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ࡱ> ` jbjb 7ddbbbbbbb'''8P'(4@D(D("f(f(f(A)A)A)???????,ARC?bA)A)A)A)A)?.bbf(f(?...A)Lbf(bf(?.vJbbbbA)?..=|bb:?8(  )',b>:?T?0@t>D.D$:?.bd44Success and failure in distance education: Perceptions of South African students and lecturers in Business Management Professor Roy Killen, University of Newcastle, Australia Professor Andre Marias, University of South Africa Vice-Admiral Piet Loedolff, University of South Africa INTRODUCTION Students entering South African universities have a great diversity of abilities and attributes and their social, cultural and academic backgrounds give them a variety of expectations, needs and academic potential (Goduka 1996:27). Some students are well prepared for university life, apply themselves diligently and are able to adapt, cope and be academically successful. However, many students are ill-prepared for university or are unable to cope with its demands and a significant number never graduate (Wood 1998; Paras 2001; Tait, van Eeden & Tait 2002). The failures and drop-outs that are typically of most university courses should not simply be blamed on students. Each institution has a responsibility to provide high quality facilities, resources and teaching so that all learners can achieve to their full potential. Higher education institutions should be proactive in attempting to improve the success rates of their students at the same time as they strive to maintain or improve their academic standards. The purpose of the study reported here was to develop guidelines for helping students to reflect on their perceptions and expectations of university study so that they could gain more control over their learning and approach their university studies in ways that will enhance their chances of success. A second purpose was to help lecturers reflect on their expectations of and about students so that they will be better informed about ways in which they can facilitate students learning and success. RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY The problem of high attrition rates is not unique to South Africa; it is increasingly common in countries that have shifted the focus of higher education from elitism to mass opportunity (McKenzie & Schweitzer 2001). Historically, universities attempted to ensure that students would be successful by maintaining high entry standards, usually based on school matriculation results. This was a relatively simple process in countries were the school system was designed to filter students out of educational opportunity and were entry to university was considered a privilege rather than a right. However, even this approach did not guarantee that all students were successful in their university studies. Current educational reforms in South Africa, including the National Plan for Higher Education and the recently proposed changes to the Further Education and Training Phase, reflect two overseas trends that may exacerbate the problem. The first is a change in the focus of schooling so that the senior years emphasise preparation of all students for life and work rather than simply preparation of some students for university. The second is a deliberate move by governments to increase the proportion of school leavers who entered tertiary education. The long-term plan to increase the participation rate in HE in South Africa from 15% to 20% (Ntshoe 2002:7) highlights the need for universities to take a fresh look at why many of their students fail and what they can do to improve the chances of success of all students. Attempts to address this issue need to go beyond the traditional approach of simply trying to establish more appropriate entry requirements because, no matter what the entry requirements might be, when a particular student is granted admission to a specific programme there can be no guarantee that he/she will eventually satisfy the requirements for graduation. When universities admit students they need to be reasonably confident that those students will be capable of successfully completing the course in which they are permitted to enrol. To knowingly admit students who, for whatever reason, have no chance of academic success would be immoral (Killen & Fraser 2002:1). However, there is ample research to suggest that few selection methods give anything more than a very approximate indication of students likelihood of success at university. The two most common predictive measures, school matriculation results and standardised admission tests, have only limited empirical support (Riggs & Riggs 1990-91; Graham 1991; Manning, Killen & Taylor 1993, Bargate 1999). Multiple measures, used in combination, can be more predictive than individual measures (van Eeden, de Beer & Coetzee 2001), as can specific measures such as the mathematics ability of students entering engineering courses (Levin & Wyckoff 1988). However, it seems that most predictors that are based solely on pre-enrolment measures (i.e., measures of characteristics or achievements that occur prior to the student commencing the course in which success is being predicted) have limited potential. In South Africa, attempts to predict student performance in higher education are currently complicated by pressure to ensure that students represent the different racial groups in the country (van Eeden, de Beer & Coetzee 2001:171). There is ample evidence in the literature to suggest that post-enrolment factors such as the students motivation (Talbot, 1990), students approach to studying (Meyer 1990), cultural expectations (Ginsburg 1992), psychosocial factors (McKenzie & Schweitzer 2001), students academic literacy (Amos & Fischer 1998), students time management skills (Lahmers & Zulauf 2000), peer culture (Gainen 1995), the quality of teaching (Bartz & Miller 1991), students belief in their own ability (Kleemann 1994; McKenzie & Schweitzer 2001) and the student support structures offered by the university (Kleeman 1994) have strong influences on students success. Some of the most significant factors in students academic success at university seem to be interest in the course, motivation, self-discipline and effortnone of which can be predicted directly from matriculation results (Schmelzer, Schmelzer, Figler & Brozo 1987; Killen 1994). In addition to these factors, high drop-out rates from distance education programmes can be attributed, at least in part, to inappropriately designed study guides, lack of formative assessment and insufficient student support systems (Fraser & Lombard 2002). Factors such as students ability to work independently, their written communications skills and their access to learning resources also become more significant. Students perceptions about what will enhance their chances of success or diminish their chances of failure at university seem to have a strong influence on their approaches to study, even when those perceptions are misguided. Likewise, lecturers perceptions of what factors contribute to student success appear to influence their approach to teaching and their relationship with students (Killen 1994; Jacobs & Gravett 1998). Quite often, lecturers and students views about the extent to which various factors might influence students academic success are incongruent; a typical difference of opinion relates to the importance of attending lectures (Killen & Fraser 2002). Students who believe that attending lectures contributes little to their success may unknowingly diminish their chances of success if the lecturer believes that attendance at lectures is necessary for success and, therefore, provides information in lectures that is not available from any other source. If differences of opinion such as these can be identified it is possible for both students and lecturers to address them and thus enhance the chances that students will be successful (Killen 1994). The study reported here attempted to achieve that goal in Business Management courses conducted by distance education at a South African university. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY A draft questionnaire was developed from the questionnaires used by Killen (1994) and Killen and Fraser (2002). Those studies had gathered data from on-campus students so additional items were added to address factors unique to distance education. After being reviewed by distance education specialists, the final version contained 39 statements that described factors that might contribute to students academic success (the success items) and a separate set of 38 statements that described factors that might contribute to students failure (the failure items). Two parallel-worded versions of the questionnaire were developed: one for students and one for lecturers. The questionnaires contained items for gathering demographic datagender, home language, study language and course of study for students; gender, home language, academic rank and years of teaching experience for lecturers. A random sample of 4000 out of 17 438 students enrolled in Business Management modules at the University of South Africa were invited to complete the questionnaire and responses were received from 636 students (a response rate of 15,9%): 417 in First Year, 98 in Second Year and 121 in Third Year. There were approximately equal numbers of male and female respondents from each year. Thirty-two academic staff (14 female and 18 male) in the Department of Business Management at Unisa completed the lecturer version of the questionnaire (a response rate of 72,7%). The respondents used a five-point Likert-type scale to indicate the extent to which they thought that each factor might influence student success or failure (1 = not at all, 5 = greatly). The data were subjected to several forms of analysis to identify similarities and differences in the responses of lecturers and students and differences in responses of sub-groups of the students. First, the mean ratings given on each item by each group of respondents were calculated so that the success and failure items could be placed in rank order for each group. Next, a series of t-tests and ANOVAs were used to determine whether or not there were significant differences in the mean ratings of each group on each item. The results of these two steps were then used to develop a qualitative description of the similarities and differences in the responses. RESULTS Factors influencing success On the success scale the Cronbach coefficient alpha was 0,9423 for lecturers and 0,9465 for students. The responses from all subgroups of students covered the full range on all items. The mean ratings given by students (pooled data) ranged from 2,01 for inadequate matric results to 3,84 for poor exam preparation. The standard deviations of the students ratings ranged from 1,15 for inadequate matric results to 1,61 for textbooks available in only one language. Similar variations in the means and standard deviations were evident in each sub-group of students. On all items, the maximum rating given by lecturers was 5, the minimum rating was 1 or 2 on 33 of the 38 items and 3 on the other 5 items. The mean ratings given by lecturers ranged from 2,84 for access to the Internet to 4,41 for timely and regular exam preparation. The standard deviations of the lecturers ratings ranged from 0,62 on ability to work independently to 1,03 