Digital apartheid and the effect of mobile technology during rural fieldwork

Paula Barnard-Ashton, Fasloen Adams, Alan Rothberg, Patricia McInerney


Fourth year occupational therapy students at the University of the Witwatersrand attend a three-week rural fieldwork placement. During this time, they are in a resource-limited environment with limited access to their usual Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in a blended learning curriculum, thereby contributing to ‘digital apartheid’ between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

 This study investigates the effect of mobile technology during rural fieldwork to address ‘digital apartheid’.

 A self-reporting pre-test post-test survey design was used. Students self-evaluated their understanding of fieldwork learning objectives at the start of the year and again midyear. Rural fieldwork marks were collected mid-year. The experimental group (n1=13) accessed the VLE via the mobile technology, whereas the control group (n0=7) did not. Data were analysed for significance and effect size.

 While there was no significant difference in the student marks (p=0.27), there was a significant effect on self-evaluated knowledge gain for the experimental group’s rural fieldwork learning objectives (d=2.02) which was a notably larger effect size than their other fieldwork learning objectives (d=1.36) and that of the control group’s learning objectives. The use of mobile technology during rural fieldwork was a successful strategy towards ‘digital democracy’ by allowing students equal access to access the VLE.

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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