Member of Da Vinci Council talks about his new book

Edgar Rathelele recently interviewed Moeketsi Letseka about his new book. Letseka is an Educational Specialist on the Da Vinci Council and is a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Foundations in the College of Education (CEDU) at Unisa.
Tell us about your upcoming book?
The book’s title is Open Distance Learning (ODL) in South Africa and it was published in March 2015 by Nova Publishers in New York, USA.
How did it come about?
In 2012, I co-authored a chapter as lead author with Professor Victor Pitsoe with the title Access to higher education through open distance learning (ODL): Reflections on the University of South Africa (Unisa). The chapter appears in a book edited by Rubby Dhunpath and Renuka Vithal called Access to higher education: Under-prepared students or under-prepared institutions?published by Pearson, Cape Town. In 2013, Pitsoe and I published an article titled Reflections on assessment in open distance learning (ODL): The case of the University of South Africa (Unisa), which appeared in Open Praxis, 5 (3), 197-206, the official journal of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) in Oslo, Denmark. In 2014, we published the article titled The challenges and prospects of access to higher education at Unisa, in Studies in Higher Education, 39 (10), 1942-1954. Studies in Higher Education is the official journal of the Society for Research into Higher Education, based in London.
These publications provided the basis for putting together Open distance learning (ODL) in South Africa. I searched the available literature and to my dismay found that no authoritative book on open distance learning (ODL) had emanated from Unisa. I saw this as a challenge and an opportunity to venture where others fear to tread. The book is the first in a trilogy of books I’ve planned. While plans are afoot for the launch of Open distance learning (ODL) in South Africa, I’ve already commissioned its sequel, a 16-chapter volume titled Open distance learning (ODL) through the philosophy of Ubuntu. Submission of the manuscript is scheduled for October this year and the book should be ready for publication in April/May 2016. The third and final volume of the planned trilogy, Assuring institutional quality in open distance learning (ODL) in the developing contexts will be co-edited with Dr Ruth Aluko of the University of Pretoria and Professor Victor Pitsoe of CEDU.
How long did it take to finally have the hard copy?
The call for chapters was issued in June 2014. The schedule of activities leading to the eventual publication of the hard copy was indeed a labour of love that entailed setting a date for submission of different iterations of draft chapters, review processes by a team of critical readers that I put together from a pool of reviewers who review manuscripts for me as editor-in-chief of Africa Education Review. This is an important process that needed to be carried out with diligence, given that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) only recognises for subsidy purposes books that have clear evidence of a rigorous peer-review process. In short, it took nine months from the date of commissioning to the date of publication.
What is the book about?
The title of the book, Open distance learning (ODL) in South Africa, says it all. It is about open distance learning in South Africa, but with the emphasis on ODL processes and practices at Unisa. The book explores Unisa’s mission statement, participation rates, assessment, best practices, pass rates, throughput rates, student support, the link between Unisa’s programmes and the labour market, and the plausibility for Unisa to shift from its ODL orientation to becoming an open distance e-learning (ODeL) institution.
Who did you work with on the book?
I was really privileged to invite, and gain acceptance from such a wonderful team of local scholars. The initial core of the team who bounced the idea around included my lovely wife, who is also a colleague at CEDU; Dr Matsephe Letseka, a dear friend of mine, and Victor Pitsoe, with whom I have been collaborating since our days in the old Department of Educational Studies. In fact, Letseka and Pitsoe co-authored chapter 5, Best practices in open distance learning assessment.
I could not envisage this sort of book on ODL without the participation and contribution of two important individuals on ODL at Unisa. First, Professor Mpine Makoe, who is head of the Institute of Open Distance Learning (IODL) at Unisa who authored chapter 2, A fit for purpose: Mission for widening access through open distance learning, and Professor Paul Prinsloo, now with the College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS), who contributed chapter 3, Participation in open distance learning. During 2011 and 2012, I served with Prinsloo on the Unisa Task Team 6 on ODL Student Retention that was chaired by the late Professor George Subotzky and was immensely impressed by his grasp of Unisa’s ODL processes.
I co-authored chapter 6 with Keleco Karel, an emergent scholar and Unisa doctoral student who is also an academic staff member in the Department of Adult Basic Education and Training and Youth Development.
The book is also a collaborative endeavour with my research associates at the University of Pretoria (UP) and the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN). Dr Ruth Aluko of the Unit for Distance Education at the University of Pretoria (UP) contributed chapter 7, Throughput rates in open distance learning; Dr Ruth Mampane of the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Pretoria (UP) contributed chapter 4, Assessment in open and distance learning; while Dr Monaheng Sefotho, also of the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Pretoria (UP), contributed chapter 10, The nexus between open distance learning and the labour market.
I then worked with Dr Rubby Dunpath and his wife Shakila Dhupath, who jointly contributed chapter 9, Student support for open distance learning (ODL). I worked with Dunpath at the Human Sciences Research Council prior to my tenure at Unisa and he edited the volume on Access to higher education to which Pitsoe and I contributed a chapter.
Chapter 8, Conceptions of success in open distance learning, is a contribution by Pitsoe and Dr Gezani Baloyi, Department of Adult Basic Education and Training and Youth Development. Finally, chapter 11 is a chapter I co-authored with Dr Sindile Ngubane-Mokiwa of the Institute of Open Distance Learning (IODL) at Unisa.
This is therefore a book that features intra-institutional collaboration, but more so capacity building at Unisa as evidenced by collaborative co-authorship with emerging black researchers and women researchers at Unisa, namely Letseka, Baloyi, Ngubane-Mokiwa and Karel.
What distinguishes this book from others in the field?
As mentioned above, there was no authoritative book by Unisa on ODL. This book therefore explores areas in ODL that have only been tackled in isolated ways in the form of journal articles. Most importantly, this book is not an isolated once-off publication, but forms part of a trilogy that I’ve planned on ODL at Unisa.
What does it mean to you?
It means a lot. Words alone cannot describe what this books means to me. Publication of a book is a demonstration of the author/editor’s tenacity, determination, and focus in starting something as big as putting together a book project, and seeing it through to its logical conclusions. A book containing contributions from various is even more difficult because it requires leadership skills and persuasion to convince fellow scholars and researchers to accept the editor’s vision. A book editor also needs to manage the team to adhere to timelines, to deliver quality work of the type of scholarship upon which you can bet your integrity, and finally he or she has to manage the business side of the project with, in this case, a publishing house in a different continent. These are some of the challenges that I had to overcome.
When are you launching the book?
Plans for the launch are currently underway. It is envisaged that the book will be officially launched at CEDU late in June 2015. An announcement will soon be made.
In the meantime what should people do if they want the book?
The publishers have issued an advertisement flyer that also bears the order form. Anyone who wants to place an order can send an e-mail to letsem@unisa.ac.zaand I will be more than willing to provide the book marketing flyer and the book order form.
Where to from here?
As I said, this is only the beginning. A trilogy of books on ODL is planned: Open distance learning (ODL) in South Africa; Open distance learning (ODL) through the philosophy of ubuntu, and Assuring institutional quality in open distance learning (ODL) in the developing contexts. As I have said, the first of this trilogy is hot off the press. The sequel has already been commissioned and submission is scheduled for October 2015 and publication is slated to be in April/May 2016.