Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE July 2021 ISSN 1302-6488 Volume: 22 Number: 3 Article 14FACTORS INFLUENCING GRADUATE STUDENTS’ PERCEPTION OFONLINE AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN NEPALParshu Ram UPADHAYAYAORCID: 0000-0002-8752-6480Department of Information and Communication Technology EducationTribhuvan UniversityKathmandu, NEPALBishnu SHARMAORCID: 0000-0002-6480-6973Central Department of EducationTribhuvan UniversityKathmandu, NEPALYagya Prasad GNAWALIORCID: 0000-0002-4127-5495Department of Mathematics EducationTribhuvan UniversityKathmandu, NEPALDr. Shashidhar BELBASEORCID: 0000-0003-3722-756XCollege of EducationUnited Arab Emirates UniversityAl Ain, Abu Dhabi, UNITED ARAB EMIRATESReceived: 24/07/2020 Accepted: 22/01/2021ABSTRACTThis study explored the perception of online and distance learning (ODL) experienced by postgraduatestudents in Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. An online survey on Graduate StudentPerception on ODL (GSPODL) with a five-point Likert-scale was designed and administered to 71postgraduate (57 male and 14 female) students of science education in a public higher education institutionin Nepal in spring 2020. A Principal Component Analysis with rotation in Varimax Kaiser Normalizationwas employed in the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (IBM SPSS 26) to construct six major componentsof students’ perception of course delivery and participation. These components were- Quality, Opportunity,Relevance, Development, Support, and Challenges. Mann-Whitney U Test or Kruskal-Wallis Test at 0.05level of significance showed that the participants’ views about Quality, Opportunity, Relevance, and Supportwere significantly different across their place of Residence (rural and urban residences). Likewise, there was asignificant difference in their views on the Relevancy of the ODL with respect to Device Use. There was nosignificant difference in their views across the variables Gender, Ethnicity, School Type, and Device Use inall other criteria. These results demonstrated that participants’ hometown location made a big difference intheir perception of online and distance classes’ Quality.Keywords: Online and distance education, flexible learning, teacher education, Nepal.236
INTRODUCTIONAn early form of distance education started as correspondence education that could be traced back to 1728.However, there is controversy if such correspondence could be considered a distance education because ofa lack of concrete evidence of two-way communications during learning and teaching, even with the mails(Kentnor, 2015). Nonetheless, formal distance education was in practice since a long time ago (in the 1800s)in the US through correspondence programs (Gunawardena & McIsaac, 2008), and it began in England in1840 with lessons through mails (Molenda, 2008). In Germany, distance education was established to teachlanguage through correspondence mode in 1856 (Demiray & Isman, 2001). By 1892, distance educationthrough correspondence gained momentum with the help of post offices (Drexel Univeristy, 2017). Thenit took different paths through the advancement of education through the introduction of radio in 1922, atelevision in 1953, a telephone in 1965, Internet in 1969, courses with computers in 1981, and worldwideweb (www) in 1989 (Drexel University, 2017). It expanded rapidly with the online course offerings ofcolleges and universities (Drexel University, 2017). There were 6,932,074 students enrolled in at least oneonline and distance education course at higher education institutions in the US in the 2018-19 academicyear (National Cener for Educaitonal Statisticas [NCES], 2019). However, the pattern of online and distancelearning has changed with mixed results. For example, enrollment in the distance learning programs in theUS universities was growing (NCES, 2019), but it was decreasing in the UK and Australia by 5% in the2017-18 academic year (Kemp, 2019).As open and distance learning at higher education gained popularity despite some ups and downs, manycountries began to offer online and distance (ODL) programs to provide better access to people who couldnot afford regular education. Nepal’s neighboring country, India, started ODL programs establishing openuniversities in 1982 with the establishment of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Open University, Hyderabad (MHRD,India, 2020). Then they opened Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 1985 to providenationwide ODL programs with the central government initiative. India had about 22% (more than 3.6million) of the total enrollment of higher education students in the ODL mode in 2012 (Suneja, 2012). Thisnumber reached 4.2 million in the year 2019 (Qayyum & Zawacki-Richter, 2019). Similarly, the number ofenrollment in the ODL system in China has also grown by 8.8% annually in the last decade (2004 to 2016)(Qayyum & Zawacki-Richter, 2019).When the world was making rapid progress in ODL, Nepal, too, marched its step with the New EducationSystem Plan 1971(NESP), which mandated training primary school teachers. These teachers had degreesof school leaving certificate (SLC), which was the tenth-grade certificate, and had permanent positions asprimary school teachers (Pradhan, 2011). In general, they suffered from geographical obstruction and theabsence of transportation to reach the training centers while working at schools. The USAID, UNICEF, andBritish Council came together with a plan to train these teachers from a distance. Radio Education TeacherTraining Project was started in 1978 with technical and financial support from the USAID (Holmes, 1990).It took quite a while to prepare the design and materials for the training. Eventually, Radio EducationProgram was conducted from1984 until 1989 for training the primary school teachers with the financialand technical support of USAID (Holmes, 1990). With the growing need for teacher training, the Instituteof Education (IOE) started another program called ‘teacher training’ through distance learning in 1976-77.This program was mainly to upgrade the competencies of the primary school teachers, preparing them forgrade-teaching in the remote zones of Nepal (Pradhan, 2011). Despite these efforts, Nepal could not makeremarkable progress in the ODL for a long time because the higher education institutions remained inactiveto develop such programs. The government could not deliver any policy and guidelines to promote ODLuntil 2007.The effectiveness of the ODL in a country is severely affected by the government’s plans and policiesregarding such programs. For example, the ODL policy affected the quality of such programs in South Korea,China, and Turkey (Gunduz, Kursun, Karaman, & Demirel, 2020). The Government of Nepal, Ministryof Education (MoE) approved ODL policy on January 4, 2007, to provide “full access to schools andhigher education to learners having diverse and special needs, especially of out-of-school children, deprivedgroups, working people, and housewives through open and distance learning systems as supplementaryto the existing system of education” (MoE, 2007, p. 1). This policy addressed the educational needs ofpeople who are unable to present at physical campuses due to geographical barriers, gender discrimination,237
poverty, and marginalized citizens. The ODL policy had four distinct agendas. The first agenda was aboutincreasing access to education for all kinds of learners/students. The second agenda aimed to improve thequality of education by integrating the ODL system into the existing traditional face-to-face education.The third agenda emphasized continuing education as a part of lifelong learning and teachers’ professionaldevelopment through flexible modes of the ODL and community learning centers. The fourth agenda wasrelated to the certification of informal knowledge and skills through an appropriate mechanism. This way,the policy had initiated several other provisions of education through Radio, FM, and TV channels andnetworking with other national and international institutions that offer ODL programs (MoE, 2007). Withsuch efforts, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) has launched an e-learningportal (https://learning.cehrd.edu.np/) for grades 1 to 10 students in schools. The portal has been launchedfor students who have been deprived of education due to the fear of COVID-19 (MoEST, 2020).The Government of Nepal (GoN) established Nepal Open University (NOU) in 2016 as an autonomousand well-organized higher education institution (GoN, 2016). The preamble of the act of NOU statesthat the establishment of the university was an appropriate initiative to promote high-quality teaching,learning, and research through new approaches of open education technology, methods, and techniques.The university aims to provide higher education access to the general public to develop competent humanresources with knowledge, skills, and technological competencies (GoN, 2016). Currently, NOU haslaunched some undergraduate and graduate (masters) programs under three distinct faculties – Facultyof Management and Law, Faculty of Social Science and Education, and Faculty of Science, Health, andTechnology (NOU, 2020). About 1,200 students enrolled in different programs at NOU by the end of 2019(Dhakal, 2019). This number reached nearly 2000 by July 2020 (Panta, Padam Raj, A NOU Employee;Personal Communication on July 22, 2020).Besides Nepal Open University, other universities, such as Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University,have launched some of their programs in ODL mode. For example, the School of Education KathmanduUniversity (KUSOED) has recently launched a one-year Masters of Education in English Language Teaching,which can be delivered both face-to-face and online mode as per the demand of the students who enroll inthe program (KUSOED, 2020 a). During the COVID-19 Pandemic, KUSOED issued a guideline for itsfaculty members and students to run all the classes in online mode (KUSOED, 2020 