Tuesday, November 27, 2012

20th Anniversary of Graduating from UNZA

Today marks exactly 20 years since I graduated from UNZA at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka on 28th November, 1992 at the age of 24. On hand to congratulate me was my late mum, Betty, as at that time my dad had passed away barely four months away. I graduated in the School of Education where I did a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Education specialising in Mathematics and Computer Science. It was a joyous occasion to graduate and shake hands with the then Chancellor John Mwanakatwe after 5 years of hard work. I was supposed to complete my studies in 4 years but I took 5 years as I had to repeat 1 course and then decided to add another course.

My degree studies were a humbling experience as for the first time I knew what to meant to get “D” grades in a course. My first year Mathematics course was quite rough and demanded a lot from me. The Education, French and Philosophy courses were much easier. As I progressed in my studies from one year to another, I learnt that team work was useful for success. I also learn that taking notes from notes was a useful way of learning what I had learnt. In my days Internet was not as common as it now is. And so to get additional study materials was not very easy. However, consultation with classmates and those that were doing their third or fourth years was very useful. I remember in 1991, when we had one of the many closures of the Unversity due to a student protest, Priscilla Chondoka (now Priscilla Kambole, some Tanzanian student, Dr. Chishiba and I formed a study group that made us learn things in M410 (Mathematical Methods) that I was so much not familiar with.

So looking back, 20 years on what is the status of university education in Zambia and more specifically at University of Zambia? A short article like this one cannot do justice to such a question. However, it is evident that the demand for university education has risen far more than the supply of the same education. Whereas in my days one could talk about only 2 universities i.e. university of Zambia and Copperbelt University, now there are many other public universities such as Mulungushi University and Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies (ZCAS) and also many private universities such as Zambian Open University, Univeristy of Lusaka, Rusangu University, Zambia Catholic University, University of Africa, Cavendish University, Northrise University and so on. This shows that school leavers now have many more options with regards to degree studies. In addition, there is a growing number of school leavers and employees that have attained degrees through distance learning from universities such as University of South Africa (UNISA), Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) and Zambian Open University. The case of Zambian Open University is interesting in that enrolments have risen from an initial 350 students to well over 6,000 students in a period of less than 10 years!

The challenges to university education are numerous. One especially in the public universities is that of funding. This is seen in some of the lecture halls and hostels in need of rehabilitation. In addition hostel accommodation is inadequate to cope with the numbers of students that are enrolled in universities. This has given rise to boarding houses across Lusaka and Kitwe towns mainly to cater for UNZA and CBU students respectively who need accommodation. Some of the boarding houses are excellent while some are in poor condition with students only staying there because that’s what they can afford and them being close to the university they are studying in. A possible solution to the accommodation problem would be to remove the provision of accommodation from university administrators who can concentrate on tuition. Provision of accommodation can then be handled by persons that are experienced in hostel accommodation. This would bring about quality provision in accommodation and tuition as both areas are being handled by experts.

Another challenge is that of inadequate learning materials and outdated books in university libraries. Taking a walk in the University of Zambia library one notes that much has changed and much has not changed. The physical books in the library are not adequate to cater for the thousands of students in the university. Some of the books in the library are outdated. One possible solution is to allow access to online academic resources, which is being done, but more can be done if students had 24 hours access to these materials outside normal library opening hours. This entails having 24 hours access to all the rooms in the residences on campus and also classes. Off campus access is also critical to distance education students.

As I conclude and reflect on my 20th anniversary of graduating from UNZA, I would like to see the following two things, perhaps more at UNZA, in the next 10-20 years.                            

Firstly, I would love to see more research being done at the University. Research output is critical in the development of any nation. UNZA needs to lead the way in this area. This may mean lightening the teaching loads of lecturers to give them enough time to conduct research. It is high research output that has made South African universities such as University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, University of Pretoria and Witwatersrand University famous and highly sought after by both would be students and lecturers.  

Secondly, I would like to see greater involvement in the governance of the university by former students. This can be done by having a strong alumni where students are recruited immediately they graduate. If 10,000 alumni contributed a monthly amount of K100,000 this would be K1billion per month! Imagine the possibilities!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reflection on Consultation with Dissertation Supervisor

This blog is a reflection on a meeting I held with my MPhil. ICTs in Education supervisor Cheryl Brown in Cape Town on 13 September 2012. The aim of the consultation was to provide guidance on my Literature Review and Research Methodology draft chapter outlines.

Literature Review
After the consultation my reflections on this chapter are that:
1. I need to give more background information on the TEVET sector and e-learning implementation. This is to enable my readers/external examiners have a clear context of the subject I am discussing.
2. I also need to read literature on how diffusion of innovation theory has been applied in various contexts such as medical field, business and so on and show that perhaps in vocational training the theory has not been used much in order  to explain how the sector adopt e-learning innovations.
3. I need to look for online/e-books e.g. on Google Books as a substitute for physical books.

Research Methodology
1. On this chapter I need to justify my chosen research strategy.
2. I need to be clearwhether I need to use interviews, observations and focus groups. It maybe useful to use only interviews.
3. In order to submit my dissertation by February/March 2013 I need to collect my data by 30 September 2012.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

1st UNISA International Open Distance Learning Pre-Conference Workshops

Workshop 1
On the first day, two parallel sets of pre-Conference workshops were held in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The first workshop was held in the UNISA Senate Hall on Tuesday, 4th September, 2012 was on 'Academics Online Presence: Assesing & Shaping Your Visibility' by Laura Czerniewicz, who has worked in the field of educational technology at the University of Cape Town for over ten years. She is currently the Director of OpenUCT Initiative committed to sharing scholarly knowledge resources to all with Internet connectivity.

