UTAMU Making eLearning Main Instruction Platform

Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU) has made it its mission to focus on driving the e-learning development agenda and is now considered the top most institution in Uganda that full blends use of digital/technology in education. In an interview with The Observer Newspaper, Prof. Jude Lubega, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of UTAMU talks about the developments in e-learning.

QN: What are the achievements in e-learning since it became a widely accepted mode of instruction around 2011?

Prof. Jude: First, let’s define e-learning as any form of learning that uses Information Communication Technology for teaching and learning and it has been achieved through the following ways:

  • There has been increased acceptance of this form of teaching and learning within the population most especially by the higher education. Today, people accept that you can learn ubiquitously and acquire knowledge without interfacing physically with the teacher. Therefore this means that there is been a paradigm shift in what people know about how learning takes place.
  • There are more institutions of learning and non-institutions of learning that have adopted e learning as one form of teaching and learning. Today, organizations like banks, NGOs etc. are realizing that their employees can acquire further skills or call be retooled without them leaving the work place.
  • There is more locally digitized content for use during e-learning that has been developed. Therefore over reliance on foreign digitized content is no more because Uganda has grown capacity to develop local content.
  • Government of Uganda agencies are appreciating that e-learning is one way they can build capacity for their staff. An example is PPDA that has developed an e-learning system plus content in form of animation and SCORM packages. These are being used to build capacity for all PPDA officers across the country without them spending too much resource to transport and accommodate them.
  • Life long learning is on the increase within both public and private organization. People have realized that skills become almost obsolete after 5 years and therefore need to refresh their skills without loosing their jobs. The best way to do it is through undertaking e-learning and hence its much appreciation within the corporate world.
  • Today, the e-learning can also be offered via mobile applications which are delivered to do so. This is an indication that even lighter files are now being developed for the sake of having learning take place from anywhere, at any time and at the wish of the learner.

QN: Can you say e-learning this is a trend for the future?

Prof. Jude: E-Learning is here to stay and several other companies across the world saw this several years back and have invested in making it a better form of teaching and learning. There are several things that make e-learning something to stay for the future and these include;

  • Education that is ubiquitous is on great demand by people across the world
  • There are more people on the move than ever before and they need to continue learning without any hindrance
  • The economy and society are dominated by technology and hence knowledge acquisition is most favorable though technology too
  • Life long learning is on the increase within the population across the world which calls for use of better methods to achieve learning
  • Skills at the workplace learnt are out of date in 3-5 years and therefore employees need to update their skills. This is easily achieved through e-learning
  • An e-society is emerging that has many of the young people being digital natives and hence need to be taught in a form they understand which is the digital way. Therefore teachers who are digital migrants have to adapt to the emerging society and get onto the e-learning band wagon
  • There has been a paradigm shift from static to ubiquitous education. This is education that can be offered from anywhere, at any time and the wish of the learner. The physical presence of delivering education is on the decline and the future will have more of virtual campuses. With the increasing demand for MOOCs, there is no doubt that e-learning will continue to flourish in the future years to come.
  • Time is becoming one of the most precious commodities and therefore people need to guard it preciously. The time to go out looking for a physical place to have education is becoming a complex issue to many corporate people and the best to achieve further education is to go e-learning.
  • Faster, cheap and educational accommodative technologies are increasing the interest to adopt e-learning across the world. Today, people can use their smart mobile gadgets to undertake learning from anywhere, at any time and when they wish to do so. The internet connection becoming more faster and cheaper is influencing many people to look for content across the world that can enhance their skills.

John Chamber of CISCO once said that the next bigger application of the Internet will be Education. This is the reason that CISCO has invested heavily in e-learning and have one of the most successful e-learning program across the world.

Peter Drucker – Forbes Magazine once indicated, “ Thanks to the Internet, Adult education may become our single largest industry”. This clearly indicates that life long learning will become a future big industry that higher institutions of learning need to critically think about.