b).Tribhuvan University established the Open and Distance Education Center (ODEC) in 2015 as anindependent unit within its organizational framework to provide access to higher education to the generalpublic through flexible open and distance learning modes. The center has run a four-semester Two-YearMaster of Education program in Mathematics and English Language Teaching. It also offers a short courseon academic writing (ODEC, 2020). Likewise, some constituent campuses of Tribhuvan University have runthe master’s program in the ODL mode. For example, Mahendra Ratna Campus Tahachal has conducted aone-year (two-semesters) Master’s Degree program in science education through the ODL mode. Currently,there are 92 students enrolled in the program from 33 districts of Nepal (Dhakal, Krishna Prasad, Chief ofMahendra Ratna Campus Tahachal, Personal Communication on April 25, 2020). The campus also has beenoffering a one-year (two-semester) postgraduate diploma (PGD) in social study and mathematics educationto train inservice teachers through the ODL mode. These were signature programs for the university tocontinue online and distance learning without any hassle during the COVID-19 Pandemic when other faceto-face programs much suffered from confusion, chaos, and mismanagement.There are some Kathmandu-based private institutes that offer open learning programs affiliated with nationalor foreign universities. For example, the Institute of Open Learning (IOL) is affiliated with PurbanchalUniversity, and International Center for Academics (ICA) is affiliated with Indira Gandhi National OpenUniversity of India. The IOL offers a one-year bachelor’s in education (B.Ed.) program for inservice teacherswho already have a bachelor’s degree in non-education major (IOL, 2020). The ICA offers certificate,bachelor’s, postgraduate diploma (PGD), and master’s programs in collaboration with different highereducation institutions, such as Indira Gandhi National Open University (ICA, 2020).Although there are some programs and initiatives in ODL in Nepal, there is a massive scarcity of researchliterature in the area of online and distance education in Nepal. Few articles (e.g., Pangeni, 2016; Chouhan,2014) and some graduate theses (e.g., Sapkota, 2012) are good to study some background in the distance238
and online education in Nepal but are not adequate to understand the prospects and practical problems orchallenges due to lack of empirical data or lack of focus on the main issues of ODL. This research paper’sprimary objective was to investigate the perceptions of ODL students in Nepal. This study was designed toanswer the following research question: How do postgraduate students perceive the ODL in Nepal? In therest of the paper, first, we presented a review of the related literature. Second, we explained the methodologyof this study. Third, we analyzed the results of the investigation. Then, finally, we discussed the findings andpresented this study’s conclusion.REVIEW OF LITERATUREThis section presents a review of some literature from 2009 to 2020 that included different countries andcontexts. It emphasized the study’s areas, aims, methodological tools, and a few findings of the studies.Lee, Yoon, and Lee (2009) studied learners’ acceptance of e-learning in South Korea at a paradigm shift fromteacher-centered to student-centered education. They studied four independent variables that were instructor’scharacteristics, teaching materials used in the classrooms, design of learning contents, and playfulness inthe class. They also studied two belief variables-- perceived usefulness and ease of use of e-learning, andthe dependent variable was the intention to use e-learning. They designed a survey questionnaire usingfive points Likert scale. They used Cronbach’s alpha coefficient to test the internal consistency among theitems. They distributed 250 questionnaires to undergraduate students who had some course experiencesin e-learning in a comprehensive university in South Korea. They received 214 valid responses from theparticipants. They used SPSS 12 to analyze the data by using factor analysis with principal components andvarimax rotation method. The study results revealed that instructor characteristics and teaching materialspositively correlated to the perceived usefulness of e-learning. They further found that learner’s acceptance ofe-learning and playfulness positively affected the intention to use e-learning. They found that perceived easeof use was the weakest among the seven hypotheses.Firat (2016) examined the e-learning autonomy of distance education students in the e-learning environment.Firstly, the researcher developed an e-learning scale and established the validity and reliability of the scaleby the piloting of the tool with the 1152 participants from Anadolu University, in an open educationsystem. The internal consistency was measure by coefficient of reliability with Cronbach’s α 0.952. Theresearcher then administered the survey to a large sample of 3,292 students frosm 42 