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Background to the e-PAL project

There are two main factors that have necessitated e-PAL:

  • Most NMMU students are Y-generation learners. Consequently, they are visual learners who want information instantly and who use technology extensively to network socially and to communicate. To engage them actively and collaboratively in learning requires more than face-to-face lectures, tutorials, SI and mentoring sessions. Learning that is facilitated via technology is essential for Y-generation learners. Hence, the fact that NMMU has adopted a blended learning strategy, which combines face-to-face and technology-enabled learning opportunities.
  • Face-to-face Peer Assisted Learning cannot reach all students as the number and size of sessions that can be facilitated are constrained inter alia by timeslots available on a timetable, timetable clashes, and available small group lecture venues. Given the increased need for all students to be able to access Peer Assisted Learning support, these constraints limit the possibility of meeting this need. e- PAL is less constrained by the timetable as the group can be facilitated at any time that is convenient and students only need access to the internet on a computer or possibly a cellular telephone. e-PAL also makes it possible for adult learners who work full-time to be supported, as it is very difficult for these learners to find the time to access face-to-face sessions. The trend internationally has been to introduce electronic Peer Assisted Learning so that more students can benefit from learning support opportunities. Research has also shown that instead of simply placing learning support material online, it is much more effective to have an online facilitator who can facilitate learning through intentionally structured e-tivities (i.e. online learning activities). SI statistics have shown that most peer-assisted learning programmes cannot function as a once off “quick-fix” before tests and exams. Comparative analysis on students with similar entry profiles has shown that students who attend sessions regularly throughout the semester are more likely to improve their academic performance, whereas those who only attended once or twice have shown little or no improvement.