Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kenya has a National ICT Policy Document

As an extension to my earlier post one eLearning policy, I have come across a National ICT Policy document for Kenya that recognise eLearning:


The lack of a policy framework on e-learning has hampered its development and utilisation. In this regard, there is need to:
a) Provide affordable infrastructure to facilitate dissemination of knowledge and skill through e-learning platforms;
b) Promote the development of content to address the educational needs of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions;
c) Create awareness of the opportunities offered by ICT as an educational tool to the education sector;
d) Facilitate sharing of e-learning resources between institutions;
e) Promote centres of excellence to host, develop, maintain and provide leadership of better learning resources and implementation strategy;
f) Exploit e-learning opportunities to offer Kenyan education programmes for export; and
g) Integrate e-learning resources with other existing resources.
I am also studying the Kenya's National Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Strategy for Education and Training. These are two lengthy documents that I will take a couple of days to read - and raise my issues here. But, my question still remain...what next after these well crafted policies?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Success of eLearning Programmes and Initiatives

After I posted the blog on 10 reasons whey eLearning initiatives fail, my friends and I were engaged in a diagnostic discussion of why it is difficult to create sustainable projects in Africa. The concern was mainly on the public and donor funded projects. Some of the strong points that came out are:
  1. Some of the projects are started for the wrong reasons. One one of the wrong reason that came into the light is personal gratification and enrichment. While it is not wrong to earn from donor/public funded projects, it should be within all moral and ethical bounds and not at the expense of its sustainability.
  2. Related to the point above, is that the project created become synonymous to their founders or directors. These people always form a shield around themselves to protect their interests - and block any new ideas that will destabilize the status quo. This makes it difficult to audit the projects. Further, in case of any eventuality that the synonyms cannot continue leading this projects, there is a vacuum in terms of the knowledge of what the project was all about or being run.
  3. People in leadership monopolizing the custodianship of knowledge about the projects and selectively passing it out when it favors them. This is usually because of the wrong philosophy that for you to be powerful, you should be the only one who knows how to do something.
  4. Finally what also came out is what I will call a copy-n-paste solution, or a next patient same treatment situation or a one size fit all. A good example of this is where an initiative that was perceived to have worked with the UN staff in New York is imposed to a rural school in say Mozambique, Zambia or Kenya. The disparity of these two contexts is as wide as the earth is from the now disowned Pluto.
What these brings forth in summary is:
  1. We should always start our eLeraning initiatives and programmes for the right reasons.
  2. While it is good to earn from such projects, it is good to put the projects before self.
  3. We should strive to share knowledge with others - empowering each other.
  4. We should localis and contextualise the solutions that we are offering.

10 Reasons why eLearning Fail

It is always good to here something you have always known through experience, or gut feelings being said differently. Today, I participated in a webcast on 10 reasons why eLearning Fail by Will Hipwell of GeoLearning. He outlines the as:

  1. Wrong Learning Strategy – Inappropriate content
  2. Poorly Designed Content – Poor learner experience
  3. Poorly Designed Program – Lack of support
  4. Not Tracking Enrollments and Results – Lack of data
  5. LMS Technology Fails – Difficult to find and launch
  6. Delivery Technology Fails – Content cannot run
  7. Stakeholders not bought in – Managers do not support
  8. Poor support infrastructure – Nowhere to go for help
  9. Poor business alignment – Poor overall buy in to program
  10. Poor workflow integration – Not integrated into business processes
Although the contexts, reasons and environment that Higher Education Institutions operate might be different from the for-profit organizations, most of this points are valid and applicable. Hipwell in his presentation offers insightful suggestions to counter these failure points.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Life after Blackboard

If home is where the heart is, then we should make our homes better places to live. An equity trend analysis by Forbes has shown that Blackboard Inc is on top of the chart of companies whose insiders are disposing off their shares. This clearly shows even the insiders have no confidence with Blackboard's future or at least it opens up avenues for speculations as to what its future holds. The speculation is favoring the view that most people are not living Blackboard they are leaving. It is no longer a place where hearts can be at home. Saddening, among those featured to have sold most of the shares in the recent past are Mathew Pittinksy -the chairman of the board and director of Blackboard Inc. If this is related to the latest move to do business in the court corridors, then the Blackboard's future looks dull. Is it time to prepare for life after Blackboard?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Screen Capture & Tutorial Creating tools

