Future of varsity education lies in technology

Digital Smart Boards

Dan Munjaru, Head of Teacher's Professional Development at Greenwood Groove Academy in Mombasa explains how the Digital Smart Boards work.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed learning in universities?

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic found many universities, especially in Africa and particularly Kenya, least prepared. As you know, universities were the worst-hit. At that point, I was in the US undertaking part-time lectures. It took us a week to transition from face-to-face learning because they were already prepared. Most of these universities had taken a proactive role in preparing for it by employing use of technology.

We moved from face-to-face to online learning and students went home — some from Mexico, China, and Turkey — but all of them continued with their studies.

This was made possible by the Learning Management System put in place. This platform allows lecturers to interact with students and keep records of what students are doing as learning continues. Teaching can be both asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous is where you can have a special class and students can join from where they are while asynchronous is where you give assignments and students undertake it either individually or as a group without the physical presence of a lecturer.

In Kenyan universities, however, there was a whole class of students who could not complete studies on time due to the Covid-19 disruption. E-learning ensures that students complete studies on time.

How is the institute positioning the university towards virtual learning?

Over the recent years, there has been an increase in the number of students who are studying or who want to study virtually. For instance, 60 to 70 per cent of the applicants who want to join have been writing to us seeking to study virtually. Currently, I am working with school deans to ensure that all degree programmes being offered are available for online teaching. We are looking at starting next year so that any student, both post-graduate and undergraduate, can study from wherever they are.

At Moi University, this institute is tasked with coordinating the online or virtual as well as blended learning. We have the Musomi platform that allows students to register and lecturers to engage the students. The university is also using the Enterprise Resource Planning to manage student admissions and other day-to-day activities. We are working to develop standards to ensure there is uniform standards when it comes to online learning.

However, one of the biggest challenges is that this requires a change of attitude, so we are offering training. Secondly, we are re-skilling our lecturers. Our university is among the few in Kenya where lecturers are able to teach post-graduate students and even examine them virtually.

Moi University was among six African institutions selected to set up centres of competence in digital education. Tell us more about this?

Through partnerships, we are in the process of setting up the Centre for the Competency in Digital Education at the Main Campus with the sole aim of empowering our lecturers with the digital teaching skills. The centre is being funded by Centre of Excellence in Africa based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University of Morocco.

Forty four African universities applied but only six were selected. Moi is the only Kenyan university that was selected. Other universities are the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (Tanzania), Kabale University (Uganda), University of Abuja (Nigeria), École Supérieure Multinationale des Télécommunications (Sénégal) and Université Nangui Abrogoua (Ivory Coast)

We have already trained three people and we have 19 others who have undergone digital education master class.

Besides, we are also involved in another project known as the Commonwealth of Learning that seeks to impart students with soft and critical skills and make them ready for the job market. Currently, this institute is also collaborating with the Kenya National Commission for Unesco, and soon we will be having 50 young people selected from five universities in western Kenya to be trained on how to develop mobile applications.

Are you looking at other partnerships to achieve this?

As we embark on training of the lecturers, we are also keen to have adequate ICT resources in place. That is why the University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Isaac Kosgei, and myself are actively involved in sourcing funds and facilitation from other organisations. Already, the Indian High Commission has committed to help Moi University partner with Indian universities so that we are properly re-tooled.

My dream is that every lecture, seminar or theater room will be technologically compliant. A lecture class should have an interactive white board, an overhead projector, and a personal computer so that lecturers don’t have to carry their hard copy notes to a lecture hall.

Again, we also need to equip all lecturers with laptops in offices. If we can do this, then the ‘missing mark syndrome’ will be gone. On access to e-library resources, we are also reaching out to the ICT Ministry and Safaricom so that we can have a dedicated broadband as well Wifi within the university to enable our students to have uninterrupted access to thousands of our online resources.

Will e-learning translate to drop in student fees?

Yes, if you go to United States, students pay up to $10,000 for face-to- face learning in a year but for some courses, some institutions charge $1,000 per year. Equally, we anticipate the costs will come down. Initially, the fees will come down by 60 per cent in terms of accommodation and other expenses. But once we fully transition to online learning, then this costs are expected to further come down.

How does the centre intend to undertake training?

At the moment, the centre is taking shape and we hope that in the next two months we will be done with setting up of the centre. First, we will have a technical area with videography and photography equipment for production of online content training. Second, we will have another seminar room for training the staff. Our focus will be training of the staff and production of content with modules for online and distance learning.

Once we are done with training of staff in all our 13 schools in the university, we will open up for training of staff from other universities. We hope to be pivotal in establishment of the first Open University in Kenya.

There concerns on copyright issues with online learning. How will this be addressed?

The content will be fully protected against copyright infringement. We will have student and lecturer login details or passwords. This means that only students undertaking a particular course can access the online content. At the same time, only a lecturer teaching a particular subject will have access to the content.

Where do you see universities in terms of technology in the next five to 10 years?

Five to 10 years from now, you can register and be admitted to one university and end up graduating from another university because one can comfortably transfer their credits with use of technology. This is due to inter-connectivity — the same way there is inter-connectivity in banking institutions due to technology unlike in the 1990s.

Those universities that will invest in technology will be successful.

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