Online instructional experiences in an unchartered field - The challenges of student-teachers of a Ghanaian College of Education

April 2021

Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 37:2, 99-110

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aims to give an answer to the following research questions about preservice teachers in Ghana :
a. Where are student-teachers located when experiencing online teaching?
b. What challenges are student-teachers facing as far as online instruction is concerned?
The research was conducted after twelve weeks of teacher trainees participation in emergency remote classes during the Corona pandemic, to explore the challenges that saddle teachers undergoing training but live in the peri-urban districts of Ghana with associated burden of poor internet connectivity.
The assumptions for the study were that addressing students’ feelings of isolation and loneliness will ultimately improve their understanding, reduce drop-out of online courses and programmes and eventually promote competitiveness among students at the higher education level (Bawa, 2016).
Secondly, Quality Framework in online learning is enhanced if teacher trainees have access to learning resources, institutional support systems and instructional designs (Baldwin et al., 2018).

In view of the pandemic social distancing protocols, this basic qualitative study adopted the telephone semi-structured interview approach to reach out to teacher trainees to examine their lived experiences in an online learning environment.
The interview guide was designed to investigate a range of support systems including educational, managerial/institutional support, technological, communication design, ethical, evaluation and organizational that are available to them during the online teaching and learning environment.
Through the iterated process of reading and rereading of the interview reports, the narratives from interviews were transcribed based on common themes and views interrogated (Van Manen, 1995).
The study adopted the purposive sampling to reach out to teacher trainees within the Social Sciences Department of Kibi Presbyterian College of Education (KPCE), who have never taken ICT courses but had to study in an online environment for the first time in the COVID-19 period.
Each interview session lasted for about 30 minutes.
The interview guide was developed based on the quality framework in online learning (Baldwin et al., 2018).
Data underwent a manual coding process, which was underpinned by the lived experiences of participants yet interpreted through the quality framework in online learning.
In all, the sampling population for the study included all two hundred teacher trainees in the fields of Performing Arts, Religious and Moral Education and Social Studies from the Department Social Sciences of the College.
In all, one hundred and eighty students were interviewed within a period of 4 weeks.
The study took place at Kibi Presbyterian College of Education (KPCE) which is one of the premier institutions that offer initial teacher education programme in Ghana.
Like the other 46 colleges in Ghana, the College is affiliated to University of Cape Coast and runs programmes designed by the mentor institution for student-teachers.
ICT is an elective course for student-teachers majoring in ICT education.
The mode of instruction for teacher trainees in Ghana is conventional, face-to-face teaching and learning.


Location of student-teachers in Ghana for online instructions
To determine the districts from which their student-teachers are located for the online lessons, the researchers elicited the region, district and specific town/village where they usually located.
The results of the interviews revealed that teacher trainees are spread in 10 of 16 regions across the country.
In specific terms, 57% of teacher trainees were located in the Eastern region in which the College is situated, 20% were from the Greater Accra region, 19% from Ashanti region and the least was 3% from North East and Western regions of Ghana.
In terms presence in districts across Ghana, it was revealed that teacher trainees in KPCE are spread in 48 out of the 216 district assemblies in Ghana.
This geographical distribution affects the difficulties of providing institutional support by way of extending College intranet services to students across diverse geographical areas.
The situation becomes more difficult as majority of these towns are in districts with poor internet connectivity and access to online resources are virtually non-existent.
Finally, the plights of teacher trainees in the CoE are further deepened by the absence of systematic ICT programme that seeks to provide the needed support to teacher trainees in an emergency learning environment.

