College of Human Sciences

Distance education research matters

Prof Jennifer Roberts, Associate Professor at the Unisa Institute for Open and Distance Learning

Interviewed by Godfrey Madibane on Unisa Radio, Prof Jennifer Roberts from the university's Institute for Open and Distance Learning (IODL) gave a sneak peek of the 2022 Research and Innovation, Open Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) Conference. Taking place from 3 to 5 August 2022, the conference will discuss higher education issues under the theme "All Things Research in ODeL".

Roberts is an experienced researcher who believes there should be a shift in local research. She says the research frameworks currently used are from a Eurocentric model. Exploring all levels of research, Roberts explains that at the macro level, research informs new theories.  She further explains: "At the meso level, we are looking at the most acceptable research globally. We look at areas such as quality assurance in distance education, professional development  and the use of technology." She adds: "At the micro level, we look at teaching and learning, usually in your own institution. Hence context at a specific level is essential."

Speaking broadly about research in the context of South Africa, Roberts says researchers should accept that the Eurocentric model is contrasting. She says: "Our context is different. We do not have broadband and Wi-Fi access, so we still sometimes work not fully in an online context." Roberts expresses concern: "Over the years, South African researchers published mainly in local journals. While there is nothing wrong with that, to play in an international field, one has to move to the mesa and macro level where there are international journals." She asserts: "We have to start looking beyond our context."

Sharing insight on the Afrocentric framework, Roberts says in the macro level research, much work needs to be done. "We need to develop theories and frameworks on this level. We should show the world that there are other frameworks that researchers can work from and also share why we use such frameworks," she says. Roberts is confident that the ODeL conference will bring individuals with varying ideas to delve deeper into this topic.

Unisa's Portfolio of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation and the UNESCO Chair on Open Distance Learning will be hosting the conference to encourage discourse around research in a globally connected era.

The presentations include pre-conference workshops on 2 August. Also, there will be plenary sessions and panel discussions, an ODeL Postgraduate Student Consortium and paper presentations.

* Interview by Godfrey Madibabe, Unisa Radio Journalist. Article packaged by Lesego Chiloane-Ravhudzulo, Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022/07/26