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Developing a Qualitative Problem Statement for a proposal (Education and Tech) Essay Example

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Successful Completion of Graduate Degree and the Role of E-Learning Technology: Experiences of Blind and Visually Impaired Students

Background of the Problem

Electronic learning (e-learning) and its relevance to graduate and postgraduate studies has been discussed widely in literature (Dahlstrom, Brooks, Bichsel, 2012; Ghasemi et al. 2016; O’ Donnell & Sharp, 2012; Winter, Cotton, Gavin & Yorke, 2009). However, it appears that much less attention has been paid to how e-learning contributes to graduate attainment among blind and visually impaired students. In a review of literature conducted by Monson (2015), for example, the author established that there is limited literature addressing the attainment of degree requirements for visually impaired students in post-secondary institutions. In his research, Monson (2015) only found two articles that addressed the topic of graduate qualification attainment among the visually impaired students. By inference, therefore, it is fairly clear that the role of e-learning and graduate qualification attainment among blind and visually impaired students is an even less researched subject in the literature. An Internet search for the phrase ‘e-learning for visually impaired students’ reveals that there are a few research papers about the topic. In Australia, for example, Permvattana, Armstrong and Murray (2013) established through research that e-learning courses were not designed with the needs presented by visually impaired students in mind. In places like South Africa, Engelbrecht (2005) is among authors who have established the problems that able-bodied graduate students experience in their quest to use e-learning in education attainment. In his study, Engelbrecht (2005) discovered that most students associated most of their problems with the reduced interaction between peers and between learners and their teachers. Additionally, it is noted that “learning tools and collaborative tools in general are not always designed to be effectively used by blind users, who generally interact via an assistive technology, a screen reader, using a vocal synthesizer and only the keyboard ” (Buzzi, Buzzi, Leporini & Mori, 2012, p. 125). Therefore, based on the information from various authors (Buzzi et al. 2012; Engelbrecht, 2005; Permvattana et al. 2013), it appears that a lot more knowledge regarding the interaction between e-learning and blind and visually impaired students and the effect of such interaction on the students’ successful completion of graduate studies needs to be created.

Problem Statement

There has been a significant reduction in the barriers to the use of learning technologies by the blind and visually impaired students as a result of adaptations made to personal computers, hence making information access and retrieval for such groups of people easier (Neumann, 2012). However, e-learning involves more than the ease of use of technology by blind and visually impaired people. It requires the development of course content by tutors and the effective usage of the same by learners (Buzzi et al., 2012; Permvattana et al., 2013). Moreover, there are other factors that contribute to the successful completion of graduate studies, which include the interactions between students and the interaction between students and their teachers (Engelbrecht, 2005). According to Enagandula, Juthani, Ramakrishan, Rawal and Vidyasagar (2005), effective interaction between the learner and electronic content also determines how valuable the e-learning technologies are to students with visual disabilities. Using the example of the Blackboard Learning System™, Enagandula et al. (2005) note that screen readers, which are designed to help visually impaired students to navigate the system, are not properly structured for purposes of distinguishing topics and recognizing how Blackboard pages are organized. Compared to visual students who use the e-learning platform, visually disabled students end up wasting more hours listening to information that they do not need in an attempt to access the content they actually need (Enagandula et al., 2005). Also, blind users encounter usability and accessibility challenges even when using websites that had been optimized for their use mainly because several website design principles had been violated (Babu, Singh & Ganesh, 2010). In the end, therefore, visually challenged students are at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts who do not have visual impairments.

The problem that the proposed study seeks to tackle relates to addressing the question about how e-learning contributes to the successful completion of graduate studies among visually impaired students. The variables to be considered include e-learning usage in graduate studies, the usage of the same by visually impaired students, and the successful completion of graduate studies by visually impaired students and the attribution of such success to the use of e-learning. The identified problem is informed by the fact that not much information is available regarding the interactions that take place between e-learning technologies, students with visual disabilities and their teachers at the graduate level. The gap in knowledge therefore also creates problems for learners who may want to establish how best to use e-learning technology to enhance their chances of successful graduate studies completion.

Significance of Investigating the Problem

Investigating how e-learning contributes to the successful completion of graduate studies among blind and visually impaired students will help in understanding the role that technology plays in the students’ achievements. The use of e-learning among students with visual disabilities has been found to be a source of opportunities among Indian students (Kharade & Peese, 2012) because of the benefits that are associated with e-learning. However, it was also established that e-learning can be a source of marginalization for students with visual disabilities (Foley & Ferri, 2012). Therefore, by studying the problem, the proposed research will provide an opportunity to understand the role that e-learning technology plays with regard to the experiences of blind and visually impaired students in the United States.


Babu, R., Singh, R., & Ganesh, J. (2010). Understanding blind users’ web accessibility and usability problems. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 2(3), 73-94.

Buzzi, M. C., Buzzi, M., Leporini, B., & Mori, G. (2012). Designing e-learning collaborative tools for blind people. In E. Pontes (Ed.), E-learning – long-distance and lifelong perspectives (pp. 125-144). Rijeka, Croatia: InTech.

Dahlstrom, E., Brooks, D.C., Bichsel, J. (2012). The current ecosystem of learning management systems in higher education: student, faculty, and IT perspectives. Educause Research Report. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ers1414.pdf

Enagandula,V., Juthani, N., Ramakrishan, I.V., Rawal, D., &Vidyasagar, R. (2005).BlackBoardNV: A system for enabling non-visual access to the Blackboard course management system. In Proceedings of the 7th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility (pp. 220-221). ACM.

Engelbrecht, E. (2005). Adapting to changing expectations: post-graduate students’ experience of an e-learning tax program. Computers & Education, 45, 217-229.

Foley, A., &Ferri, B.A. (2012). Technology for people, not disabilities: ensuring access and inclusion’, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs12(4), 192-200.

Ghasemi, N., Falsafi, P., Aminabadi, N.A., Negahdari, R., Bahramian, A., Khodadoust, K., & Khiyavi, R. K. (2016). E-learning in medical sciences education: A comprehensive literature review. Paripex — Indian Journal of Research, 5(1), 107-109.

Kharade, K., &Peese, H. (2012). Learning by e-learning for visually impaired students: opportunities or again marginalization? E-learning and Digital Media, 9(4), 439-448.

Monson, M. (2015). Literature review of transition to college or university students who are blind or visually impaired.American Printing House for the Blind.Retrieved from http://msb.dese.mo.gov/educators/documents/literature_review_of_transition_monson2015.pdf

Neumann, Z. (2012). Visual impairments and technology. In L. Phipps, A. Sutherland, & J. Seale (eds.), Access all areas: disability, technology and learning (pp. 16-18). Bournemouth: JISC TechDis Service and ALT. Retrieved from https://www.alt.ac.uk/sites/default/files/assets_editor_uploads/documents/accessallareaslow.pdf

O’ Donnell, E., & Sharp, M. (2012). Students’ views of e-learning: The impact of technologies on learning in higher education in Ireland. In K. Moyle & G. Wijngaards (Eds), Student reactions to learning with technologies: perceptions and outcomes (pp. 204-226). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Permvattana, R., Armstrong, H., & Murray, I. (2013). E-learning for the vision impaired: A holistic perspective. International Journal of Cyber Society and Education, 6(1), 15-30.

Winter, J., Cotton, D., Gavin, J., &Yorke, J.D. (2010). Effective e-learning? Multi-tasking, distractions and boundary management by graduate students in an online environment. ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology, 18(1), 71-83.