on clearly defined learning outcomes in study guides. These results were similar to the range of responses obtained from earlier versions of the questionnaire (Killen 1994; Killen & Fraser 2002) and suggested that the revised instrument was sufficiently sensitive to variations in the respondents opinions. The responses from the lecturers and students are summarised in Table 1. The lecturers ratings of the success items were compared with the ratings of the following groups of students: All students (N = 636), First-Year students (N = 417), Second-Year students (N = 98), Third-Year students (N = 121), students who had failed at least one module (N = 286) and students who had not failed any modules (N = 117) (Note: some students did not indicate whether or not they had failed a module in their distance education studies to that time.) The correlations between lecturers and students ratings ranged from 0,7881 for the sub-group students who had not failed to 0,9715 for the sub-group Third-Year students. The correlation between the lecturers and the pooled students ratings was 0,8278. These initial comparisons suggested a high level of agreement between the lecturers and students, and an extremely high level of agreement across the different groups of students. Because of the consistency of the responses from students in different years, their responses were pooled for the remaining analysis unless indicated otherwise. The next stage of the analysis was a comparison of the rankings derived from the mean scores on each item (the respondents were not actually asked to rank the items). This allowed a qualitative appraisal of this general agreement indicated by the correlations. These comparisons appear in Table 1. The ten items rated most highly by lecturers paint a picture of a hard-working student with highly developed communications skills who can work independently and prepare well for examinations and who has made a wise choice of course of study. It is not surprising that this is the type of distance education student that lecturers believe will be successful. There are some clear similarities with the ten items rated most highly by the students (the hard-working, self-motivated, independent learner who prepares well for examinations), but the students have replaced the emphasis on written communications skills and effective study methods with a greater emphasis on the personal value they see in the course, their willingness to accept a challenge and clarity in the study guide outcomes. In addition to timely and regular exam preparation, self-motivation, self-discipline and consistent effort which both lecturers and students ranked in the top ten, the items dedication to a career goal, study guides with clearly defined outcomes and willingness to accept a challenge were ranked in the top ten by all the sub-groups of students, but were ranked 21st, 13th and 17th respectively by the lecturers. Interest in the course was emphasised by all groups of students except those who had not experienced any failures (they ranked it 13th) and it was ranked 14th by lecturers. Ability to read in the language of instruction was ranked at 12 by the Third-Year students, but appeared in the top 10 rankings for all other groups of students (and for lecturers). As indicated in Table 1, on some of the success items the differences in rankings of the lecturers and students differed quite considerably. Consistent with the approach used by Killen and Fraser (2002), attention was focused on those items on which the rankings of the two groups differed by more than 15 places (40% of the maximum possible variation in ranking). These items were effective written communications skills (ranked 8 by lecturers and 32 by students), understanding what lecturers expect (ranked 11 by lecturers and 31 by students) and dedication to a career goal (ranked 21 by lectures and 3 by students). Some tentative explanations for these variations given in the discussion section of this paper. To extend the comparison of the lecturers and students ratings of the success items, t-tests were used to determine those items on which the ratings of the two groups were significantly different at the 0,05 level. The success items on which lecturers ratings were significantly higher than students ratings were: effective written communications skills, peer support, access to libraries and study group support. The success items on which lecturers ratings were significantly lower than students ratings were: dedication to career goals, willingness to accept a challenge, a stable private life and self-confidence. Overall, the results indicated a strong level of agreement between lecturers and students on the factors that potentially influence students success. Factors influencing failure On the failure scale the Cronbach coefficient alpha 0,9706 for lecturers and 0,9144 for students. The responses from all subgroups of students covered the full range from 1 to 5 on all items. The mean ratings given by students (pooled data) ranged from 2,01 for inadequate matric results to 3,84 for poor exam preparation. The standard deviations of the students ratings ranged from 1,15 for inadequate matric results to 1,61 for textbooks available in only one language. Similar variations in the means and standard deviations were evident in each sub-group of students. On all items, the maximum rating given by lecturers was 5, the minimum rating was 1 or 2 on 28 of the 38 items and 3 on the other 9 items. The mean ratings given by lecturers ranged from 2,69 for textbooks available in only one language to 4,50 for insufficient effort. The standard deviations of the lecturers ratings ranged from 0,55 on lack of self-motivation to 1,28 on textbooks available in only one language. Again, these results were similar to the range of responses obtained from earlier versions of the questionnaire (Killen 1994; Killen & Fraser 2002) and suggested that the revised instrument was sufficiently sensitive to variations in the respondents opinions. The correlations between lecturers and students ratings ranged from 0,3818 (lecturers and Third-Year students) to 0,4869 (lecturers and First-Year students). The correlation between the lecturers ratings and the pooled student data was 0,4222. The correlations between the various year groups of students were all above 0,94. These initial comparisons suggested a very high level of agreement across the different groups of students but a low level of agreement between the lecturers and students. The next stage of the analysis was a comparison of the rankings derived from the mean scores on each item. Full details of this comparison appear in Table 2. The ten items rated most likely to contribute to failure by lecturers and by all groups of students had four items in common: insufficient effort, poor exam preparation, lack of self-discipline and inefficient time management. However, as indicated in Table 2, the sixteen items rated most highly by lecturers were all student factors. Quite clearly, the lecturers were tending to blame the students for failing. The various comparisons suggested that students were prepared to accept some of this blame. However, students emphasised much more strongly than lecturers that factors beyond the control of students (such as heavy course workload and assignments without clear standards) were also likely to contribute to student failure. The seven items on the questionnaire that referred to things that are under the direct control of lecturers (such as assessment procedures and workload) were all rated and ranked lower by lecturers than by students. On some of the failure items the differences in rankings of the lecturers and students differed quite considerably. As before, attention was focused on those items for which the rankings of the two groups differed by more than 15 places. They were poor literacy skills (ranked 4 by lecturers and 32 by students), inability to persevere (ranked 7 by lecturers and 29 by students), inadequate matric results (ranked 19 by lecturers and 38 by students), too many demands on students time (ranked 23 by lecturers and 3 by students), heavy course workload (ranked 31 by lecturers and 10 by students), lecturers with unrealistically high expectations of students (ranked 34 by lecturers and 7 by students) and uncertainty about relevance of course content (ranked 35 by lecturers and 20 by students). These differences raised several important questions that are taken up in the discussion section of this paper. To extend the comparison of the lecturers and students ratings of the failure items, t-tests were used to determine those items on which the ratings of the two groups were significantly different at the 0,05 level. The 22 failure items on which lecturers ratings were significantly higher than students ratings are indicated in Table 2. The only failure item on which lecturers ratings were significantly lower than students ratings was assignments or examinations with unrealistic expectations. These differences indicate a clear tendency for lecturers to suggest that students characteristics or actions (not things that are under the control of lecturers) will be the factors most likely to lead to student failure. Comparison of sub-groups of students There was strong agreement across all the sub-groups of students. The correlation between the ratings of the male/female students was 0,9858 on the success scale and 0,9765 on the failure scale. The correlation between the ratings of students studying in Afrikaans/English was 0,9615 on the success scale and 0,8991 on the failure scale. The correlation between the ratings of students who had/had not failed a module was 0,9624 on the success scale and 0,9722 on the failure scale. The correlations between ratings of the First/Second, First/Third and Second/Third Year groups on the success scale were 0,9686, 0,9715 and 0,9692 respectively. The correlations between ratings of the First/Second, First/Third and Second/Third Year groups on the failure scale were 0,9501, 0,9444 and 0,9617 respectively. There were some items on which the ratings of various subgroups were significantly different but because of space limitations they are not reported or discussed here. Suffice to say that there were no patterns in these differences to suggest major underlying causes for the differences. DISCUSSION There are a number of reasons why lecturers and students may have different views about the reasons for student success and failure, and why their views on failure are more incongruent than their views on success. The data suggested that as students progressed from First to Second to Third Year their views on factors leading to success become more closely aligned with the views of lecturers but their views on factors leading to failure become less closely aligned with the views of lecturers. Perhaps the greater level of agreement about factors that have the potential to lead to success than about factors that have the potential to lead to failure is because the students had experienced a high level of success (relative to their peers) in order to gain entry to university and many of the factors that led to that success also have the potential to lead to success at university. Many of the success factors on which there was strong agreement, such as