QN: What are the challenges for any instructions seeking to more into this direction, away from the tradition mode of instruction?

Prof. Jude: There are that can be faced by any company or organization trying to adopy e-learning as a form teaching and learning. These include;

  • Lacks of capacity – many organizations do not have the capacity to steer integration of ICT in their teaching and learning. The capacity could in terms of the necessary technology needed to deliver e-learning, it could be the human capacity (to facilitate teaching and learning electronically, to develop local digital content, to administer the technology that delivers e-learning). Organizations can avoid some of these challenges by  sub renting e-learning technologies from other companies. For example Eight Tech Consult’s platform found at http://www.8learning.org/ is easily leased out to companies to deliver their own training. This means the companies that lease do not have to worry about security, configuration of servers and making sure that the e-learning system is working fine.
  • Resources – there is need of sufficient funds to establish e-learning. It can be a one off first time expenditure which requires the organization to have an environment favorable for e-learning to take place.
  • Localized content- the current biggest problem is availability of locally developed digital content that can be used for teaching and learning. It s an expensive venture to have content digitized and it is a core component of an e-learning solution that cannot be avoided.
  • Plagiarism -  there is a lot of academic thefts happening in e-learning and if not detected causes certifying people who do not qualify. The taking of other people’s work and presenting it as yours is very common in e-learning. The only way to stop it is to use plagiarisms software that is capable of detecting this sort of academic theft.
  • Assessment – who is taking an assessment in the virtual world, is such a complex issue which the entire world is still grappling with. Are you assessing the right person or an impersonator? Research and Tools to detect such complexities are still being sought across the world. There are ways to assess people virtually but these need further improvement. However, assessment methods such as open book assessments can come in handy to solve the situation.

QN: How does UTAMU monitoring students’ participation in studies, when most are online and not easily physically accessible?

Prof. Jude: UTAMU has a vast experience in using ICT for teaching and learning that spans over 15 years. It has staff who have advanced knowledge on e-learning and hence bring this to the way they undertake their teaching and learning using technology. All UTAMU students are online because technology is used as the core part of the teaching and learning.

UTAMU established a methodology on how to handle its blended form of teaching and learning. The didactic handbooks developed for all its programmes dictate how teaching and learning needs to happen. For example the didactic handbook instructs that for any module within a semester, there has to be so many of online activities (discussion forum, chartroom sessions, group work, assessments, etc.). These activities are all offered number of hours per semester and also distributed across the entire semester. Therefore students are able to know that there will be a discussion forum for this module in week 4, week 8 and 10 at a given time of 12:00. Once these are staged within the UTAMU e-learning system, they are tracked to the dot. The system will monitor who accesses the activity, the time they accessed and for how long they did so. With such monitoring you are able to know what students participated in the activity and who did not participate. The quality assurance officer can then undertake a follow up on those who did not participate. Therefore there is an inbuilt system embedded directly within the modules and planned around the didactics developed. By a click of a button, it is easy to know how a complete distance-learning student has participated in learning and a complete learning profile can be generated.

“The critical success factor in successful and effective teaching and learning is the skill of the teacher in creating environments that combine learner support, on- and off-line activities and resources, and ideas to stimulate peer to peer collaboration and communication” Modified from Cashion, J & Palmieri is what drives UTAMU’s ability to use Technology in teaching and learning.

Through UTAMU’s Hybrid Model students are able to receive utmost support through their learning sessions as described below.

The UTAMU’s Hybrid Model 

QN: What advice can you give instructions seeing UTAMU as an example to emulate in this area?