Today I was searching for Open Source Software that I can use to develop some tutorials and guides as supplement materials for my eLearning Training and support. I have seen Viewlet Builder in action, but I did not like it because
1. It is proprietary, though we have a license for a number of computers.
2. It requires a lot of time and effort to put up a simple tutorial.
My usual search place is sourceforge.net, and I came across CamStudio which did what I needed to do. I two hours, I have a demo of the tutorial I wanted to create. Only glitches are on the time it takes to generate a flash file, and also having to manually edit the output files for it to be visible in Mozilla-based browsers. Other than that, I will be using it until I get/develop a superior product for this kind of work.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

From Blackboard to Whiteboard

A walk around some educational institutions have shown that there is a great decline in the number of blackboards in use. Instead, most of the the educational institutions are using whiteboards. I do not know if the person who invented the blackboard had patented the various ways you could hang it up in a classroom, or the various types of chalk you could use. When I was schooling, in the times of blackboard and chalk, most of the teachers used to drink alcohol after work - to down the chalk dust. Nowadays, most of the whiteboard markers are made from alcohol. I do not have evidence that teachers no longer drink alcohol, or they now use another 'solvent' to down the alcohol. Isn't innovation interesting? History tells me that the first writing material was the scroll then the paper. I am wondering here if the paper inventor patented the art of writing or the paper itself. I am thinking of the billions of dollars that would have translated to. Well, this are just side thoughts and trying to picture how far we have come and yet to go with innovation - with or without Blackboard's Patents.
Stephen Downes in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Innovate has presented a patent dilemma that has seen one Learning Management System transform itself to a Litigation/Lawsuit Making System thanks to Blackboard's patents. I would echo what he says in his last paragraph and I quote:
I have argued in the past that the thieves in our community are not the file sharers and the advocates of open source, but rather, those who use the nuances of the legal system to take something created by others and to make it their own (Downes 2003). I agree with Howard Rheingold: "Blackboard's actions are shameful, greedy, and bogus, and they have the potential for retarding the development of online learning throughout the world" (2006, ¶ 1).

BUT, like I have said before, online learning is an idea whose time has come, and NO action by the likes of Blackboard would stifle it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Does eLearning Policy Influence its Adoption in Higher Education?

Ok, let us all dip our hands and make them dirty, as long as we have an eLearning programme at the end of the day. Oh no, let us first strategise and agree on what we can pull together to come up with an eLearning programme. What is the best approach - going different ways as long as we are doing eLearning - and then define a policy, or having an agreed policy to guiding policy and the start implementing eLearning? I am persuaded to believe that both approaches would succeed in different contexts in varying degrees. For example, most of the successful cases of eLearning in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Africa started as a passionate drive by individuals - using different approaches. After the success of these approaches, institutions leaders discover the need for eLearning, and for centralising and standardising its use. This arises because of among other things the cost involved. More often than not, I have heard lamentations from the HEIs which have long had an eLearning policy that the success rate - or use of eLearning is dismal.

In my opinion, it is good to have an eLearning policy, but an eLearning policy is not an end by itself. An eLearning policy is best in defining strategic objectives and position of HEIs - but in itself does not influence the adoption decision.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Using Technology to Reach Out People on HIV/AIDS

Today is World AIDS Day and according to the UN "World AIDS Day is a day when people from around the world come together within a single effort. The global theme for the World AIDS Day 2006 is accountability - and the slogan is "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise."" If the promise is to stop aids, then we got to use every means and methods to do that. Today, I remembered to wear my RED RIBBON and the whole day I have been thinking of what has/can be done on the use of educational technologies in general to reach out the masses. I have also checked some cartoons posted on the UN website. Even though I could not interpret the meaning of all of them, the ones I did passed on the message.
I write my reflections. As I write, I do it with a lot of sadness and helplessness. Am sad because I still think the whole of mankind has not done its fair share in eradicating and fighting HIV and AIDS. Helpless because despite what I do now, I might not reach the most deserving soul. I did to do it, nonetheless because it might be my fare share in the war against the AIDS pandemic because you are reading and might be inspired to do your fair share.
I have seen and/or reviewed a number of eLearning courseware on HIV and AIDS (most of them funded by the North or is it the West?). However, I have not seen or heard of an evaluation of the effectiveness of such courses in reaching the most deserving people in developing countries who are worst hit. It seems to me that the donors are ready to pump in money even before they do a thorough analysis of the contexts involved. Studies have shown that there is a link between poverty and the HIV infections. It is therefore very unrealistic for anyone to purport to be using eLearning to reach out to people who live on less than a dollar a day. To such people, technology would not be a priority. To them, we need a different mode of delivery and dissemination of information - and a totally new perspective of looking at the AIDS pandemic. I am not against the use of eLearning in HIV and AIDS education, am just questioning its effectiveness in reaching out to the poorest of the poor especially in Africa. Cellphones have been used (successfully?) in South Africa by medical and social workers to monitor patients on anti-retroviral therapy.
If you care, like I do, use more than one means to get your message on HIV and AIDS accross.