self-motivation, self-discipline and effective examination techniques could be expected to contribute to success in almost any academic endeavour. However, many of the failure factors on which there was strong disagreement, such as lack of maturity, failure to reach the depth of understanding required and inability to use higher-order thinking skills may not have played a major role in determining the students success at school. The views about success of students who had failed at least one module were more closely aligned to the views of lecturers than students who had not failed but their views about failure correlated less strongly with the lecturers views than students who had not failed. Two interpretations of these trends are possible. If the lecturers views are correct then students are gaining a less clear understanding of what might contribute to failure as they progress through their course, and when they are failing they really do not know why. However, if the lecturers views are incorrect then the best indications of why students are failing come from senior students and from those students who have experienced failure. Differences in experience provide another explanation for why lecturers and students have different views: all lecturers have experienced success at university study (and some have experienced at least a limited amount of failure). This personal experience, plus the experience of observing the successes and failures of students over many years, should give the lecturers a clear perspective on what leads to success and failure. However, it would be inappropriate to simply assume that the lecturers views were correct and that the students views were incorrect. Rather, a more detailed attempt should be made to determine which views more accurately reflect the real reasons why some students are successful in their studies and some are not. Lecturers expectations There was considerable difference in lecturers and students opinions about the importance of students understanding lecturers expectations. On the success scale, First-Year students placed very little importance on understanding lecturers expectations (ranking this item at 31 compared to a ranking of 11 by lecturers) but claimed the expectations were unrealistically high. This situation changed little for Second- and Third-Year students. There is a potential problem here, particularly when some of the lecturers expectations are not made explicit. The explicit criteria are the ones that students are most likely to consider unrealistically high, but these may be less important than the implicit criteria. Explicit criteria tend to be essentially quantitative (e.g., how long an essay needs to be, how referencing is to be done) but the implied criteria tend to be qualitative (essentially concerned with how well the student argues a case, how clearly ideas are expressed, and so on). These hidden criteria are the measures that lecturers use to judge the quality of students work and their importance to lecturers in the present study is reflected in the lecturers high ratings for items such as effective written communications skills, ability to reason logically, insight into the field of study and use of higher-order thinking skills. These are all factors rated more highly by lecturers than by students. It is commonsense that students will have difficulty meeting lecturers expectations regarding what they are required to do, and to what standard, unless students understand these expectations. Many students in the present study seem to be unaware of this simple fact. Perhaps the students are very nave or perhaps they have been experiencing success despite being ignorant of or confused about what was expected of them. Or perhaps they have been failing even when they thought they understood what the lecturers expected of them. This latter possibility seems to be indicated when, on the failure scale, students ranked lecturers/tutors with unrealistically high expectations of students as a very strong contributor to possible failure (ranking it 7 compared to a ranking of 34 by lecturers). There are several possible interpretations of this result. Perhaps the lecturers expectations are too high. This could be the case if, for example, a lecturer expected students to read too many resource materials or to demonstrate levels of understanding that were beyond the level that could reasonably be expected of undergraduate students. On the other hand, the lecturers expectations may be quite appropriate and the students may either not understand the reasons for these high expectations or they may simply be confused about what the expectations are. Or perhaps the students expectations of workload and depth of understanding are unrealistically low. Taken together, these findings suggest a strong need for lecturers to have appropriate expectations of students, to make these expectations explicit and to explain why the expectations exist. Communications skills Many of the students in this study appear not to understand the importance of written communications skills, which is somewhat surprising given that they were all enrolled in a print-based distance education course. It is appropriate for lecturers to place a high priority on communications skills because they are emphasised in the South African Qualifications Authoritys critical outcomes and in the outcomes of the BCom degree. It is also clear that many of the outcomes of individual modules in the BCom cannot be demonstrated adequately by students who do not have high-level written communications skills. It is, therefore, important to consider why all sub-groups of students, but particularly the Third-Year students, placed such low priority on written communications skills/literacy skills. There are several clear possibilities. Perhaps the students are simply denying reality (that literacy skills are important) in an attempt to protect their self-esteem and shift responsibility for their success/failure to external factors. If this is the case, it will obviously be a self-defeating strategy that will ultimately lead to failure. However, another possibility is that the students course experiences have shown them that literacy skills are of little consequence in determining their academic success. A hint that this might be the case comes from the success ratings on which Third-Year students see written communications skills and ability to write in the language of instruction as less important than Second-Year students do. Similarly, on the failure ratings the Second-Year and Third-Year students see poor literacy skills as less important than First Year students do. These trends continue when the ratings of students who have/have not failed a module are compared. On both the success and failure scales the students who have failed place less importance on literacy skills than students who have not failed. At least three possible explanations need to be considered: (1) the literacy/written communications skills of students are not influencing their success/failure because of the nature of the assessment tasks that students are required to complete. At least one compulsory First-Year module for all students in the study made heavy use of multiple-choice questions that do not require students to have effective written communications skills; (2) the literacy/written communications skills of students are not influencing their success/failure because lecturers are ignoring deficiencies in these skills when marking students work; or, (3) the literacy/written communications skills of students are influencing their success/failure but students are not aware of this because the feedback they receive on assignments and examinations does not indicate the extent to which their poor communications skills influenced their results. Vocational relevance On the success scale, students placed much more emphasis than lecturers on dedication to a career goal, interest in the course, relevance of the BCom degree content to the real world and my ability to apply the subject to a work situation. On the failure scale, students placed much more emphasis than lecturers on lack of relevance of course content and lack of a provision of a bridge between the theory and the practice. The high priority that students gave to the career/occupational relevance issues is likely to have a strong motivating influence on their approach to study. However, it is also likely to mean that students will quickly become disenchanted if they perceive that their studies are not contributing directly to their career goals. Because the lecturers seem to be placing a low priority on these factors there is a danger that study guides and assessment tasks will not place sufficient emphasis on the career relevance of what students are learning. Perhaps lectures think that students should simply accept that what they are learning is, or will be, relevant even if that relevance is not obvious. If so, this is directly contrary to the principles of productive teaching and learning that are advocated in much of the literature on effective teaching (e.g., Newman and Associates 1996). Feedback to students An important part of helping students to gain a sound and appropriate view of how they can be successful in their university studies is to give them clear, explicit feedback on all assessment tasks. Lecturers in this study seem to understand the importance of regular and comprehensive feedback (ranking it 15) but students do not (ranking it 26). One of the most important functions of feedback is to help students monitor their progress towards achieving the module outcomes. Therefore, it is important that the feedback should be designed specifically to help students understand what lecturers expect (ranked 11 by lecturers but 31 but students), to reinforce the importance of students ability to reason logically (ranked 12 by lecturers and 15 by students) and to improve students written communications skills (ranked 8 by lecturers and 32 by students). The feedback should also reward the students ability to think creatively or laterally (ranked 32 by lecturers and 18 by students). Perhaps the feedback that students are currently receiving is not addressing these issues appropriately. Students approach to learning and their locus of control Because lecturers generally expect university students to be independent learners, successful students tend to be those who are able to operate with what Mischel (1973:265) refers to as effective self-regulatory systems and plans. Such students are able to balance their needs for socialisation and affiliation with their needs for achievement, they have a strong feeling of self-efficacy, and they are able to appreciate the complexity of the situations they encounter. Further, they have a strong sense of purpose and derive some enjoyment from academic activities. It appears that many students in the current study do not have this type of effective self-regulatory system. Rather, they tend to see themselves operating in an environment that is regulated largely by others. This was evident, for example, in the tendency of the students to rate factors such as too many demands on students time, lecturers with unrealistically high expectations and heavy course workload as strong contributors to possible failure. It