We need for universities to develop an institutional culture of e-learning

29 May 2017 - 08:45
Panel discussion at Apereo Africa 2017

Photo: From left, Dr Ian-Malcolm Rijsdijk, Norina Braaf, Sieraaj Francis and Dr Cheryl Brown during a panel discussion at Apereo Africa 2017. Credit: Dr Nicola Pallitt

This May Cape Town hosted the Annual Apereo Africa Conference. The Apereo Foundation supports and develops software that is used in thousands of educational institutions across the globe. 
At the conference Dr Cheryl Brown of CILT, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of Apereo, chaired a panel discussion entitled “The use of e-learning as a means of delivering teaching to students during the #feesmustfall crisis in South Africa in 2016”. The panel consisted of  Dr Ian-Malcolm Rijsdijk a senior lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies at UCT, Sieraaj Francis from CILT and Norina Braaf an instructional designer from the University of the Western Cape. 
The panel focused on e-learning during the protests, dealing with the challenges and what the role of e-learning is now. 
Dr Brown began by describing the nationwide university protests that engulfed the South African higher education sector in 2015 and 2016. She explained that fees “only represented part of the problem” and each university had specific issues it had to deal with. In trying to complete the academic year many universities chose to incorporate online learning into their academic projects and with this decision came more challenges. Many of those protesting pushed back against any form of blended learning because they felt  that further disadvantaged students as many did not have access to technology necessary for e-learning.  
As an academic Dr Rijsdik commented on the need for universities to develop an institutional culture of e-learning so that it becomes a part of the usual teaching routine rather than a go-to system when face-to-face teaching is no longer available. It should be a way to complement normal teaching methods.
Sieraaj Francis, reiterated Dr Rijsdik’s point, “We can’t expect students to all of a sudden be active on the learning management systems and e-learning spaces when it’s an emergency, when they haven’t been empowered to have voice in those spaces normally. It’s about changing institutional culture, not seeing elearning as an emergency tool but as part of our learning culture so that when we do need to rely on it solely there is not so much that needs to be done to adapt our teaching methods to fit that space. Our teaching methods have already been inclusive of that space.” 
He then went on to explain his research about how social media was used by students to report on the protests and gave students unique insights into protests and multiple perspectives. They weren’t only connected to the university through central communications and via learning management systems but connected to other students and tapping into their peers as another resource. These social media platforms did not necessarily produce discussions on the formal curriculum but rather the pressing topics such as decolonisation at the time which to many were poorly understood.
Dr Nicola Pallitt, an educational technology lecturer at CILT, did a presentation ‘Using Sakai Project Sites for student ePortfolios in the Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Technology at UCT’. She highlighted the need for a low barrier to entry tools for ePortfolio creation suited to the diverse digital literacies of students. She argued that selecting complex tools that only allow a few students to express themselves is not ideal. Pallitt also talked about ePortfolios as a broader pedagogy and the need for lecturers to scaffold the process for students. She commented on how often people think it’s all about the tool, when in fact  it’s the pedagogy that’s key.