In this report, HENRY TYOHEMBA examines the efficacy of iLearn portal technology of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) amidst students ‘grievances over alleged malfunctioning NOUN PORTAL website
With over 515,000 students and about 78 study centers across the country, NOUN is Nigeria’s largest tertiary institution in terms of student numbers.By its nature as an Open Distance Learning (ODL) coupled with its method of providing lectures to students through ‘iLearn portal technology,’ a diverse range of students from all walks of life are being attracted to the institution just like other conventional universities in Nigeria.
The deployment and implementation of ilearn technology to enhance student’s learning experience offers a way for students to balance work, studies and other life areas more easily. However, despite the imperatives of the technology, students have lamented the inefficiency in accessing the portal in the recent time.
Of course, ilearn technology which was created to ease access to excellent quality education by providing amongst others, online class discussions organized by NOUN
facilitators and facilitating students to get answers to any questions or areas of difficulty pertaining to their course of study, networking and collaboration tools to help in community of interaction among students, facilitators, academic staff and faculty members has helped many students to acquire basic computer skills.
More importantly, the existence of study tools such as the Smart e-Book digitized lecture video and audio materials for an enhanced student’ learning experience available on the platform and access to assignments, quizzes and self-study assessment tools is creating opportunities for students to match the 21st century technological demands.
With all the returns of the ODL and its portal technology that allows a learner to fit his learning around his work and home life, some students of the institution in the recent times have complained over incapability to access the portal and write the continuous assessment, popularly known as TMA (Tutor-marked assignments)
. TMA are the means by which students’ learning outcomes are measured against the stated learning objectives for each course and programme.
It is a type of assessment that is designed to provide students with an opportunity to assess their learning and progress over the duration of the course. According to our investigation, about 20 days are usually set aside every semester for students to access the portal and write the assessment which constitute 30 percent of students’ final score in a course. Failure to sit for TMA is a potential failure of the paper.
Investigations further revealed that NOUN TMA which is the same as Test in other learning institutions are automated in the form of computer-marked assignments and are administered online. They are uploaded onto students’ portals subject to the students’ registration for the course and are to be done at your pace and convince in as much as you don’t exceed the giving time (deadline) for submission because it has a closing date.
Then, the final examination takes 70 percent score mark hence, making the National Open University TMAs necessary if a student must come out with a more excellent result.
Students must also be duly registered for each course in the semester to be eligible for the continuous assessment and the End-of-Semester Examinations and the TMA portal opens after course registration for the semester and it closes just before the examinations begin.
You can usually also set your own pace of study, It is your decision as to when and where you study, It doesn’t matter where you live – you can gain a degree from anywhere in the world, as with a full-time degree, students may find that they gain useful, transferable skills, such as planning and research and a distance learning course often costs less than a full-time degree.
Even though the system has been proven to be effective and is attracting huge number of students, as with any organization, maintaining a website that is optimized for performance and conversion involves a lot more than just making sure the content is up to date. Similarly, when there is too much traffic overload on the website, phrases such as ‘can’t connect to server,’ or any of the other error messages that can show up on website is normal. Going by the huge number of students on the NOUN website, to experience unusual traffic on it would not be something to worry about.
Unlike what usually happened, a group of anonymous NOUN students have bitterly complained about the inability of the university to establish functional websites and the act of uploading incomplete results without creating proper communication channels and the closure of TMAs without considering the malfunctioning of the website.
They also accused the university about their recent results which according to them, all the students failed due to portal issues. According to them, “Our recent results, everyone failed because they closed the portal for TMA even when they didn’t upload any TMA to the portal, we had to write our exams without TMA.
“Recently, they also tampered with our results, all courses we scored an A in 100 level have been changed to C and courses we got D to E,” they alleged.
Contrary to their claims, when LEADERSHIP visited the school authorities to deep-root the issue, the spokesperson of the institution, Ibrahim Sheme said the university’s portal is working efficiently, saying that the institution recently, invited the hosting agent to come and find out if there are ways to improve it but nothing went wrong with the portal after assessment.
He revealed that most of the students couldn’t write the TMA because of their indolence. He said the portal which is usually open for about 20 days for their TMA, most of the students formed a habit of waiting till the last day when the traffic on the sites is too much and when they could not meet up with the deadline they start complaining that the university is not treating them well.
“The students’ grouse is that TMA was closed before they could submit. Yet TWO weeks were allowed for that, and it was on the last day that they all began to rush. We refuse to extend because we don’t want to set a precedent that they make noise we will panic. We have VICC (Complaint unit) which is well publicized in the Study Centers where students can complain of anything.
“I have been receiving complaints and have been sorting them out through Academic Registry. Also when we dig deep we discover that they always refuse to do one critical course or other and then blame the University for missing result. We also have Counselors at all centers to handle grievances – but, strangely, none of them wants to follow these channels,” he added.
On the issue of acclaimed tampering of their results by the university, Director of Management Information System (MIS) of the university, Dr Muhtari Alhassan said the exam sessions 2016/2, 2017/1 and 2017/2 were assessed based on the now proscribed 4.0 system then introduced by the National Universities commission (NUC).
“So there was no grade of E and a score of 40 was graded as D! When we were generating the ‘Released Result’ my staff inadvertently applied the 5.0 formula for the entire exam table, and we started getting complaints from individual students.
“Luckily for us, the Academic Planning Directorate right about the same time enquired from us to please look back and see if there was any period the University had adopted the 4.0 system. So when I told the Desk Officer to find that out we realized that actually old records regarding those three semesters contained no score of E!
“Then it became obvious that we may have to revert to the 4.0 system for the three semesters and we have done the recalculations for that period last week. Academic Planning has to finally instruct us as to the final decision on these grades which have now been reverted on a new released result table waiting for Management consideration.
”On the discrepancy noticed by some students when we released the latest result on the portal, like explained above, the 4.0 system used for those three semesters appeared to the desk officer as mistakes when, for example, a score of 40, which is normally E, carried D. But now we have learnt that the university temporarily applied the 4.0 system before reverting back to the current 5.0. We are discussing with the Directorate of Academic Planning on the way forward.”
He noted that a letter from NUC to the NOUN has recently given the university Senate the option to recalculate the grade or allow the status quo to remain for the three sessions. The institution may revert to the 4.0 system for the affected period in order to avoid revisiting the grades of some that may have already graduated.”