was also evident in the tendency of the students to rate factors such as peer support (which they would have to seek actively), willingness to ask for help (which would have to be initiated by them) and understanding what lecturers expect (which might require them to initiate inquiries) as having little impact on their possibility of success. The tendency of students to approach university study in this way may be attributable to their past educational experiences since there is little evidence that the South African school system in which most of these students have been successful placed much importance on self-efficacy, independent decision-making and self-regulation. Weiners (1979 1986) achievement-motivation theory provides one plausible explanation of why students perceived control over their success and failure may be different from that of lecturers. When students experience success or failure the ensuing causal attribution can be classified according to locus (internal, external), to stability (stable, unstable), and to control (controllable, uncontrollable). According to Weiner, the attributions accorded to a particular event determine its influence on subsequent academic outcomes including expectations, affect, perceived control and behaviour. From this point of view, students perceived reasons for success or failure may have a stronger influence on their persistence (or withdrawal) than the actual reasons. If a student attributes failure to a personal, stable cause (such as lack of ability) this will result in lower motivation and a feeling of less control than when failure can be attributed to a personal, variable cause (such as lack of effort) or to an external cause (such as poorly written study guides). From this point of view, the tendency of many students in this study to attribute success to their own efforts and failure to factors controlled by their lecturers is consistent with their efforts to maintain self-esteem. This can have negative effects in the long term if the students continue to ignore the real reasons for their lack of success. For example, students who are failing because they lack understanding (an internal, controllable state) but who attribute their failure to the lecturers inappropriate assessment practices (an external, uncontrollable factor) are unlikely to change their approach to study and will probably experience further failure. Considerations of locus of control also provide some indication of why students in this study placed relatively little importance on perseverance. Perhaps they had found that persevering to try to understand course content made little difference to their achievements. Perhaps in their previous studies they had experienced success without any great measure of perseverance. Perhaps they interpreted this item as referring to persevering with their enrolment, rather than persevering with attempts to understand. In this case, students who had decided to continue with their studies until they finally succeeded would not consider failing to persevere as contributing to failure in individual modules. Or perhaps they were simply externalising the factors influencing their success. It should also be acknowledged that similar reasoning can help to explain lecturers views about why students are successful or unsuccessful in their studies. If a lecturer is convinced that students failure is the result of deficiencies in the students (e.g., low academic ability) or to inappropriate student actions (e.g., lack of effort), then the lecturer can maintain self-esteem (happy in the belief that they are not responsible for the lack of success of some students). In the present study there was a clear tendency for lecturers to express such views. On the success scale, the factors that are under the direct control of lecturers (regular and comprehensive feedback, assessment tasks that are closely related to the module and relevance of the BCom to the real world) were ranked 15, 18 and 20 respectively by lecturers, well below the factors such as timely and regular examination preparation that were under the control of students. Likewise, availability of high-quality study resources which is at least partly the responsibility of lecturers was ranked very low at 27. This trend continued on the failure scale where lecturers gave extremely low rankings (31, 33, 34 and 36) to the four factors that were under their direct control (heavy course workload, assignments without clear standards, assignments or examinations with unrealistic expectations and not understanding student needs). The other two factors over which lecturers have at least some control (perceived lack of relevance of course content and too many demands on students time) were ranked 29 and 23 respectively by the lecturers. CONCLUSIONS The study highlighted the dangers inherent in assuming that, because students have survived twelve years at school and somehow managed to gain entry to university, they are equipped to deal with the competing academic, social, cultural, economic and personal pressures that they must balance in order to succeed in their studies. It also highlighted the dangers in assuming that lecturers, particularly those who do not have formal teaching qualifications, will have adequate knowledge of recent research into effective teaching and assessment practices, or that they will automatically be experts in applying the findings of such research once they do become aware of them. The provision of an effective educational programme relies, in part, on both the providers and receivers of that programme being adequately aware of the factors that are likely to influence the success and failure of students in that programme. The research reported here suggests that many students and lecturers have quite diverse opinions about what these factors might be, and about their relative importance. These differences in perceptions make problematic many of the assumptions about teaching and learning at university that lecturers and students hold. Fraser and Lombard (2002:98) emphasise the need for individual relevance, human warmth, emotional involvement, personal approaches, ease of communication and frequent and undelayed interaction (between the student and lecturers) to become the foundations for productive distance education practice. Fraser and Van Staden (1996:220) emphasise the role played by students self-confidence and regular feedback from lecturers on achievement in distance education. It would seem from the analysis of the data gathered in this study that students are more aware of these needs than are lecturers. Caution must be exercised in attempting to generalise the results of this study to other contexts, or indeed to all students and lecturers at the university where the research as conducted, even though the results support many of the findings from similar earlier studies (e.g., Schmelzer, Schmelzer, Figler and Brozo 1987; Killen 1994; Killen & Fraser 2002). It must be acknowledged that this research was based on lecturers and students perceptions of factors that contribute to students success and failure at university and not on the measurement of actual performance. The sample, although large, represented a very small proportion of the total number of students enrolled at the university. However, there was no reason to believe that the sample was not representative. Some writers (e.g., Schmelzer, Schmelzer, Figler & Brozo 1987:265) argue that the responsibility for academic success rests entirely with students and that they need to acquire those skills . . . that will allow them to succeed even when they encounter poor instruction or an unsupportive professor. This is not a view that the authors of this paper support. Nor is this view consistent with the basic principles of outcomes-based education that require teachers to have high expectations for all learners and to provide expanded learning opportunities to maximise the success of all learners (Spady 1994; Killen 2002). Students and lecturers have a joint responsibility for student success and the first stage in accepting this responsibility is for both students and lecturers to gain a better understanding of the complex processes that influence student success and failure. The current study is a step towards that goal. The next step is to explore the extent to which individual students experiences at university (and the congruence between their expectations and experiences) influence their decisions to persist with, or abandon, their studies. Research of this type could bring together two streams of research that currently seem to be running in parallelresearch into students expectations about university study (e.g. Killen & Fraser 2002) and research into students commitment to academic success (e.g., Branxton, Bray & Berger 2000). REFERENCES Amos T L & Fischer S 1998. Understanding and responding to student learning difficulties within the higher education context: A theoretical foundation for developing academic literacy. South African Journal of Higher Education, 12(2):17-23. Bargate K 1999. Mathematics as an indicator of success in first year accounting programmes at Technikon Natal. South African Journal of Higher Education, 13(1):139-143. Bartz D E & Miller L K 1991. 12 teaching methods to enhance student learning: What research says to the teacher. Washington, DC: National Education Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED340686) Branxton J Bray N & Berger J 2000. Faculty teaching skills and their influence on the college student departure process. Journal of College Student Development, 41(2):215-227. Fraser W J & Lombard H 2002. Prominent paradigms of performance and the dilemma of distance education to deliver. Perspectives in Education, 20(3):85-102. Fraser W J & Van Staden C J 1996. Students opinions on factors influencing drop-out rates and performance at distance eduction institutions. South African Journal of Education, 16(4):216-223. Gainen J 1995. Barriers to success in quantitative gatekeeper courses. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 61:5-14. Ginsburg E 1992. Not just a matter of English. HERDSA News, 14(1):6-8. Goduka I N 1996. Challenges to traditional white universities: Affirming diversity in the curriculum. South African Journal of Higher Education, 10(1):27-39. Graham L D 1991. Predicting academic success of students in a Master of Business Administration program. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 51(3):721-727. Jacobs G & Gravett S 1998. University lecturers conceptions of their teaching role. South African Journal of Higher Education, 12(1):54-60. Killen R 1994. Differences between students and lecturers perceptions of factors influencing students academic success at university. Higher Education Research and Development, 13(2):199-212. Killen R 2002. Outcomes-based education: Principles and possibilities. Interpretations, 35(1):1-18. Killen R & Fraser W J 2002. Success and failure in tertiary studies: Perceptions of students and lecturers. