From gimmick to game-changer : a study on the use smartphones to expand access to higher education in sub-Saharan Africa : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Information Technology at Massey University, New Zealand

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Today, blended university courses are designed with an unspoken assumption that students will use desktop PCs and laptops for online learning. Recent studies regarding smartphone usage in educational settings explore ways to adapt desktop PC and laptop content for viewing on smartphones; however, the impact of these studies is limited. Smartphones are still subservient to conventional platforms. While this is not an issue in developed countries, it is problematic for developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 20% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa own desktop PCs and laptops compared to 80% smartphone ownership. The dearth of these conventional platforms means many learners in sub-Saharan Africa are excluded from the benefits of blended learning. This research took the first steps to explore whether a student who owns a smartphone and does not have access to a desktop PC or laptop can successfully participate in a blended university course. Shaped by the pragmatist philosophical perspective, the research utilised a mixed-methods case study design. The case examined was Tom Mboya University College (TMUC), a Kenyan public university that exclusively offers on-campus courses. The research progressed in four phases: a feasibility study; survey with students (n = 114); interviews with lecturers (n = 17); and beta-testing of a smartphone-supported blended course with students. Results indicate that smartphones could provide a viable learning platform. Key findings identify that TMUC students and lecturers value smartphone-supported learning due to its ability to enhance collaborative learning activities. Furthermore, the results led to the development of a novel framework entitled ‘Smartphone Only Learning Environment’ (SOLE), that provides guidelines on how teachers can deliver blended university courses solely to smartphones.The research implication is three-fold: First, it facilitates introduction of blended learning in extraordinarily resource-constrained public universities of sub-Saharan Africa. Second, it provides the foundations for critical discussions on smartphone-supported online learning policies; notably, discussions about supporting teachers by providing an institution LMS are necessary. Finally, underpinned by the collectivist culture of sub-Saharan Africa, this research showcases opportunities for educators around the world to uncover learning theories that focus on more collaborative forms of blended learning.
Education, Higher, Effect of technological innovations on, Blended learning, Telecommunication in higher education, Smartphones, Africa, Sub-Saharan