Prof. Jude: The advice that can be offered to all institutions that want to adopt or have adopted e-learnig as part of their teaching methodology is:

  • Prepare and have a favorable environment for e-learning to flourish. Lack of effective technologies to steer e-learning can be a very big disadvantage. The lack of adequate bandwidth needs to be thought about too.
  • All the modules to teach using e-learning need to be planned for and know what activities will be offered online and which ones will not. This will allow both students and lecturers to know their obligations ahead of time.
  • Content digitization is something that needs to be taken very seriously for any one thinking of integrating ICT in teaching and learning.
  • Capacity building for both staff and students needs to be done very well before complete roll out to enable effective use
  • An e-learning officer is a must have when it comes to integrating ICT in teaching and learning for the institution.
  • Acquire the necessary technologies for hosting the e-learning systems, software to use for content digitization etc.
  • Continuous capacity building for staff who are participating within the e-learning integration needs be done.
  • There is need to develop a policy to steer the integration of e-learning within the institution. Without this policy streamlining what is supposed to be done is difficult.

QN: Can e-learning be extended to all manner of institutions, of higher learning? What about secondary and primary schools?

Prof. Jude: E-learning can be used by any form of educational institution that wants to supplement its traditional form of training. Therefore be it secondary or primary they can use e-learning to train. Taking examples, Gayaza Secondary School uses e-learning, Cambridge Schools use e-learning even in kindergarten. Therefore, the earlier the rest of the educational institutions adopted using technology to enhance educational delivery the better because it is here to stay.

QN: What prerequisites should they look out for to make e-learning possible?

Prof. Jude: The prerequisite needed for e-learning to happen may are describe in the figure below; ICT Infrastructure, ICT enables Human Resource, E-Content Resource and Policies.

QN: From your experience, what is the market/ employers reaction to online trained employees and certificates?

Prof. Jude: The market has come to terms that education can be undertaken ubiquitously since they believe they are busy to go and attend physically classes. However, this is to only well known institutions like Liverpool University, UTAMU and several others which have been known to use technology for teaching and learning. The employers believe that these certificates are the same as the ones attained from a physical class since they can see change in skills of their staff who have gone through the same form of training.

QN: Do we have enough software designers to develop the necessary applications and modules to enable e-learning? What is UTAMU doing in this regard?

Prof. Jude: Uganda has enough capacity to handle e-learning integration and has even done it for other countries such Mozabique, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya. The software developers are well grounded in such system and can customize them to the interest of the client. Organisations like UTAMU and Eight Tech Consults have capacity to offer a complete e-learning solution to any client across the world. The staff in there have over 15 years of providing such solutions to clients.

QN: What e-learning trends can one look forward to, five years from now?

Prof. Jude: Graduates will be exposed to new information in one year than their grandparents in a lifetime. Since they will have access to all types of information both good and bad.

  • Memorizing facts will have lower value, than utilizing information for decision-making. Therefore more people will go online to look for information that can help them make a decide than relying on what is already known.
  • There will be more students teachers than the professionally trained teachers. This is because students are able to go online and find information about what is to be learnt before they are even taught. This will make students teach their fellow students through the established online activities and hence the teacher supplements what is already offered.
  • Online Education will be the biggest business on the Internet. So many people will be looking for knowledge that is authentic online and therefore those who are well established will reap big.
  • Life long learning will become the norm and all organization will require their staff to have upgraded without thinking of allowing them time to go for studies. Employers will believe that offering a good Internet connection is conducive enough to allow employees to acquire further skills.
  • The use of technology as a tool to recreate the entire college experience that will provide a better education to more people for less money (Bill Gates) will be required from all academic institutions.
  • More fake online academic institutions offering out fake degree will increase. Therefore learners will need to be cautious on where they study from and what certification they acquire.

QN: Finally, why do you think this type of learning is not widely practiced in Uganda?

Prof. Jude: This type of learning is not yet widely practised in Uganda because:

  • There is still lack of enough capacity to integrate ICT in teaching and learning. This is in terms of human and infrastructure of which are key components of an e-learning environment.
  • Culture change within the citzens to understand that e-learning is another form of teaching and learning that can enhance skills acquisition.
  • Internet Bandwidth is still expensive to deliver e-learning using activities such as web conferencing
  • Etc.

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