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the South African Association of Educators, Pretoria, South Africa, 26-29 September. Kleeman G L 1994. Achieving academic success with ethnically diverse students: Implicatons for student affairs. NASPA Journal, 31(2):137-149. Lahmers A & Zulauf C 2000. Factors associated with academic time use and academic performance of college students: A recursive approach. Journal of College Student Development, 41(5):544-556. Levin J & Wyckoff J 1988. Effective advising: Identifying students most likely to persist and succeed in engineering. Engineering Education, 78:178-182. Manning E Killen R & Taylor A 1993. Predictive validity of various sets of HSC scores, and the ASAT, for performance in certain faculties at the University of Newcastle, NSW. Admission of students into higher education: A collection of recent research papers. Tertiary Entrance Procedures Authority Research Series, Number 2, 36-46. McKenzie K & Schweitzer R 2001. Who succeeds at university? Factors predicting academic performance in first year Australian university students. Higher Education Research and Development, 20(1):21-33. Meyer J H F 1990. Individual study orchestrations and their association with learning outcome. Higher Education, 20(1):67-89. Mischel W 1973. Toward a cognitive social learning reconceptualization of personality. Psychological Review, 80:252-283. Ntshoe I M 2002. National plan for higher education in South Africa: a programme for equity and redress or globalised competition and managerialism? South African Journal of Higher Education, 16(2):7-10. Riggs I M & Riggs M L 1990-91. Predictors of student success in a teacher education program: What is valid, what is not. Action in Teacher Education, 12(4):41-46. Paras J 2001. Crisis in mathematics education. Student failure: challenges and possibilities. South African Journal of Higher Education, 15(3):66-73. Schmelzer R V Schmelzer C D Figler R A & Brozo W G 1987 Using the critical incident technique to determine reasons for success and failure of university students. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28(3):261-266. Spady W 1994. Outcome-based education: Critical issues and answers. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators. Tait M van Eeden S & Tait M 2002. An exploratory study on the perceptions of previously educationally disadvantaged first year learners of law regarding university education. South African Journal of Higher Education, 16(2):177-182. Talbot G I 1990. Personality correlates and personal investment of college students who persist and achieve. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 24(1):53-57. Van Eden R de Beer M & Coetzee C H 2001. Cognitive ability, learning potential and personality traits as predictors of academic achievement by engineering and other science and technology students. South African Journal of Higher Education, 15(1):171-179. Weiner B 1979. A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71:3-29. Weiner B 1986. An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag. Wood T 1998. Issues relating to the cognitive development of students at historically disadvantaged institutions. South African Journal of Higher Education, 12(1):87-94. PAGE  PAGE 1 ):H^uvw)*HIW, Z m  , - 8 ? 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ࡱ> ` jbjb 7ddbbbbbbb'''8P'(4@D(D("f(f(f(A)A)A)???????,ARC?bA)A)A)A)A)?.bbf(f(?...A)Lbf(bf(?.vJbbbbA)?..=|bb:?8(  )',b>:?T?0@t>D.D$:?.bd44Success and failure in distance education: Perceptions of South African students and lecturers in Business Management Professor Roy Killen, University of Newcastle, Australia Professor Andre Marias, University of South Africa Vice-Admiral Piet Loedolff, University of South Africa INTRODUCTION Students entering South African universities have a great diversity of abilities and attributes and their social, cultural and academic backgrounds give them a variety of expectations, needs and academic potential (Goduka 1996:27). Some students are well prepared for university life, apply themselves diligently and are able to adapt, cope and be academically successful. However, many students are ill-prepared for university or are unable to cope with its demands and a significant number never graduate (Wood 1998; Paras 2001; Tait, van Eeden & Tait 2002). The failures and drop-outs that are typically of most university courses should not simply be blamed on students. Each institution has a responsibility to provide high quality facilities, resources and teaching so that all learners can achieve to their full potential. Higher education institutions should be proactive in attempting to improve the success rates of their students at the same time as they strive to maintain or improve their academic standards. The purpose of the study reported here was to develop guidelines for helping students to reflect on their perceptions and expectations of university study so that they could gain more control over their learning and approach their university studies in ways that will enhance their chances of success. A second purpose was to help lecturers reflect on their expectations of and about students so that they will be better informed about ways in which they can facilitate students learning and success. RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY The problem of high attrition rates is not unique to South Africa; it is increasingly common in countries that have shifted the focus of higher education from elitism to mass opportunity (McKenzie & Schweitzer 2001). Historically, universities attempted to ensure that students would be successful by maintaining high entry standards, usually based on school matriculation results. This was a relatively simple process in countries were the school system was designed to filter students out of educational opportunity and were entry to university was considered a privilege rather than a right. However, even this approach did not guarantee that all students were successful in their university studies. Current educational reforms in South Africa, including the National Plan for Higher Education and the recently proposed changes to the Further Education and Training Phase, reflect two overseas trends that may exacerbate the problem. The first is a change in the focus of schooling so that the senior years emphasise preparation of all students for life and work rather than simply preparation of some students for university. The second is a deliberate move by governments to increase the proportion of school leavers who entered tertiary education. The long-term plan to increase the participation rate in HE in South Africa from 15% to 20% (Ntshoe 2002:7) highlights the need for universities to take a fresh look at why many of their students fail and what they can do to improve the chances of success of all students. Attempts to address this issue need to go beyond the traditional approach of simply trying to establish more appropriate entry requirements because, no matter what the entry requirements might be, when a particular student is granted admission to a specific programme there can be no guarantee that he/she will eventually satisfy the requirements for graduation. When universities admit students they need to be reasonably confident that those students will be capable of successfully completing the course in which they are permitted to enrol. To knowingly admit students who, for whatever reason, have no chance of academic success would be immoral (Killen & Fraser 2002:1). However, there is ample research to suggest that few selection methods give anything more than a very approximate indication of students likelihood of success at university. The two most common predictive measures, school matriculation results and standardised admission tests, have only limited empirical support (Riggs & Riggs 1990-91; Graham 1991; Manning, Killen & Taylor 1993, Bargate 1999). Multiple measures, used in combination, can be more predictive than individual measures (van Eeden, de Beer & Coetzee 2001), as can specific measures such as the mathematics ability of students entering engineering courses (Levin & Wyckoff 1988). However, it seems that most predictors that are based solely on pre-enrolment measures (i.e., measures of characteristics or achievements that occur prior to the student commencing the course in which success is being predicted) have limited potential. In South Africa, attempts to predict student performance in higher education are currently complicated by pressure to ensure that students represent the different racial groups in the country (van Eeden, de Beer & Coetzee 2001:171). There is ample evidence in the literature to suggest that post-enrolment factors such as the students motivation (Talbot, 1990), students approach to studying (Meyer 1990), cultural expectations (Ginsburg 1992), psychosocial factors (McKenzie & Schweitzer 2001), students academic literacy (Amos & Fischer 1998), students time management skills (Lahmers & Zulauf 2000), peer culture (Gainen 1995), the quality of teaching (Bartz & Miller 1991), students belief in their own ability (Kleemann 1994; McKenzie & Schweitzer 2001) and the student support structures offered by the university (Kleeman 1994) have strong influences on students success. Some of the most significant factors in students academic success at university seem to be interest in the course, motivation, self-discipline and effortnone of which can be predicted directly from matriculation results (Schmelzer, Schmelzer, Figler & Brozo 1987; Killen 1994). In addition to these factors, high drop-out rates from distance education programmes can be attributed, at least in part, to inappropriately designed study guides, lack of formative assessment and insufficient student support systems (Fraser & Lombard 2002). Factors such as students ability to work independently, their written communications skills and their access to learning resources also become more significant. Students perceptions about what will enhance their chances of success or diminish their chances of failure at university seem to have a strong influence on their approaches to study, even when those perceptions are misguided. Likewise, lecturers perceptions of what factors contribute to student success appear to influence their approach to teaching and their relationship with students (Killen 1994; Jacobs & Gravett 1998). Quite often, lecturers and students views about the extent to which various factors might influence students academic success are incongruent; a typical difference of opinion relates to the importance of attending lectures (Killen & Fraser 2002). Students who believe that attending lectures contributes little to their success may unknowingly diminish their chances of success if the lecturer believes that attendance at lectures is necessary for success and, therefore, provides information in lectures that is not available from any other source. If differences of opinion such as these can be identified it is possible for both students and lecturers to address them and thus enhance the chances that students will be successful (Killen 1994). The study reported here attempted to achieve that goal in Business Management courses conducted by distance education at a South African university. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY A draft questionnaire was developed from the questionnaires used by Killen (1994) and Killen and Fraser (2002). Those studies had gathered data from on-campus students so additional items were added to address factors unique to distance education. After being reviewed by distance education specialists, the final version contained 39 statements that described factors that might contribute to students academic success (the success items) and a separate set of 38 statements that described factors that might contribute to students failure (the failure items). Two parallel-worded versions of the questionnaire were developed: one for students and one for lecturers. The questionnaires contained items for gathering demographic datagender, home language, study language and course of study for students; gender, home language, academic rank and years of teaching experience for lecturers. A random sample of 4000 out of 17 438 students enrolled in Business Management modules at the University of South Africa were invited to complete the questionnaire and responses were received from 636 students (a response rate of 15,9%): 417 in First Year, 98 in Second Year and 121 in Third Year. There were approximately equal numbers of male and female respondents from each year. Thirty-two academic staff (14 female and 18 male) in the Department of Business Management at Unisa completed the lecturer version of the questionnaire (a response rate of 72,7%). The respondents used a five-point Likert-type scale to indicate the extent to which they thought that each factor might influence student success or failure (1 = not at all, 5 = greatly). The data were subjected to several forms of analysis to identify similarities and differences in the responses of lecturers and students and differences in responses of sub-groups of the students. First, the mean ratings given on each item by each group of respondents were calculated so that the success and failure items could be placed in rank order for each group. Next, a series of t-tests and ANOVAs were used to determine whether or not there were significant differences in the mean ratings of each group on each item. The results of these two steps were then used to develop a qualitative description of the similarities and differences in the responses. RESULTS Factors influencing success On the success scale the Cronbach coefficient alpha was 0,9423 for lecturers and 0,9465 for students. The responses from all subgroups of students covered the full range on all items. The mean ratings given by students (pooled data) ranged from 2,01 for inadequate matric results to 3,84 for poor exam preparation. The standard deviations of the students ratings ranged from 1,15 for inadequate matric results to 1,61 for textbooks available in only one language. Similar variations in the means and standard deviations were evident in each sub-group of students. On all items, the maximum rating given by lecturers was 5, the minimum rating was 1 or 2 on 33 of the 38 items and 3 on the other 5 items. The mean ratings given by lecturers ranged from 2,84 for access to the Internet to 4,41 for timely and regular exam preparation. The standard deviations of the lecturers ratings ranged from 0,62 on ability to work independently to 1,03 on clearly defined learning outcomes in study guides. These results were similar to the range of responses obtained from earlier versions of the questionnaire (Killen 1994; Killen & Fraser 2002) and suggested that the revised instrument was sufficiently sensitive to variations in the respondents opinions. The responses from the lecturers and students are summarised in Table 1. The lecturers ratings of the success items were compared with the ratings of the following groups of students: All students (N = 636), First-Year students (N = 417), Second-Year students (N = 98), Third-Year students (N = 121), students who had failed at least one module (N = 286) and students who had not failed any modules (N = 117) (Note: some students did not indicate whether or not they had failed a module in their distance education studies to that time.) The correlations between lecturers and students ratings ranged from 0,7881 for the sub-group students who had not failed to 0,9715 for the sub-group Third-Year students. The correlation between the lecturers and the pooled students ratings was 0,8278. These initial comparisons suggested a high level of agreement between the lecturers and students, and an extremely high level of agreement across the different groups of students. Because of the consistency of the responses from students in different years, their responses were pooled for the remaining analysis unless indicated otherwise. The next stage of the analysis was a comparison of the rankings derived from the mean scores on each item (the respondents were not actually asked to rank the items). This allowed a qualitative appraisal of this general agreement indicated by the correlations. These comparisons appear in Table 1. The ten items rated most highly by lecturers paint a picture of a hard-working student with highly developed communications skills who can work independently and prepare well for examinations and who has made a wise choice of course of study. It is not surprising that this is the type of distance education student that lecturers believe will be successful. There are some clear similarities with the ten items rated most highly by the students (the hard-working, self-motivated, independent learner who prepares well for examinations), but the students have replaced the emphasis on written communications skills and effective study methods with a greater emphasis on the personal value they see in the course, their willingness to accept a challenge and clarity in the study guide outcomes. In addition to timely and regular exam preparation, self-motivation, self-discipline and consistent effort which both lecturers and students ranked in the top ten, the items dedication to a career goal, study guides with clearly defined outcomes and willingness to accept a challenge were ranked in the top ten by all the sub-groups of students, but were ranked 21st, 13th and 17th respectively by the lecturers. Interest in the course was emphasised by all groups of students except those who had not experienced any failures (they ranked it 13th) and it was ranked 14th by lecturers. Ability to read in the language of instruction was ranked at 12 by the Third-Year students, but appeared in the top 10 rankings for all other groups of students (and for lecturers). As indicated in Table 1, on some of the success items the differences in rankings of the lecturers and students differed quite considerably. Consistent with the approach used by Killen and Fraser (2002), attention was focused on those items on which the rankings of the two groups differed by more than 15 places (40% of the maximum possible variation in ranking). These items were effective written communications skills (ranked 8 by lecturers and 32 by students), understanding what lecturers expect (ranked 11 by lecturers and 31 by students) and dedication to a career goal (ranked 21 by lectures and 3 by students). Some tentative explanations for these variations given in the discussion section of this paper. To extend the comparison of the lecturers and students ratings of the success items, t-tests were used to determine those items on which the ratings of the two groups were significantly different at the 0,05 level. The success items on which lecturers ratings were significantly higher than students ratings were: effective written communications skills, peer support, access to libraries and study group support. The success items on which lecturers ratings were significantly lower than students ratings were: dedication to career goals, willingness to accept a challenge, a stable private life and self-confidence. Overall, the results indicated a strong level of agreement between lecturers and students on the factors that potentially influence students success. Factors influencing failure On the failure scale the Cronbach coefficient alpha 0,9706 for lecturers and 0,9144 for students. The responses from all subgroups of students covered the full range from 1 to 5 on all items. The mean ratings given by students (pooled data) ranged from 2,01 for inadequate matric results to 3,84 for poor exam preparation. The standard deviations of the students ratings ranged from 1,15 for inadequate matric results to 1,61 for textbooks available in only one language. Similar variations in the means and standard deviations were evident in each sub-group of students. On all items, the maximum rating given by lecturers was 5, the minimum rating was 1 or 2 on 28 of the 38 items and 3 on the other 9 items. The mean ratings given by lecturers ranged from 2,69 for textbooks available in only one language to 4,50 for insufficient effort. The standard deviations of the lecturers ratings ranged from 0,55 on lack of self-motivation to 1,28 on textbooks available in only one language. Again, these results were similar to the range of responses obtained from earlier versions of the questionnaire (Killen 1994; Killen & Fraser 2002) and suggested that the revised instrument was sufficiently sensitive to variations in the respondents opinions. The correlations between lecturers and students ratings ranged from 0,3818 (lecturers and Third-Year students) to 0,4869 (lecturers and First-Year students). The correlation between the lecturers ratings and the pooled student data was 0,4222. The correlations between the various year groups of students were all above 0,94. These initial comparisons suggested a very high level of agreement across the different groups of students but a low level of agreement between the lecturers and students. The next stage of the analysis was a comparison of the rankings derived from the mean scores on each item. Full details of this comparison appear in Table 2. The ten items rated most likely to contribute to failure by lecturers and by all groups of students had four items in common: insufficient effort, poor exam preparation, lack of self-discipline and inefficient time management. However, as indicated in Table 2, the sixteen items rated most highly by lecturers were all student factors. Quite clearly, the lecturers were tending to blame the students for failing. The various comparisons suggested that students were prepared to accept some of this blame. However, students emphasised much more strongly than lecturers that factors beyond the control of students (such as heavy course workload and assignments without clear standards) were also likely to contribute to student failure. The seven items on the questionnaire that referred to things that are under the direct control of lecturers (such as assessment procedures and workload) were all rated and ranked lower by lecturers than by students. On some of the failure items the differences in rankings of the lecturers and students differed quite considerably. As before, attention was focused on those items for which the rankings of the two groups differed by more than 15 places. They were poor literacy skills (ranked 4 by lecturers and 32 by students), inability to persevere (ranked 7 by lecturers and 29 by students), inadequate matric results (ranked 19 by lecturers and 38 by students), too many demands on students time (ranked 23 by lecturers and 3 by students), heavy course workload (ranked 31 by lecturers and 10 by students), lecturers with unrealistically high expectations of students (ranked 34 by lecturers and 7 by students) and