The COVID-19 pandemic has been declared a global pandemic forcing many countries into a widespread lockdown. In South Africa, contact higher education institutions were forced to develop and introduce online learning and teaching platforms. Considering the fourth industrial revolution, patterns of digital access are unequal across South Africa whereby rural areas are likely to be most disadvantaged. Students who returned home during the national lockdown may not have been equipped for online learning due to a lack of resources.
Through the lens of a contact, private, Fashion, higher education institution’s online learning management system, progress issues among Diploma of Fashion students were noted within the virtual classroom setting due to a possible lack of student social presence. To counter for this, an At-Risk Programme was developed, with reference to the Community of Inquiry model, to address government’s pressure for students to have an equal opportunity to complete the 2020 academic year. For the purpose of this study, the social presence was considered as a possible reason for the disconnects found within the online learning environment, in terms of Diploma of Fashion students joining and participating in the virtual classroom.
A quantitative study grounded within the post-positivist paradigm was undertaken. A cross-sectional, exploratory design was implemented to address the study’s aim: investigating the outcome of an At-Risk Programme on student progress, due to a possible lack of social presence among at-risk Diploma of Fashion students within an online learning environment, in order to ensure ‘no student gets left behind’. The study population consisted of at-risk Diploma of Fashion students who had poor attendance and a low rate of assessment submission, for the duration of the online learning period, within a first-year practical course, Visual Studies 1. Non-probability, purposive sampling was used for identifying the at-risk students within this study, according to specific inclusion criteria.
Following the At-Risk Programme, data was collected from 14 participants who were registered for the Visual Studies 1 course in the Diploma of Fashion programme and attended the At-Risk Programme over a two-week period. The student portal was used to extract the data to determine an improvement or lack thereof, in the at-risk students’ results. Findings indicated an overall success rate of student passes. As this study was explorative, the findings contribute to future research by informing the implementation of an At-Risk Programme to possibly assist, and offer a second chance to, at-risk students and suggestions for enhancing students’ experience within an online learning environment.