By Idowu Olayinka
I have been asked by some students of the University of Ibadan how soon the institution would be in a position to kick-start e-learning for the regular students who hitherto have always been taught on the face-to-face mode. My response is outlined below.
Yes, the Honourable Minister of Education had an interactive, virtual session with Vice-Chancellors, Provosts and Rectors from various higher institutions of learning about three weeks ago on Zoom. The forum stressed the need for higher educational institutions in the country to leverage on e-learning especially during this period of lock down on account of the CODIV-19 Pandemic.
We are all agreed on the matter but as usual, the devil is in the details. Each institution has to work out the best way to go ahead with the implementation.
Happily, we have been discussing this in UI long before now and to that extent we are not starting from ground zero.
We have just implemented the Result Management System (RMS) during the 2018/2019 session and Senate has been duly informed that the next logical step is the Learning Management System which will require that we upgrade our IT infrastructure through additional investment in Human Capacity Development and physical facilities.
We have had some courses on our Learning Management System (LMS) some years ago. It was a pilot funded by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA). Some of our academic staff also took part in the STEP-B Project of which e-learning was a major component.
The University of Ibadan is a dual mode University to the extent that we have 16 of our programmes approved for distance learning under our highly regarded Distance Learning Centre (DLC). These will form the low hanging fruit for the implementation of e-learning for the regular students in UI who are on the conventional face to face mode.
We accept it as an article of faith that there has been a paradigm shift in the world of learning and teaching over the past two decades or so with the pervasive introduction of digital skills and techniques. Nearly any information you want on any subject matter is available on the world wide web. Following from this the instructor (lecturers and professors) are no longer the sage on the stage. In its stead, he/she is just a guide by the side.
We are participating in the Pedagogical Leadership for Africa (PEDAL) Project led by the Partnership for African Social Governance Research (PASGR), Nairobi, Kenya with funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), UK . The PEDAL project is a platform to revolutionise the teaching narrative and a major integral part of the project is technology-enhanced teaching and learning. As at December 2019, about 400 of our academic staff had been trained under PEDAL.
We have had a number of virtual meetings with the agendum being the deployment of the LMS. A full report of the meeting will be generated by Director, ITeMS.
The DLC study texts are being uploaded on the LMS because content development and upgrading of same is critical to the successful deployment of e-learning.
We have started to identify the crop of colleagues to train on the use of the LMS across the various faculties as soon as normalcy returns.
We continue to work out the modality for the deployment of the LMS.
As it is widely known, members of the academic staff were paid their salary last in January 2020 and in reality this is a major constraint in getting my colleagues back to work as we speak but we are optimistic that the crisis will be resolved sooner rather than later. This may not be the best time to ask them to start working on content development for their courses and this is often time-consuming.
As students you are digital natives and one is aware that you are very comfortable with digital learning skills and tools whether on your cell phones or iPad or laptops. The cost of internet bandwidth may however still be a major limitation for some of you.
At the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, the management of the University recently had to take loan facilities to procure 5,000 units of computers for their students who may otherwise not be able to afford personal computers and also purchase internet time (data) for some of them, in collaboration with service providers.
On the other hand, the Government of Kenya has instructed the public universities in that country not to proceed yet with e-learning for the regular students because it was felt that many students may not have opportunity for e-learning especially those residing in remote areas.
A situation in which a substantial proportion of our students would not have access to e-learning facilities because they do not own their own computers or on account of epileptic power supply would be inequitable, sub-optimal and at the end of the day counter-productive. These are some of the issues that we have to address in the coming weeks as part of efforts to entrench blended learning for the regular students.
Professor Idowu Olayinka is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria