332398692%

The eCampus has set up a three-level learner support model, the first level support is the core technical team and the second is the school-based learner support teams which has a two tire support. The School based learner support teams consist of an Academic Advisor known as the eCampus Programme Coordinators (EPCs) and one or two school Learner Support Assistants (LSAs).  The EPCs provide academic support for prospective and new learners joining the eCampus to take up various university programmes through eLearning. They are also responsible for processing student applications and communicating progress on student applications to the prospective students.  They assure quality through monitoring the teaching and learning activities within the Learning Management System (LMS) for the courses on offer from their various schools. The third level support is the support which is provided by the lecturers facilitating the online courses. The scope of support includes updating learning materials, providing feedback to student assignment and initiating and concluding discussions. In some instances, the Lecturers provide rubrics to the learner support assistants to help them in grading assignments and providing individualized feedback to learners.

Figure 1:Maseno eCampus Learner Support Framework

All students taking up online courses at eCampus of Maseno University have access to a learning community on the learning management system and WhatsApp groups set up by the LSAs. The learners were introduced to the tools and skills required to actively participate in the community during the orientation to eLearning course, the course is facilitated by the Learner support teams i.e. the technical team and the LSAs. The term activities of the eCampus include two weeks for carrying out online orientation for new learners.  During the orientation the learner support teams invite the learners to join the community and provide detailed instructions on how to access resources, navigate the community, and communicate with otherlearners via threaded discussions and online chats that are organized by the school eCampus coordinators and School’s LSAs around specific topics/areas within the school forums on the LMS and the WhatApp groups.

In the case of blended high enrollment courses, the learner support strategy involves splitting learners into smaller groups of 200. Each group is assigned a lecturer, and a school-based learner support and an eCampus technical support. The role of the technical support is to address technical challenges, the lecturer focuses on the pedagogical role while the school based learner support focuses on managerial aspects of the course which include ensuring learners within the group complete all requirements before being allowed to proceed to the next topic in the course. The LSAs also support the lecturer in grading assignments and giving feedback in the forums in cases where the lecturer has provided a rubric and they follow up with learners who are not keeping up with the cohort during the course. The school LSAs are also responsible for managing the WhatsApp groups set up for each of the group, meant to scaffold learner support activities.

Learner support services can greatly improve the quality of students’ learning experiences through improved access to support. Successful implementation of high enrolment courses through eLearning is highly depended on the learner support model implemented. This will enable the institution personalize the teaching and learning process through the use of  high-touch,  high-interaction  learner  support  services  strategies  such  as  connection  to  a  community  of  learners  and  the  other  scaffolding  techniques  which makes online students feel less isolated and get immersed in an environment that supports them as they develop or  enhance  their  self-directed  learning  skills (Ludwig-hardman & Dunlap, 2003). One of the approaches that has proved very effective at the eCampus of Maseno University is to develop a Community of Practice (CoP) using WhatsApp which has ensured higher completion in the courses delivered through eLearning mode of delivery. In this community the learners interact with the learner support personnel who constantly provide personalized attention to the learners.

Reference

Ludwig-hardman, S., & Dunlap, J. (2003). Learner Support Services for Online Students: Scaffolding for success. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 4(1).

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