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African Universities Rapped on limited adoption of e-learning – Expert warns that non-ICT compliant Professors face extinction

Professors in African Universities have been advised to adopt the new Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools for teaching and learning for improved service delivery   or else face extinction. This featured in one of the key note presentations at the just concluded African Crop Science Society Conference held at Entebbe, Uganda from 14-17 October 2013.

 Presenting a paper titled, “ Delivering Agricultural Training Programs using ICT: Reflections”, RUFORUM Program Manager in charge of  ICT Nodumo Dhlamini warned that there was  need for colleges to implement bold e-learning strategies if they were to remain relevant in the fast changing Higher Education space.

RUFORUM ICT expert, Ms Dhlamini Nodumo

“The Traditional Architecture for Higher Education where the Professor relies on standing in front of students and “dishing out notes” no longer works because the students have access to quality online information related to the courses that are taught in the universities. Universities are in a learning revolution characterized by an open culture, a fundamental shift in how knowledge is created and the need for new skills,” Nodumo said

She added that the New Architecture for Higher Education is about digital content markets, engaging the learners, classrooms without walls, adaptive university policies and systems and shifting standards for measuring quality.

Nodumo told participants that ICT Infrastructure was no longer a problem in African Universities but rather the leadership and management of these universities needed to champion change. Other constraints she said were limited technical infrastructure planning, limited supportive policy frameworks and institutional policy driven retooling of academic staff.

She observed that a university like Makerere has opportunities to raise its ranking as a leading university in Africa even on the international stage if the available e -learning platform is efficiently utilized.

“In August 2013 the latest Webometric rankings indicated that Makerere University was now ranked the 4th best university in Africa. If all the Colleges at Makerere University were to upload their teaching content on the Makerere University E-learning Platform - MUELE and share their research briefs and theses/dissertations on the Makerere University DSpace Repository, Makerere University would not only increase its ranking on other global ranking systems but also maintain top positions”, Nodumo stated.

Participants at the Conference

In 2007, RUFORUM Secretariat carried out the firstICT Gap Analysis that included Makerere University. This study found that there were institutional policies to support ICT use. However even though the e-learning initiatives began in 1999, by 2007 the e-learning function was not adequately positioned in the Makerere University organizational structure.

A follow up ICT Situation Analysis of 25 RUFORUM member universities in 2009 revealed that the implementation of e-learning at Makerere was successful but still at its infancy. This study also found that e-learning adoption was quite un-even with the then Faculty of Agriculture not even featuring.

In 2011 RUFORUM carried out an e-learning maturity survey. Respondents were asked to comment on the level of institutional planning & management for e-learning at Makerere University. The response was that financial and human resources were not adequately prioritized for e-learning design, development and delivery.

Another study carried out by RUFORUM in 2012 on the status of online sharing & publishing of agricultural information & knowledge in then 30 member universities found that 12 of the universities had institutional repositories. An analysis of the contents of the Makerere University DSpace repository (16th October 2013) shows that only 42 theses/dissertations have been shared by the College  of Agriculture; 220 theses/dissertations shared by the College of Computing and Information Technology and only 13 theses/dissertations shared by the College  of Veterinary Medicine.

A review of participation of staff in the Makerere University E-learning Platform (17th October 2013) as presented by the expert reveals the following:

Colleges Active Courses
College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences 13
College of Humanities and Social Sciences 28
College of Business and Management Sciences 9
College of Health Sciences 6
College of Education & External Studies 16
School of Law 1
College of Natural Sciences 47
College of Engineering, Design, Art & Technology 47
College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources & Biosecurity 6
College of Computing & Information Sciences 283
Totals 456

Volonnino (2010) confirms that online tools do facilitate increased opportunities for collaborative learning, especially for learners in different geographical locations. E-learning has the potential to increase and improve (i) access to quality education, (ii) teaching content that is contextualized for African settings, (iii) flexible access to learning, (iv) student centered learning solutions and (v) monitoring, evaluation and quality assurance mechanisms in the teaching and learning process.

Experts  suggest  a number of practical options available for Professors and Lecturers to begin to adopt e-learning: (1) Draft your materials in e-format and make them accessible to students via: CD’s, email or your blog (2) Create a LinkedIn/FB/Twitter discussion group to engage your students (3) Point your students to quality online resources (4) Integrate training in web/information literacy (5) Adopt the blended approach and begin by uploading your teaching resources on the university Learning Management System (6) Find relevant existing OERs / Webinars and integrate them to your courses (7) Record your lectures for sharing later (8) Use online tools to elicit feedback from students (9) Champion delivery of specific courses / modules fully online in collaboration with regional / international experts based elsewhere or (10) Participate in an online course to understand what it means

Leadership is important towards ensuring that African Universities deliver the quality graduates and generate knowledge to solve the continent’s developmental problems. The Working Group on Higher Education (2004, pp.103) confirms the tension between quality and the increased access to higher education.

The African University leadership has an important and largely unfulfilled role of facilitating the efficient and effective harnessing of emerging Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools for the purpose of improving teaching, learning, collaboration and research in African universities.

 Story by

Jane Anyango

Communication Officer - CAES




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