Challenges faced student-teachers when teaching online
After twelve weeks of learning through emergency remote teaching, the following challenges saddled student-teachers participation in online lectures.
In terms of provision for online training prior to COVID-19 pandemic, 51% of student-teachers affirmed that the College has not organized any on campus training to equip them with the necessary skills and information on effective online teaching.
This is true to the fact that the Colleges of Education system in Ghana don’t have any course developed to engage student teachers in online education as part of the institutional support.
Even with the absence of institutional support in emergency online education, more than half (56%) of student teachers were able to join some online training sessions organized by the teacher trainees in the CoE during the emergency teaching.
Giving the challenges associated with online education in an unchartered field, 4 out of 10 student teachers (42%) reported that they were unable to join because of high cost (access from their personal mobile internet data) and internet access issues.
Another 4% said they have declined to participate in the online training because of fear and lack of knowledge of how to use technology.
To ascertain the level of quality enhancement and collaboration with community of practice, it was revealed that only 6% of student teachers who participated in the online training sessions used a computer (PC or laptop), while the remaining 94% used their android mobile phones
As far as management of online teaching is concerned, the vast majority of the participants (92%) reported that they followed the instructions they were given by the CoE.
However, more than 9 out of ten (91%) experienced lack of access to library and other learning resources to support their learning process.
After further enquiring about technological constraints, it became obvious that several geographical locations in Ghana lack internet connectivity or have very low bandwidth.
Beyond social support systems, the researchers wanted to ascertain the impact of the emergency remote training sessions offered to student-teachers prior to teaching in the online environment.
The semi-structured interviews revealed that 82% of the participants were happy with the online learning experience.
Those who were satisfied mentioned the “adequacy of the structure of the training”, the “communication with the online tutor”, the “empathy” and the “collegiality” of the learning group, which seemed like a “productive learning community”.
Those dissatisfied mostly mentioned “lack of quality in the learning materials”, “non-suitable level of training” and “lack of personal involvement of the online tutor”.
The main assumption from this question was that, with effective instructional design, student-teachers can personalize learning and improve the outcome of the emergency remote learning.
To test this assumption, student-teachers were asked whether they would want online teaching as an option for learning, even after the COVID- 19 crisis.
Despite the fact that many of them recognized that online education “can offer them the opportunity to work and study in parallel” and that is “suitable” for “ongoing professional development”, 94% didn’t want online education as an option after the pandemic.
This is obviously due to the challenges associated in online education in the developing world such as absence of internet connectivity, high cost of data and lack of motivation by instructors, who still approach online education from the viewpoint of traditional face-to-face instruction.
The last proposition was to examine the kind of institutional challenges that generally affect learning by student-teachers in an online environment in KPCE.
On this score, 86% of student teachers said KPCE has not done much to support their online learning.
Only 14% percent agreed that the college has done so “by advising and encouraging them to learn”.
However, despite the fact that 79% of the participants were provided with the opportunity to access learning materials from the University Cape Coast, not many took advantage of this opportunity.
Specifically, in terms of quizzes, 57% of student-teachers didn’t take any quiz after almost three months of online instruction.
Additional challenges were reported, such as poor network (43%), high cost of data (32%), and lack of android phones for learning (25%).

Conclusion and recommendations
The study recommends that the regulatory bodies such as the National Council for Tertiary Education and National Accreditation Board must ensure that national policies are designed to inculcate the institutionalization of online education programmes into curricula professional institutions in Ghana.
Together with the 6 identified themes, regulatory bodies should also focus on assessment and evaluation during emergency remote teaching and learning, which hasn’t been analyzed in this study but it is one of the most important challenges for education policy makers during COVID-19 pandemic (Jacques et al., 2020).
For successful roll out of online education in professional institutions, like the CoE, the government, through the appropriate ministries and agencies, must ensure improved internet access across the lengths and breadths of the country to take advantage of this model of education.
There is no doubt that this current context is leading to a reconsideration of investments in educational technology, as investors, education technology companies, governments, officials, and policymakers are trying to support this emergency remote-teaching situation.

Baldwin, S., Ching, Y. H., & Hsu, Y. C. (2018). Online course design in higher education: A review of national and statewide evaluation instruments. TechTrends, 62(1), 46–57
Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: Exploring issues and solutions - A literature review. Sage Open, 6(1) Retrieved from 2158244015621777
Jacques, S., Ouahabi, A., & Lequeu, T. (2020). Remote Knowledge Acquisition and Assessment During the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (iJEP), 10(6), 120
Van Manen, M. (1995). On the epistemology of reflective practice. Teachers and Teaching, 1(1), 33–50

Updated: Nov. 11, 2021