The use of activity theory to explain the complexities surrounding the use of ICT in overcrowded university classrooms: the case of Nigeria
Higher education in the past decades has no doubt increased in value. Its appreciation as a source of economic growth and development has caused an enormous expansion in the number of applications for its products and services worldwide. As a result, student enrolment is soaring record high and for higher education systems to cope, classes are rapidly increasing in size and Staff-Student Ratios (SSR) - the ratio of full time equivalent staffs to full time equivalent students - are perpetually decreasing. For this reason, administrators, teachers and students are seeking evidence on which to base decisions about how to configure the ‘right’ class size to ensure quality, satisfaction, and meaningful learning outcomes. They want to be able to assess the effect of class size on teaching and learning. This is because of the common perception that large classes are economical to run and small ones are not. But what if the large classes are overcrowded?
Research evidence on the impact of class size on teaching and learning is often based on the class sizes that are purported by some developed countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand. However, average class sizes vary greatly between countries and in some countries can be very much larger. In Africa, and most developing countries of the world, for instance, classes are more than ‘large’. They are usually crowded. Classrooms of public schools – primary, secondary and even post-secondary schools - are facing the challenge of overcrowding.
Questions arise as to the quality of teaching and learning that takes place in the overcrowded classrooms of developing countries. Some suggestions appraise the contribution of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to improving teaching and learning in large classes. They argue that new ICT technologies as well as the new use of old ones are useful in addressing the challenge of teaching and learning in overcrowded classrooms. Moreover, higher education systems all over the world are experiencing continuous growth in the applications of technology to approaches in teaching and learning. Recently, ICT is being deployed in developing countries in an attempt to meet the critical educational challenges of enrolment demands on infrastructure at all levels.
This study investigates the contributions of ICT to teaching and learning in overcrowded classrooms of developing countries with Nigerian universities as cases. The lens of activity theory is adopted for analysis. While extensive studies have been conducted on the effect of class size on student learning, little attention has been paid to the contributions of ICT to teaching and learning in the crowded classrooms of developing countries. Moreover, most studies on the topic have been anecdotal in nature, usually lacking both empirical evidence and theoretically backbone. This study draws upon the findings from three case studies - two public and one private university - located in a high profile commercial state in Nigeria. An interpretative approach is followed, with 35 participants interviewed including student and lecturers.
Findings from this study reveal that the most common forms of ICT in Nigerian universities are computers, mobile phones and the internet. With the exception of the private university, the ICT tools were mainly used outside the classroom but for teaching and learning activities of the classroom. While the appreciation of ICT seems high amongst Nigerian students and lecturers, access is limited and commercial centres like the cybercafés are still the highest point of access. The main goal of using ICT for teaching and learning is directed at is information search and retrieval. Several contextual factors challenge the adoption, use and integration of ICT in Nigerian universities. One mostly reported is the issue of poor power supply. Others include bandwidth, technophobia, computer literacy, cost, ICT culture and institutional support. Activity theory also helped to expose systemic tensions related to the use of ICT in the universities.
These findings suggest that the use of ICT in universities of developing countries is a complex and contextual issue. More importantly, it is a socially constructed phenomenon that is unique to the case under investigation. While ICT may be useful in the delivery of higher education in some other countries, its usefulness in Nigeria is highly dependent on strings of contextual factors that must be mitigated if the effect would be seen. Findings also reveal that the perception of ICT is fundamental to its deployment in the schools.