This chapter outlines the background and context of the study undertaken. The research questions and limitations of the study are indicated and introductory remarks on the literature surveyed, the research methodology followed and data collection procedures are highlighted. The validity and reliability of the research design, the data collection instrument and the data are discussed. The chapter is concluded with a list of concepts involved in the study. The next section outlines the background to the study.
Many tertiary education institutions make use of course management systems and learning management systems to facilitate the development and delivery of courses. Such systems have the capacity to integrate a wide range of pedagogical and course administration tools (Coates, James, & Baldwin, 2005). The use of technology in the delivery of distance education is not avoidable (Moore & Kearsley, 2005). Apart from the reliance on technology for the delivery of courses, distance educa- tion institutions need to keep up with contemporary trends in education practices (Kinuthia & Dagada, 2008), not only to prepare students for the information-based
economy, but also to compete favourably with traditional on-campus educational institutions for students. However, the effective use of technology, in general, in the delivery of distance education, in particular, requires careful consideration of ped- agogical theories and affordances of technologies involved (P. Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Moreover, in the light of challenges faced by developing countries (Gulati, 2008; Jhurree, 2005; Kinuthia & Dagada, 2008), education institutions servicing such countries, like the University of South Africa (UNISA), require analytical investigations into the use of technology in the delivery of courses. Distance education is a unique form of education (Peters, 2004) requiring unique pedagogical practices and institutional organization. The unique relationship be- tween distance education and technology has resulted in distance education need- ing to keep transforming in parallel with developments in technology (Peters, 2010). The impact of such developments on the delivery of distance education requires constant evaluation. Sener (2004) proposes that investigations related to practices in education of this type should be conducted within distance education for such investigations to be relevant to it. However, there are very few true studies dedicated to technology use and pedagogy related to distance education (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999; Sener, 2004). Therefore, investigations into factors, technolo- gies and pedagogical methodologies, that may increase success rates in entry-level science modules, are necessary. The present study focuses on first-level physics modules. However, the findings of the study may be applicable to other distance education physics modules as well as mathematics and chemistry modules. The research problem and motivation are discussed in the next se