This dissertation reports on a study of the self-reported readiness of undergraduate first-year students at a very large distance teaching institution, the University of South Africa (Unisa). The Unisa library does not offer an online information literacy programme for distance students and has not conducted surveys on students’ needs and their readiness for using online information resources and an online learning management system. The main research question thus was:
What are the information seeking behaviour and the readiness of Unisa distance students in using and accessing the library online resources? Sub-questions were:
- What has been reported on information literacy and information literacy programmes for distance students, with special reference to online programmes?
- What has been reported on virtual learning environments with specific reference to distance education?
- What are the students’ self-rated perceptions of their information literacy skills?
- What are the students’ information seeking behaviour and preferences in using online information resources?
- What are the students’ self-rated perceptions in using an online learning management system in a virtual learning environment?
The Unisa School of Accountancy served as a case study. All students enrolled for first- year modules in the School of Accountancy were invited to participate in the survey. Data collection occurred in July and August 2015 by means of a self-administered, semi-structured online questionnaire survey. 587 students responded, resulting in 525 usefully completed questionnaires. Most of the students were geographically remote from the institution, the library, and its branches. The study collected mostly descriptive quantitative data, with limited qualitative data. The quantitative data were analysed by means of a statistical package (SAS JMP version 12), and the qualitative data by means of thematic analysis. The questionnaire covered self-reported information seeking behaviour when using the library’s online resources, whether students had received training on information literacy skills, and if these skills were effective enough to assist them to locate and access the library’s diverse online information resources relevant to their studies. It also collected data on their readiness to use an online learning management system. The limitations of self-reporting are acknowledged; in this case, it was considered appropriate to determine lack of skills. Although the findings cannot be generalised to all Unisa or all distance students, they can inform recommendations on the need for an online information literacy skills programme for distance students and methods to conduct similar studies of students’ readiness to use such a programme. Respondents lacked information literacy skills needed to access the online library resources remotely. They experienced problems in accessing the library from a distance, could not use databases to access online full-text articles and were often not aware of the library website and how it could be used. It is recommended that the Unisa library consider developing an online information literacy programme that adheres to international standards and guidelines for information literacy and that this be informed by the needs expressed by students from diverse disciplines and study years and their self-reported information-seeking behaviour.