uncertainty about relevance of course content (ranked 35 by lecturers and 20 by students). These differences raised several important questions that are taken up in the discussion section of this paper. To extend the comparison of the lecturers and students ratings of the failure items, t-tests were used to determine those items on which the ratings of the two groups were significantly different at the 0,05 level. The 22 failure items on which lecturers ratings were significantly higher than students ratings are indicated in Table 2. The only failure item on which lecturers ratings were significantly lower than students ratings was assignments or examinations with unrealistic expectations. These differences indicate a clear tendency for lecturers to suggest that students characteristics or actions (not things that are under the control of lecturers) will be the factors most likely to lead to student failure. Comparison of sub-groups of students There was strong agreement across all the sub-groups of students. The correlation between the ratings of the male/female students was 0,9858 on the success scale and 0,9765 on the failure scale. The correlation between the ratings of students studying in Afrikaans/English was 0,9615 on the success scale and 0,8991 on the failure scale. The correlation between the ratings of students who had/had not failed a module was 0,9624 on the success scale and 0,9722 on the failure scale. The correlations between ratings of the First/Second, First/Third and Second/Third Year groups on the success scale were 0,9686, 0,9715 and 0,9692 respectively. The correlations between ratings of the First/Second, First/Third and Second/Third Year groups on the failure scale were 0,9501, 0,9444 and 0,9617 respectively. There were some items on which the ratings of various subgroups were significantly different but because of space limitations they are not reported or discussed here. Suffice to say that there were no patterns in these differences to suggest major underlying causes for the differences. DISCUSSION There are a number of reasons why lecturers and students may have different views about the reasons for student success and failure, and why their views on failure are more incongruent than their views on success. The data suggested that as students progressed from First to Second to Third Year their views on factors leading to success become more closely aligned with the views of lecturers but their views on factors leading to failure become less closely aligned with the views of lecturers. Perhaps the greater level of agreement about factors that have the potential to lead to success than about factors that have the potential to lead to failure is because the students had experienced a high level of success (relative to their peers) in order to gain entry to university and many of the factors that led to that success also have the potential to lead to success at university. Many of the success factors on which there was strong agreement, such as self-motivation, self-discipline and effective examination techniques could be expected to contribute to success in almost any academic endeavour. However, many of the failure factors on which there was strong disagreement, such as lack of maturity, failure to reach the depth of understanding required and inability to use higher-order thinking skills may not have played a major role in determining the students success at school. The views about success of students who had failed at least one module were more closely aligned to the views of lecturers than students who had not failed but their views about failure correlated less strongly with the lecturers views than students who had not failed. Two interpretations of these trends are possible. If the lecturers views are correct then students are gaining a less clear understanding of what might contribute to failure as they progress through their course, and when they are failing they really do not know why. However, if the lecturers views are incorrect then the best indications of why students are failing come from senior students and from those students who have experienced failure. Differences in experience provide another explanation for why lecturers and students have different views: all lecturers have experienced success at university study (and some have experienced at least a limited amount of failure). This personal experience, plus the experience of observing the successes and failures of students over many years, should give the lecturers a clear perspective on what leads to success and failure. However, it would be inappropriate to simply assume that the lecturers views were correct and that the students views were incorrect. Rather, a more detailed attempt should be made to determine which views more accurately reflect the real reasons why some students are successful in their studies and some are not. Lecturers expectations There was considerable difference in lecturers and students opinions about the importance of students understanding lecturers expectations. On the success scale, First-Year students placed very little importance on understanding lecturers expectations (ranking this item at 31 compared to a ranking of 11 by lecturers) but claimed the expectations were unrealistically high. This situation changed little for Second- and Third-Year students. There is a potential problem here, particularly when some of the lecturers expectations are not made explicit. The explicit criteria are the ones that students are most likely to consider unrealistically high, but these may be less important than the implicit criteria. Explicit criteria tend to be essentially quantitative (e.g., how long an essay needs to be, how referencing is to be done) but the implied criteria tend to be qualitative (essentially concerned with how well the student argues a case, how clearly ideas are expressed, and so on). These hidden criteria are the measures that lecturers use to judge the quality of students work and their importance to lecturers in the present study is reflected in the lecturers high ratings for items such as effective written communications skills, ability to reason logically, insight into the field of study and use of higher-order thinking skills. These are all factors rated more highly by lecturers than by students. It is commonsense that students will have difficulty meeting lecturers expectations regarding what they are required to do, and to what standard, unless students understand these expectations. Many students in the present study seem to be unaware of this simple fact. Perhaps the students are very nave or perhaps they have been experiencing success despite being ignorant of or confused about what was expected of them. Or perhaps they have been failing even when they thought they understood what the lecturers expected of them. This latter possibility seems to be indicated when, on the failure scale, students ranked lecturers/tutors with unrealistically high expectations of students as a very strong contributor to possible failure (ranking it 7 compared to a ranking of 34 by lecturers). There are several possible interpretations of this result. Perhaps the lecturers expectations are too high. This could be the case if, for example, a lecturer expected students to read too many resource materials or to demonstrate levels of understanding that were beyond the level that could reasonably be expected of undergraduate students. On the other hand, the lecturers expectations may be quite appropriate and the students may either not understand the reasons for these high expectations or they may simply be confused about what the expectations are. Or perhaps the students expectations of workload and depth of understanding are unrealistically low. Taken together, these findings suggest a strong need for lecturers to have appropriate expectations of students, to make these expectations explicit and to explain why the expectations exist. Communications skills Many of the students in this study appear not to understand the importance of written communications skills, which is somewhat surprising given that they were all enrolled in a print-based distance education course. It is appropriate for lecturers to place a high priority on communications skills because they are emphasised in the South African Qualifications Authoritys critical outcomes and in the outcomes of the BCom degree. It is also clear that many of the outcomes of individual modules in the BCom cannot be demonstrated adequately by students who do not have high-level written communications skills. It is, therefore, important to consider why all sub-groups of students, but particularly the Third-Year students, placed such low priority on written communications skills/literacy skills. There are several clear possibilities. Perhaps the students are simply denying reality (that literacy skills are important) in an attempt to protect their self-esteem and shift responsibility for their success/failure to external factors. If this is the case, it will obviously be a self-defeating strategy that will ultimately lead to failure. However, another possibility is that the students course experiences have shown them that literacy skills are of little consequence in determining their academic success. A hint that this might be the case comes from the success ratings on which Third-Year students see written communications skills and ability to write in the language of instruction as less important than Second-Year students do. Similarly, on the failure ratings the Second-Year and Third-Year students see poor literacy skills as less important than First Year students do. These trends continue when the ratings of students who have/have not failed a module are compared. On both the success and failure scales the students who have failed place less importance on literacy skills than students who have not failed. At least three possible explanations need to be considered: (1) the literacy/written communications skills of students are not influencing their success/failure because of the nature of the assessment tasks that students are required to complete. At least one compulsory First-Year module for all students in the study made heavy use of multiple-choice questions that do not require students to have effective written communications skills; (2) the literacy/written communications skills of students are not influencing their success/failure because lecturers are ignoring deficiencies in these skills when marking students work; or, (3) the literacy/written communications skills of students are influencing their success/failure but students are not aware of this because the feedback they receive on assignments and examinations does not indicate the extent to which their poor communications skills influenced their results. Vocational relevance On the success scale, students placed much more emphasis than lecturers on dedication to a career goal, interest in the course, relevance of the BCom degree content to the real world and my ability to apply the subject to a work situation. On the failure scale, students placed much more emphasis than lecturers on lack of relevance of course content and lack of a provision of a bridge between the theory and the practice. The high priority that students gave to the career/occupational