What are your Greatest Learning Experiences and/or Opportunities?

Today I attended a session on equality in education. The assignment below was given to the participants in groups of two members each. Each one was to interview a partner and report back to whole panel. It amazed me what we use or see as our greatest learning experiences. I took the notes in italics when the reports were being made. Being a Friday, I have to run up and down. I will rationalise the points over the weekend.

Assignment: Think of a time in school, work and society where you felt you have an opportunity or experience that you have never had before that you think you learnt a lot. why you think your learnt a lot? What was so outstanding about the learning experience/opportunity?

I sample some of the responses that came out - I was disrupted when I was doing the mind2finger - I would have wanted a verbatim of what was said.
"On of the greatest learning experiences that have helped me is converting what I know to students in a way that is easy for them to understand. The is through the inspiration of my High School physics teacher who showed me how to learn. He was there, he used very unconventional yet intuitive means of teaching physics so that all of us could understand."
"The fact that the course I attended was Voluntary/ not-obligatory and it entailed personal improvements and brain power - allowing me to focus and refocus on myself, giving me the freedom to choose, so liberating - provided me an astounding learning experience. It helped me realize my potential beyond my wildest dream."
"The way my supervisor encouraged me to redo my proposal it did not feel like I had been told to rewrite the whole proposal. The way he reassured me after what I perceived to be my failure point. During the course of the study, I encountered people who were willing to get out of their way to assist me in my research. This was a great learning experience because it makes me always feel indebted to others - who would like to learn."
"My greatest learning experiences and perhaps what has shaped my life and career is when at the age of six my brother introduced me to the non-fiction side of the library. I frequented the library before then and I always ventured on the fiction side of it. I cultivated a passion for the library - and perhaps that is why am a librarian."
"During the initial stages of our entrepreneurship assignments, all of us had great, competing and divergent ideas. Although we had the best of intentions, and the commitment to the success, we did not want to talk with, and listen to one another. During these times, our business hit rock bottom. Maybe it was a wake up call for us to start talking with each other, because when we did, we turned the tables upside down. Withing a very short period, we were able to repay the loan that we were given to start our business, and our books were looking much better. I learnt to accept different and divergent ways of thinking and learning."

"When I started my distance learning course, all the excitement I had initially feigned over time because of the delays I experienced in getting reading resources. I felt that there was no commitment at all from all the people - in the distance learning college - to bringing me the resources I needed and on time. Within my frustration, I enrolled in a resident college where I could use the library facilities, and never even recognised the delays. I realised the importance of timely delivery of information and feedback"
This was such a great learning experience for me. First, reflecting on what counts to be learning experience or opportunities for different people, and what learning is achieved. Secondly, a chance to look back, to all the situations that I have been subjected to, and choosing the one that I think was a turning point - or at least I learnt a lot.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Getting Close and Personal with Technology

Accepting and adopting eLearning is in away agreeing to your invasion of privacy. It also entails a move from a certain comfort zone, to a zone where you are moving to the very uncertain future of/with technology. It means that at anyplace, anywhere and anytime you are there! As an academic staff member, it means you need to put more and more efforts not only in course preparation, but also in online course facilitation among your other duties. A distressed student will send you an email a few minutes before you sleep, and you will have a number of recorded voice messages in the morning when you get to the office. Consultations are no longer restricted to the office hours thanks to technology.

In my previous blog, I mentioned the role of training and support - it is essential. However, it does not come if not asked for, or there is no need for it. To get close and personal with technology, one need to first acknowledge when s/he is stuck, and ask. Second, one should be willing to assist others with technology. Getting to out of "what would others think of me if I ask this question" or "will I appear stupid if I ask?" is the initial step. Asking technical questions come with practice - just like starting a blog like this one and telling everyone what your thoughts and reflections are. So, as a first step do not shy off asking your teenage daughter something to do with your phone. The second step is offering to assist. In line with an old Christian (I guess) philosophy that you gain more in giving than in receiving - offering to assist when you can not only boosts your confidence in the use of technology but also empowers someone. If the cycle of assisting each other with technology is enhanced and propagated, we can form a formidable team of experts!