different programs(6 undergraduate and 36 associate degree programs) during the 2014-2015 academic year. The researcherdeveloped an e-LAS scale to analyze the autonomy of the students in e-learning environments. He usedpercentage (%), frequency (f ), mean, parametric independent sample t-test, and one–way ANOVA. Heconducted the statistical tests in IBM SPSS 22. He computed the Kaiser–Meyer-Olkin (KMO) valueranging between 0 and 1. In this study, Firat (2016) reported that the KMO value was 0.943. The Bartlett’sSphericity test result showed the Chi-square value 10329.547 which was significant at p 0.001. The resultsrevealed that students’ autonomy in e-learning environments did not statistically vary significantly withtheir programs’ characteristics. Moreover, the e-LAS scores were compared by gender with the help of anindependent sample t-test. The result showed that there was no significant difference between the e-LASscores when compared by gender. The majority of them met both workload flexibility (strongly agree 34.6%and agree 27.1%) and possibly studying at the place of residence (strongly agree 40.8% and agree 20.4%).These results indicated that distance education among people of different ages and those living in rural areaswas entirely justified (Firat, 2016).Vasilevska, Rivza, Pivac, Alekneviciene, and Parlinska (2017) studied the demand for distance education atan eastern and central European higher education. The study aimed to identify the need for the distancelearning model to identify its problems and development trends. They took five countries: Latvia, Lithuania,Serbia, Poland, and Belarus, for this study. They included four main issues like adaptability, technicalcapabilities, computer literacy, and self-control and motivation as the study variables. The study employeda structured survey research design with the five-point Likert scale to collect the data. The total number ofrespondents was 877, which included 491 females and 386 males. They analyzed the data in SPSS 16 andExcel spreadsheets for descriptive statistics. The findings showed that 42% of the students were completelysatisfied, 32% would prefer the traditional form of education, while 26% of respondents expressed that the239
model was not suitable for them. The study also revealed that the traditional teaching method of educationbased on communication between teachers and students was more demanding than distance mode. Theparticipants agreed that distance education at a higher level provides strong technical skills and independentself-learning environments.Markova, Glazkova, and Zabarava (2017) studied quality issues in distance learning. This study aimed topresent the result of the survey conducted at the Ural State University of Economics and Ural FederalUniversity in Russia. They used a survey design on a sample of over 830 postgraduate students involved inthe distance learning programs. The students’ age was 19-54 years, covering 27 big and small towns of theUral region in 2015 and 2016. The questionnaire included the items related to the area of use of technologyand resources, effectiveness of distance learning, motivation, challenges, learner/instructor communication,interaction, evaluation and self-assessment, and satisfaction of the students in distance learning (Markovaet al., 2017). The results indicated that postgraduate students positively evaluated their distance learningexperiences, although they faced a few learning challenges, especially communication and instruction. Theresults revealed that technology does not teach students, but technical support plays a crucial role in distancelearning and reducing student’s anxiety. Faculty qualifications were essential factors in upgrading and creatingthe quality of the distance program. Over 70% of the participants expressed that guidance and counseling,and maintaining emotional contact with instructors were vital. Therefore, they highly rated the supportingenvironments. Lastly, the survey pointed out a lack of emotional communication with the teachers (31.1%),a lack of teacher control (20.5%), and a sense of isolation (13.1%) were some of the drawbacks of distancelearning (Markova et al., 2017).Cabi and Kalelioglu (2019) studied students’ perspectives on an online course concerning attitude, readiness,and thoughts. The objective of their study was to examine the effect of an online course on the students’attitudes, thoughts, and readiness to learn the subject matter through a mixed-method study design withpre-test, intervention, and post-test on a group of 266 undergraduate and associate degree students. Theresults of the study indicated that there was a significant difference in the pre-test and post-test results oncomputer/Internet self-efficacy and self-directed learning. Also, the study showed that there was a significanteffect of students’ familiarity and escape attitude on e-learning. The qualitative data showed that severalstudents found benefits of distance education in terms of accessibility and availability of the course materials.Serhii, Vladyslav, Viacheslav, Kateryna, and Svitlana (2020) studied the realities and prospects of distanceeducation at higher education institutions in Ukraine. The study outlined the current status of distancelearning, especially in Ukraine. This study used a survey design, including 102 students as participants. Thesurvey questionnaire was prepared to cover the students’ attitudes towards distance learning, organization,advantages, and disadvantages. The survey questionnaire was based on the current state of higher educationin Ukraine. They designed the survey tool in Google Form and shared the survey link with the respondents.They analyzed the data using Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets. They found that students at all four highereducation institutions were familiar with distance education and used this technology, and most of thempreferred mixed learning. The results of the study revealed that the students were able to integrate their work,and they could self-determine. However, the study time and place were the significant advantages of distancelearning. It also revealed that the student’s self-motivation was needed in distance learning, which indicateda major disadvantage of it.Ali (2020) studied online and remote learning in higher education institutes. The purpose was to examine howteaching and learning could be continued during the COVID-19 pandemic time. Almost all the countriesin the world had been affected by COVID 19, and educational institutions were being closed physicallyand socially. Regarding this pandemic situation, some educational institutions started online learning. Inthis study, Ali utilized the data from the World Health Organization (WHO) when 213 countries wereaffected by the virus as of 12 April 2020. At the moment, New York University Shanghai and Duke KunsanUniversity utilized Zoom applications and other video conferencing tools instead of face-to-face teachinglearning. Ali (2020) conducted a meta-analysis of the world context, politics of resistance, infrastructuresupport, staff readiness, student accessibility, and the confidence of the teaching staff, which played a vitalrole in ICT integrated learning. He added that ICT became an integral part of everyday life, and it became ameans to transform the learning environment. He further revealed that the blended learning model attractedexisting political agendas, and establishing such a mode was better than other alternatives. Staff readiness240
and motivation also helped in the successful assimilation of technology in higher education institutions.Furthermore, he found that students had a special bonding with ICT.Reich and Tobias (2020) evaluated the access, quality, and equity in online learning based on a case studyof a blended professional degree program. The study’s main aim was to examine students’ experiences inone Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)–based on the blended professional degree program. Theyformulated hypotheses to address the study’s aim and used a mixed-method design with a motivation todevelop MOOC-based professional online, blended learning. A total of 81,000 students participated in thechain management of MOOCs. Among them, 7,999 were verified students paid the fee at least one coursefor an opportunity to get certificates. Likewise, 3,804 obtained the certificate for at least one course in MicroMaster sequence, 622 got a certificate Micro, 130 applied for the Accelerated Master Program at MIT, and40 participants enrolled and arrived on campus in a blended cohort program. They designed survey questionsincluding age, gender, and level of education and variety of data sources, including the five MOOCs coursesin the Micro Master program. They conducted a semi-structured interview at the beginning of January2018. They coded the qualitative data using the grounded theory approach. They coded each interviewindependently by three raters (one author and two undergraduate research assistants) to identify the data’stheme. They calculated Cohen’s kappa, and the overall pooled kappa from all of the interviews was 0.72.They analyzed log data from edX of all students who participated in one of the five MOOCs courses in theprogram (with eight total courses run) and differences in students’ activities using a non-parametric test(Wilcoxon and Mann-Whitney Test). They found that self-regulated habits were fostered and supportedthrough socio-environmental factors. Overall, blended students felt that online courses provided qualitylearning experiences. The blended group mentioned the job-oriented content, the flexibility of the courses,low cost, and affordance in technology as important aspects of a blended approach. Blended students gothigher grade in their residential course than other students (β 0.11, t 3.26, df 3374, p 0.01) andstudents from outside the program who studied in the same classes (β 0.25, t 10.42, df 3374, p 0.01).The study’s results revealed that at the end-of-semester survey, 66% of blended students said