Academics empowered for challenges in 2021


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Hundreds of academics at 28 universities across the African continent are facing online teaching and learning in 2021 head-on, thanks to a training initiative preparing them for the challenges of the year ahead.

When COVID-19 hit the world in 2020, higher education in many African universities was in chaos. Some institutions closed, and others were not adequately prepared to shift the delivery of their programmes to the virtual space.

Besides infrastructural challenges, many university teaching staff lacked digital competencies to facilitate teaching and learning online.

This was exacerbated by a predominantly poor attitude towards online programmes which are perceived as inferior to face-to-face programmes.

To combat the problem and prepare teachers for the ‘new normal’, the Partnership for African Social Governance Research (PASGR) in Nairobi, through its Partnership for Pedagogical Leadership in Africa (PedaL) programme, organised an online training programme to prepare African academics for online teaching.

PedaL is one of nine partnerships of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reforms, implemented by PASGR in partnership with African Research Universities Alliance, the UK’s Institute of Development Studies, the University of Sussex, Nigeria’s University of Ibadan, the University of Ghana, Uganda Martyrs University, Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam and Egerton University in Kenya.

The pilot programme was launched in June 2020.

Effective use of educational technology

PedaL’s training programme is designed to help educators better understand how to design their courses to make better use of educational technology – in both blended and fully online modes.

The trainees cover fundamental concepts and are immersed in the practical application of a variety of toolsets, digital resources and strategies for course planning and design as well as creative facilitation and innovative assessment.

Dr Beatrice Muganda, the director of higher education at PASGR, said the design of the course captured the African values of ubuntu and working together to utilise the available limited resources to prepare academics for online teaching.

“The pairing of trainees with peer educators helped us achieve a high completion rate of 72%,” said Muganda, adding that it was not common to achieve a higher completion rate than 50% for online courses.

In an interview with University World News, Muganda said that the programme design helped ground academics in the art and science of online teaching and learning by focusing on three interlinked aspects of online teaching and learning: planning and design of online and blended courses; creative facilitation; and innovative assessment of learning outcomes.

“A few months [have passed] and PedaL online is counting a number of big wins. The programme is helping to focus academics on adapting rather than feeling helpless in the midst of a ravaging pandemic,” Muganda added.

Online training soaring

Professor Stephen Kiama, the vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Kenya, said that PedaL’s interventions “capture the essence of what learning and adapting new ways is all about”.

Muganda agrees. “At a time when we are talking of reimagining Africa’s higher education, PedaL comes in handy because the future is blended teaching and learning for our universities.”

According to Muganda, the demand for PedaL online training is soaring. To date, 547 academics (237 female and 310 male) from 28 universities in six African countries have completed the training.

Several trainees said the programme had helped them rethink their digital facilitation strategies despite the challenges they face at their institutions.

“My thinking of online was to post PowerPoints and notes until PedaL happened. Bloom taxonomy was a cliché, but now I can relate,” said Dr Bessy Kathambi from the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi.

“My turning point was that I should always go to the class with learning outcomes.”

Dr Aderonke Akinpelu from the department of physiotherapy at Ibadan University, Nigeria, said the training has helped her to discover that her teaching and assessment strategies needed an update.

PedaL’s online engagement rose from 16,450 hits in September 2019 to more than 110,000 hits in December 2020.

“This further demonstrates a renewed interest in online programmes and the use of educational technologies for e-learning; previously perceived as less valuable and difficult to use respectively,” Muganda said.

To meet the growing demand for PedaL training, Muganda said PedaL’s partners are exploring partnerships with individual universities. A collaborative agreement has been set up with the University of Nairobi to offer the training through its Centre for Pedagogy and Andragogy.

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