In summary, to be close and personal with technology you acknowledge that you will be required to be available anywhere anytime, you admit that you cannot know everything to do with technology and that it is not stupid to ask a question, and you recognise the value of assisting others with technology related problems. To assess how close and personal you are with technology count the number of days you have worked from home, you have slept late replying to emails, you received 10 voice messages in a day, you called the technical department for assistance, you asked your son which key to press, you colleague came to ask you something about your latest laptop and so on.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Where does this Leave My Clients?

A few hours ago, our CIO issued a warning in a widely circulated letter that he will lobby for our institution to dissociate itself from any Novell software following the recent marriage between Microsoft and Novell. I do not feel obligated to comment about the bedroom matters of the marriage, but I wonder what two parties with a history of long court battles realised to seal the marriage deal. I personally feel betrayed by any move that would curtail the freedom I enjoy using Free and Open Software. I am also disturbed by the uncertainties that such marriages would bring on the face of the progress to more freedom. Is this not a betrayal of the people who have contributed to the success of the Novell applications? Or is there something am not understanding about the whole deal? Is this a genesis of more marriages of convenience? What is the next big news?

What is disturbing me the most is where decisions by organisations providing software applications agree on dining with the enemy, and the subsequent resolutions like the one our CIO is making leave the clients (the normal users of the services), who in most cases do not have an idea of what the marriage is all about. I wonder if the 6000+ users of our eLearning site know that it runs on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) - a Novell product. Happily there we are in the process of getting other solutions for the site and Novell products are definitely out of the equation. While for the server technology it might be easy to do a change over without the users' knowledge, I foresee hardships (that can be overcame) in changing the client technologies like the Novell Groupwise. I am also happy that for two months since I got SUSE 10 DVD, I have not brought down the Fedora Core 5 I use on my laptop and the Mark Webbink of Redhat has posted his criticism of the marriage. For now, I wait for Fedora Core 6 to be available on our mirror site for my next laptop!

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Do Online Learners Need Special Reading Skills?

We have been advocating for an paperless society where everything is digitized. This, for the environmentalist is a good approach given that there will be fewer trees being harvested to manufacture paper. I am not sure if the same environmentalists have considered to study what is the environmental impact on the production and disposal of the electronic devices that we use. This would make a good blog for another day. In the digitized world, every thing would be stored in electronic form. This has advantages in terms of speed of access, physical storage space - and some may argue on security.

Our learning materials are now digitized and we expect our students to use them to learn. I believe there is a significant difference in reading styles and skills between paper-based and electronic materials. I remember a few years ago when I was an undergraduate student, one of the introductory courses at the university was code-named "Communication Skills". It was a compulsory course for every first year student. During this course we are were taught among other things, reading and comprehension, writing and library searches always geared towards the paper-based media. Do we need such a course for online learning especially where there is use of the web browsers? Are we assuming that our users who have just started using eLearning have the skills to "learn online"? I think institutions now are required more than ever before to offer the "Communication Skills" course and include some specific lessons on how to read online. I have experienced students who print all the course content presented online. Though some of them would argue they do not have internet access at home, I strongly believe that a good number do not have the skills required to read on a computer screen.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

QC and QA in eLearning Courses in Higher Education

If we define quality assurance (QA) as the a standard procedure to ensure that an eLearning course conforms and abides to established requirements - pedagogical, technical and otherwise. And further define quality control (QC) as the operations geared towards checking for the fulfillment of the requirements, who would be in-charge of QA and QC in eLearning courses? Is it the eLearning support team. or the Subject matter experts (SMEs) or the faculty? What aspects of the Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/C) would fall on the hands of the eLearning support and why? Who determines the standards to be adhered to in eLearning courses?

I ask this because of a number of reasons. One, as a member of the eLeanring support team, I do not think its within my domain to offer the QA/C of eLearning courses - at least not the content. What I can only offer, is the adherence to the technical standards, that vary from one context to another. The level of educational quality of the content I cannot assure, neither can I control. Two, I wonder how QA/C is done for the traditional brick and mortar teaching and learning approach.Who does the QA/C of courses being offered f2f? How is the QA/C done and how often? Thirdly, with the emergency of 101 "eLearning Universities" what quality standards will we use to gauge the strength and quality of any certification attained from these universities?