relevance issues is likely to have a strong motivating influence on their approach to study. However, it is also likely to mean that students will quickly become disenchanted if they perceive that their studies are not contributing directly to their career goals. Because the lecturers seem to be placing a low priority on these factors there is a danger that study guides and assessment tasks will not place sufficient emphasis on the career relevance of what students are learning. Perhaps lectures think that students should simply accept that what they are learning is, or will be, relevant even if that relevance is not obvious. If so, this is directly contrary to the principles of productive teaching and learning that are advocated in much of the literature on effective teaching (e.g., Newman and Associates 1996). Feedback to students An important part of helping students to gain a sound and appropriate view of how they can be successful in their university studies is to give them clear, explicit feedback on all assessment tasks. Lecturers in this study seem to understand the importance of regular and comprehensive feedback (ranking it 15) but students do not (ranking it 26). One of the most important functions of feedback is to help students monitor their progress towards achieving the module outcomes. Therefore, it is important that the feedback should be designed specifically to help students understand what lecturers expect (ranked 11 by lecturers but 31 but students), to reinforce the importance of students ability to reason logically (ranked 12 by lecturers and 15 by students) and to improve students written communications skills (ranked 8 by lecturers and 32 by students). The feedback should also reward the students ability to think creatively or laterally (ranked 32 by lecturers and 18 by students). Perhaps the feedback that students are currently receiving is not addressing these issues appropriately. Students approach to learning and their locus of control Because lecturers generally expect university students to be independent learners, successful students tend to be those who are able to operate with what Mischel (1973:265) refers to as effective self-regulatory systems and plans. Such students are able to balance their needs for socialisation and affiliation with their needs for achievement, they have a strong feeling of self-efficacy, and they are able to appreciate the complexity of the situations they encounter. Further, they have a strong sense of purpose and derive some enjoyment from academic activities. It appears that many students in the current study do not have this type of effective self-regulatory system. Rather, they tend to see themselves operating in an environment that is regulated largely by others. This was evident, for example, in the tendency of the students to rate factors such as too many demands on students time, lecturers with unrealistically high expectations and heavy course workload as strong contributors to possible failure. It was also evident in the tendency of the students to rate factors such as peer support (which they would have to seek actively), willingness to ask for help (which would have to be initiated by them) and understanding what lecturers expect (which might require them to initiate inquiries) as having little impact on their possibility of success. The tendency of students to approach university study in this way may be attributable to their past educational experiences since there is little evidence that the South African school system in which most of these students have been successful placed much importance on self-efficacy, independent decision-making and self-regulation. Weiners (1979 1986) achievement-motivation theory provides one plausible explanation of why students perceived control over their success and failure may be different from that of lecturers. When students experience success or failure the ensuing causal attribution can be classified according to locus (internal, external), to stability (stable, unstable), and to control (controllable, uncontrollable). According to Weiner, the attributions accorded to a particular event determine its influence on subsequent academic outcomes including expectations, affect, perceived control and behaviour. From this point of view, students perceived reasons for success or failure may have a stronger influence on their persistence (or withdrawal) than the actual reasons. If a student attributes failure to a personal, stable cause (such as lack of ability) this will result in lower motivation and a feeling of less control than when failure can be attributed to a personal, variable cause (such as lack of effort) or to an external cause (such as poorly written study guides). From this point of view, the tendency of many students in this study to attribute success to their own efforts and failure to factors controlled by their lecturers is consistent with their efforts to maintain self-esteem. This can have negative effects in the long term if the students continue to ignore the real reasons for their lack of success. For example, students who are failing because they lack understanding (an internal, controllable state) but who attribute their failure to the lecturers inappropriate assessment practices (an external, uncontrollable factor) are unlikely to change their approach to study and will probably experience further failure. Considerations of locus of control also provide some indication of why students in this study placed relatively little importance on perseverance. Perhaps they had found that persevering to try to understand course content made little difference to their achievements. Perhaps in their previous studies they had experienced success without any great measure of perseverance. Perhaps they interpreted this item as referring to persevering with their enrolment, rather than persevering with attempts to understand. In this case, students who had decided to continue with their studies until they finally succeeded would not consider failing to persevere as contributing to failure in individual modules. Or perhaps they were simply externalising the factors influencing their success. It should also be acknowledged that similar reasoning can help to explain lecturers views about why students are successful or unsuccessful in their studies. If a lecturer is convinced that students failure is the result of deficiencies in the students (e.g., low academic ability) or to inappropriate student actions (e.g., lack of effort), then the lecturer can maintain self-esteem (happy in the belief that they are not responsible for the lack of success of some students). In the present study there was a clear tendency for lecturers to express such views. On the success scale, the factors that are under the direct control of lecturers (regular and comprehensive feedback, assessment tasks that are closely related to the module and relevance of the BCom to the real world) were ranked 15, 18 and 20 respectively by lecturers, well below the factors such as timely and regular examination preparation that were under the control of students. Likewise, availability of high-quality study resources which is at least partly the responsibility of lecturers was ranked very low at 27. This trend continued on the failure scale where lecturers gave extremely low rankings (31, 33, 34 and 36) to the four factors that were under their direct control (heavy course workload, assignments without clear standards, assignments or examinations with unrealistic expectations and not understanding student needs). The other two factors over which lecturers have at least some control (perceived lack of relevance of course content and too many demands on students time) were ranked 29 and 23 respectively by the lecturers. CONCLUSIONS The study highlighted the dangers inherent in assuming that, because students have survived twelve years at school and somehow managed to gain entry to university, they are equipped to deal with the competing academic, social, cultural, economic and personal pressures that they must balance in order to succeed in their studies. It also highlighted the dangers in assuming that lecturers, particularly those who do not have formal teaching qualifications, will have adequate knowledge of recent research into effective teaching and assessment practices, or that they will automatically be experts in applying the findings of such research once they do become aware of them. The provision of an effective educational programme relies, in part, on both the providers and receivers of that programme being adequately aware of the factors that are likely to influence the success and failure of students in that programme. The research reported here suggests that many students and lecturers have quite diverse opinions about what these factors might be, and about their relative importance. These differences in perceptions make problematic many of the assumptions about teaching and learning at university that lecturers and students hold. Fraser and Lombard (2002:98) emphasise the need for individual relevance, human warmth, emotional involvement, personal approaches, ease of communication and frequent and undelayed interaction (between the student and lecturers) to become the foundations for productive distance education practice. Fraser and Van Staden (1996:220) emphasise the role played by students self-confidence and regular feedback from lecturers on achievement in distance education. It would seem from the analysis of the data gathered in this study that students are more aware of these needs than are lecturers. Caution must be exercised in attempting to generalise the results of this study to other contexts, or indeed to all students and lecturers at the university where the research as conducted, even though the results support many of the findings from similar earlier studies (e.g., Schmelzer, Schmelzer, Figler and Brozo 1987; Killen 1994; Killen & Fraser 2002). It must be acknowledged that this research was based on lecturers and students perceptions of factors that contribute to students success and failure at university and not on the measurement of actual performance. The sample, although large, represented a very small proportion of the total number of students enrolled at the university. However, there was no reason to believe that the sample was not representative. Some writers (e.g., Schmelzer, Schmelzer, Figler & Brozo 1987:265) argue that the responsibility for academic success rests entirely with students and that they need to acquire those skills . . . that will allow them to succeed even when they encounter poor instruction or an unsupportive professor. This is not a view that the authors of this paper support. Nor is this view consistent with the basic principles of outcomes-based education that require teachers to have high expectations for all learners and to provide expanded learning opportunities to maximise the success of all learners (Spady 1994; Killen 2002). Students and lecturers have a joint responsibility for student success and the first stage in accepting this responsibility is for both students and lecturers to gain a better understanding of the complex processes that influence student success and failure. 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