they learnedfrom teamwork and positively influenced their intellectual growth.Trespalacios and Uribe-Florez (2020) reported a study on graduate students’ experiences of sense ofcommunity in an online study program. They studied two research questions that focused on students’rating of the online course and their sense of community, and their perception of the relevance of onlinelearning. They applied a quantitative survey design with a classroom community survey, end-semester courseevaluation and semi-structured interviews on twelve graduate students at a university in the US. The findingsof the study showed that the participants (graduate students) had a high sense of community with a highvalue of connectedness. Almost all the participants had a high satisfaction rating for the end-of-semestercourse evaluation, indicating that they highly valued the performance of the course instructors. The resultsindicated that e-learning was an effective tool for the graduate program of educational technology.METHODOLOGYThis study employed an online quantitative survey design with multiple-choice five-point Likert scaleitems named Graduate Student Perception of ODL (GSPODL). Survey research design is a procedurein quantitative research in which the researcher administers a questionnaire to a sample of the population(Creswell, 2012). A sample survey is a technique to collect quantitative data by administering questionnairesto the sample of a population under the study. The questionnaires can be adopted into an online platformsuch as Google Form or SurveyMonkey.com because they are convenient and flexible (Behrend, Sharek,Meade & Wiebe, 2011).Construction of the ToolFirst, a structured survey questionnaire was developed by the researchers in eighteen different areas fromour experiences, including the students’ voices and concerns with ODL. The items in the questionnairewere discussed among the researchers to improve the relevancy and sufficiency of the items. Altogether, 83questions (items) were listed for selection, modification, and finalization in Google Form to construct a scale241
on Graduate Student Perception of ODL (GSPODL). After a lengthy discussion among the four researchers,it was finalized and shared the developed scale with two senior experts and colleagues at Tribhuvan Universityat the Online and Distance Learning Center. Some minor corrections were made from their suggestionand feedback, and selected the 40 best questions out of 83 after removing 43 questions according to therecommendations of experts to keep them aligned with the research problems and issues (Please, see inAppendix).Administration of SurveyAltogether there were 92 students enrolled in a postgraduate two semesters M.Ed. Science Educationprogram at the ODL Center in a program at Mahendra Ratna Campus Tahachal, Kathmandu. They werefrom 33 districts and seven provinces of Nepal. We categorized them into two groups (group A and groupB), whereas 78 students regularly presented in the ODL class, and the rest of the others dropped out of theprogram. Among the 78 regular students, 71 students participated in the study; amon them 64 were maleand 14 were female students. Among them, 32 students were from rural areas, and the remaining 39 werefrom urban areas of Nepal. As a teacher, counselor, and IT person, the researchers were frequently in contactwith all the students. Table 1 shows the distribution of participants across Gender, Age Group, Ethnicity,Hometown, School Type, and Device Use.Table 1. Distribution of Research Participants across Gender, Age Group, Ethnicity, Hometown, SchoolType, and Device UseGender: Male 57 and Female 14Hometown: Rural 32 and Urban 39Age Group: 26 – 30 15, 31-35 42, 36-40 12, and 40– Above 2School Type: Community 16, Institutional 28, Public 20,and Other 7Ethnicity: Brahman 35, Kshetree 15, Baishya 21,Sudra 0.Device Use: Laptop and Mobile 44, Laptop Only 21,Mobile Phone 4, Desktop computer 2The survey link was shared with the participants in Microsoft Teams online virtual classroom platform inboth A and B sections on the same date and time. All the students were informed about the purpose ofthe study and the use of the data. They were requested to fill up the questionnaire during their free timevoluntarily. They were provided with one week’s time to decide their participation and to have queries aboutthe survey questionnaires (Richards & Schwartz, 2002). Their participation in the survey was followed byinformed consent while responding to the questionnaire (GSPODL) in Google Form. The participantshad a choice to either write their names on the form or keep them anonymous. There was a follow-upcommunication with them to clarify any questions they had and observe their progress in responding tothe questionnaire.
colleges and universities (Drexel University, 2017). There were 6,932,074 students enrolled in at least one . Program was conducted from1984 until 1989 for training the primary school teachers with the financial . portal (https://learning.cehrd.edu.np/) for grades