Applying sound pedagogy to online teaching and learning

As online and blended teaching and learning become part of the new normal, the need for specialist training of academic staff is being realised.

Last month, a three-week course designed by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and intended to teach lecturers how to design, prepare and assess online courses, attracted 100 lecturers from universities in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda.

The pilot training was part of the Partnership for Pedagogical Leadership in Africa (PedaL) programme. PedaL is one of the nine partnerships of the United Kingdom’s Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reforms, aiming to catalyse systemic change in teaching and learning in African universities.

The initiative has trained over 1,100 academics from 60 African universities and is implemented by PASGR in partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance, Nigeria’s University of Ibadan, University of Ghana, Uganda Martyrs University, Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam and Egerton University in Kenya.

Students at the centre

Audited by the Commonwealth of Learning, INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the online course provided a platform for academics to share knowledge and ideas on how to improve pedagogy and ensure that students are at the centre of learning through online or blended learning.

The facilitators of the pilot training used a range of teaching tools such as case studies, simulations, concept maps, role plays and authentic tasks to spur experience sharing, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration among participants.

Dr Beatrice Muganda, the director of higher education at PASGR, said the design of the course enabled lecturers and facilitators to work collaboratively.

“The programme to deliver courses online must be exciting for students in the way they are structured so as to meet the desired learning outcomes. The strength of PedaL is that everything we do is transferable to the classroom, whether physical or virtual,” Muganda told University World News.

Muganda said that the training would bring about the “transformation that we hope translates into learning”. However, she said the lecturers will still have a month to access the online resources and consult the course facilitators so as to increase the depth of learning.

Technology as facilitator

Contrary to some fears, online teaching requires more lecturer engagement than before, she said, referring to concerns that technology could replace teachers. “Technology won’t do everything for us but may make our work easier, even in terms of evaluating students,” Muganda said.

She added that even after the official end of the online pilot training programme, academics continued with self-paced learning, uploading courses at 3 am. This, she said, implies that the continent is creating a new cadre of academics who spend much of their time planning for their students.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, everybody had something to say about online and blended teaching but no institutions put in place the machinery for online learning,” said Professor Tade Aina, the executive director of PASGR.

Aina, who formerly was the programme director of the Higher Education and Libraries in Africa Program for the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said PASGR was already considering online and blended learning, especially for the PedaL programme, before the pandemic hit.

Increased access to pedagogical transformation training

“We were keen on this so as to increase access to our pedagogical transformation training in the continent … This implies that physical training could not be sufficient to reach as many academics as possible,” Aina told University World News.

Aina urged academics to ensure that technology-enhanced learning was simple, engaging, transferable and comprehensive. He said the positive responses from participants to the pilot training show that online and blended learning is inevitable in Africa, despite challenges such as blackouts and unreliable internet coverage.

“The most important thing is getting ways to support lecturers and students for online learning. It’s work in progress; we shall have errors and hitches but we will finally get there,” Aina said.

Fourth industrial revolution

He challenged African universities to prepare for a culture of online delivery and assessment, arguing that the pandemic was hastening Africa into the fourth industrial revolution.

“There will be high dependence on machine learning and artificial intelligence. University leadership should be preparing for this by completely reforming our research and development so that we are not just consumers but also innovators,” said Aina.

Khaemba Ongeti, associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at Moi University’s School of Education in Kenya, said the work of the lecturer had expanded with the emphasis on remote teaching and learning.

“Online teaching will also require lecturers to constantly review what they are doing to ensure that students’ interest in learning is kept high,” said Ongeti, adding that supporting learners will be critical to achieve desired learning outcomes.

Participants said the course was an eye-opener with regard to revealing the tools available online to help them.

“I join all participants in expressing my profound gratitude to PASGR and her partners for this opportunity to acquire 21st century skills,” said Dr Ndidi Ofole, one of the trainees and a senior lecturer from the University of Ibadan. Her colleague, Sella Terrie Jwan from Moi University, said the training was taxing but fulfilling, leaving her empowered to move with speed and start practising online teaching.

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