Professor Czerniewicz began her presentation by a quotation that on "the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog" (Peter Steiner, 1993). She then dicussed the concepts of digital footprint and digital shadow where digital footprint was the content a user created while digital shadow was content created about the user. Professor Czerniewicz then noted that in some cases users did not know much digital shadows they had on the Internet and was this could have a negative impact on their professional careers. She also discussed the building blocks of the networked scholar.  Professor Czerniewicz called for the opening up of scholarship through sharing knowledge and publishing in open access journals, using social networks such as Twitter and writing blogs. She also recommended that academics maximise the visibility of their work through use of tools such as Google Scholar, Wikipedia (normally listed first in many Google searches), Linkedin and Academia.edu.

My reflection on this workshop is that as a user of the Internet and creator of knowledge, I needed to take responsibility on having a meaningful online visibility that created value for knowledge users.

Workshop 2
The second workshop was on 'Designing a Roadmap for OER Implementation and Sustainable Development' by Dr. Andreia Inamorato, an International Consultant in Education and Technology-enhanced Learning and a Researcher in Open Educational Resources (OERs). She was currently working as a Research Consultant for the European-funded OER project OportUnidad in Brazil.

Dr. Inamorato defined OER as:  (UNESCO and  COL). She then went on to look at the motivations for people to study using ODL. Dr Inamorato then spoke of the 4 Rs of OER as being reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. She then discussed the business models of OER as being contribution model, institutional, sponsorship, and Government model. An example of TEMOA and Leeds Metropolitan as OER portals were given. Other examples were Open Learn www.openlearn.ac.uk, teca and Connections: www.cnx.org.

My reflection on this workshop is that OER implementation requires careful planning if it is to be useful to educators and learners. This requires the engagement of all stakeholders in ODL planning and implementation.

Workshop 3
The third workshop was on 'Designing, developing, and running (massive) open online courses (MOOC) by Dr. George Siemens. George Siemens is a writer, theorist, speaker and researcher on learning, networks, technology, analytics and visualisation, and openness in education. He is the Associate Director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University and leads the learning analytics research team.

Dr Siemens started by defining MOOC: Massive Open Online Courses and their potential for very large growth. He then gave a history of massive open learning. Dr Siemens noted there were free open courses search as Coursera and Udacity which offered far better learning content than what some universities and institutions were able to offer with their limited budgets. This provided an opportunity to teach globally and accredit locally. Dr Siemens noted that the technology for MOOCs was still underdeveloped. He then provided 9 steps for running a MOOC. These steps included:
1. Topic & Audience
2. Find someone to teach with
3. Determine content
4. Plan spaces
5. Plan interactions
6. Plan your continued presence
7. Learner creations and activities
8. Get the word out: promotion and sharing
9. Set your expectations        

My reflection on this workshop was that massive open online courses had a role to play in teaching and learning. But they required adequate planning in order for them to be effective and relevant to learners.

Monday, August 6, 2012

ICTs in Education Postgraduate Programme with UCT

Greetings to you all and hope that grace of God is with you. Some of you had requested me to shade more light on the course I am currently doing with The University of Cape Town, RSA. This is a two year program by distance learning, but with four (one week) face to face block sessions (residential school).

The first year has four modules and leads to a Postgraduate Diploma in Information & Communication Technologies in Education. The second year leads to a Masters in ICTs in Education. It is a course that is intended to empower teachers/lecturers in the use of 'emerging technologies' in teaching. As you may well agree with me, most of us have stuck to the use of 'chalk & board' type of teaching. Although a number of schools pride in having 'computer labs', these are mainly used for teaching IT & Computer Science. We are living in a world that is advancing technologically at an 'exponential rate', and as teachers we cannot afford to be left out. We are in the so called developing countries where we think it is hard to implement such technologies, but this program equips you with the knowledge to be the change/driver in such an environment by grabbing the opportunities that present themselves in our society, e.g. the proliferation of mobile phones (even our charcoal burners have them - not that they are not worthy to have them, but it is an opportunity).

The program is run by the Centre of Educational Technology in association with the School of Education. The two modules I have done so far have 'opened' up my mind in terms of the use of technology in teaching and the designing of essential teaching tools. Our lecturers, Associate Professor Dick Ng'ambi & Dr. Cheryl Brown with their support team are superb! The work of course is very demanding, but there is a support system we have created for each other (Student - Lecturer & Student - Student via Internet as we are from different African Countries).

Finally, I know issues of money are a challenge to most of us, but the good news is that there is a Mellon Scholarship you can also apply for. However, there is a limited number of scholarships available, so you have to excel in their assessment task & interview. By the grace of God I am on this scholarship which a friend of mine Mr. Gabriel Konayuma introduced me to. It covers all the costs - travel by air, insurance, accommodation, food allowance & more importantly tuition. Please visit this website for more details: http://www.cet.uct.ac.za/masters  . I hope that you will find this information helpful. Keep in touch so we share ideas!

Yours in Teaching

Jerran Phiri,
Maseru, Lesotho