Information technology (IT) with a human face : a collaborative research project to improve higher nutrition training in Southern Africa
Various enabling factors are required to incorporate technology in teaching and learning, moving towards a more learner-centred approach. Although efforts are being made to address the situation, the effective incorporation of ICT is not yet the norm in African higher education institutions (HEI). Data is available regarding the situation in African HEI, but very little is known about the situation of nutrition training. This research programme was divided into three phases. Phase I, assessment of the current use, awareness, attitudes and practices of ICT in nutrition training followed a descriptive, cross-sectional approach. A convenience sample of six HEI in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe was included. Data were collected from students (N = 591) and lecturing staff (N = 29) in nutrition-related courses using a questionnaire on ICT awareness, attitude and practices. Phase II, development and validation of a purpose-designed e-learning nutrition module followed a descriptive, cross-sectional approach. An e-learning module on Nutrition and HIV/AIDS with eleven sub-modules was developed, using an e-learning platform taking the specific constraints of developing countries into account. It was validated by expert reviewers (N = 27) for content validity and students (N = 175) for face validity. Phase III, to determine the impact of the module on cognitive knowledge followed an experimental before-after approach and used a set of twenty True/False questions for eight of the sub-modules (N = 173). Although there is widespread accessibility to computers, less so to the internet, in nutrition-related courses at Southern African HEI, respondents still felt that more computers should be made available. Computers are not fast enough and lack of finances is the main barrier to home and internet access. Students rate their ICT skills as average to good. Institutional ICT policies and support seem to be lacking, but their attitude to ICT is positive and supportive. Respondents felt that ICT could add a new dimension to nutrition training and are in favour of application of ICT in different modes. Most indicate that the current use of ICT in nutrition training is inadequate. The Nutrition in HIV/AIDS module was validated and found to be useful as an educational tool, being user-friendly, interactive and self-paced. The majority of students reported that their ICT skills were sufficient to complete the e-learning activity. Although generally rated as at least as effective, or more effective than conventional lectures, clearly this mode of elearning should not replace traditional teaching. The content was found to be comprehensive and evidence-based. The depth of the content was sufficient, the level correct for undergraduates and the material relevant to the Southern African context. The interactivity was deemed important, helpful and effective. Most students indicated that they would recommend the Nutrition in HIV/AIDS module to other students, that they enjoyed the presentation and learnt something new. There was an improvement in knowledge scores and/or the number of questions being answered correctly in all but one sub-module. The results confirm previous studies indicating that well-designed elearning modules have the potential to increase the performance of students.