One of the ways I think can be employed to improve on the quality of eLearning courses is making them open, or at least accessible through less restrictive licenses. This way, we will have a good review from peers, and also a good exposure of our ideas to criticism - that might point out to us all the misconceptions and inaccuracies that we might be holding and propagating in the courses we teach. Of course not everyone will be open to criticism especially if it is in a field where he believes to hold an unquestionable authority, but if through practices one can learn to accept criticism.

Another way of improving on the quality of online courses is through cooperation and collaboration. There are courses offered by different universities (or departments) that are similar. If all the universities collaborated in offering a course - say "Introduction to research methods", we will have, in my opinion, a superior course gathering expertise and resources from a number of professionals. This approach not only improves on the quality, but also it saves on resources due to the minimised duplication of efforts. For example, I took the faculty information booklets of a university and I found out that almost every department offers a course in research methods, each offered differently. This is a waste of the scarce resources.

For now, lets make our courses open, and lets also cooperate and collaborate with like minded people to ensure improved quality in eLearning course.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

The Question of ROI and eLearning

I facilitated a workshop yesterday on the role of training and support in eLearning success. This workshop was mainly around the issues I discussed earlier in my blogs (The Role of Training and Support in eLearning Success Parts I-IV).

One of the major question that was asked is how to convince the chief executives of African universities to increase/provide funding for eLearning. This is a hard stance given that in most universities, due to the commercialisation projects, one has to justify any expenditure with the Return on Investment (ROI). I am not convinced that asking for a justification for this kind of investment is really worthwhile or warranted. Elearning has become necessity that cannot be wished away. It is a way of life, an idea that is here to stay. Therefore the sooner the the CEOs in these universities realise this the better. A question might be asked, what is the ROI of the office spaces and lecture halls that we currently have in these universities? What is the ROI of a whiteboard or chalkboard in the lecturer halls (especially if we do not have students in the lecturer halls)? Would we still ask what is the ROI if a chemistry lecturer asks for funds to stock her laboratory with chemicals for students' experiments?

In my opinion, just like it is almost impossible to justify or quantify the ROI on educational investment, the same applies to eLearning. We do not stop sending our children to school because education has become too expensive and we do not know what we will get from their education. Or do we?

what if we see eLearning as an enhancement of our teaching and learning? Will still ask what is the same questions? What is the ROI of out teaching and learning - with or without technology? If we define eLearning as teaching and learning using technology, will we install overhead/LCD projectors in our classrooms/lecture halls?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Role of Training and Support in eLearning Success Part IV

In the last 3 series on this topic, I have tackled the key aspects of eLearning, the training and support, and methods and procedures that we have used towards our success. In this blog, I focus on what knits all the information and aspects that arose in the previous blogs together: The technology and the people. I have decided to combine the two because:

1. Technology alone cannot form what eLearning ought to be.
2. People, without technology cannot form that either.
3. How people use technology defines its success.

In the first part of the blog, I will give a brief introduction about the structure of our eLearning Division.

The people and the technology are the resources that we tap on most. Looking at our structure you will see we have a hybrid team with different roles towards a common goal.The eLearning Division is headed by a manager. It is divided into five areas. The number in bracket represent the current number of staff in each area.

  1. Instructional Design (6) supports sound pedagogy in the use of technology in teaching-and-learning, which is further enhanced by Learning Management System support of students - where I fall. 2 members of this team are fully dedicated to student training and support.

  2. Digital Academic Literacy (2) which trains students in computer literacy.

  3. ICT Staff Training (2) supports just-in-time learning for the use of software applications, and basic introduction to computers to members of staff.

  4. Digital Multimedia (3) services supports the use of digital multimedia such as video in support of teaching-and-learning.

  5. Materials Development team (2) develops of manuals and simulations to support training.

This 16 members form the strong team that is driving eLearning initiatives are UWC. In addition, through the spirit of capacity building and empowering people, we tap from the student community who help us not only in the administrative duties at the division, but also in research and training - I also started as a student assistant.

Also, we have the advantage of having the heart of AVOIR at UWC. Through FSIU, most of the technical issues relating to our elearning site are catered for.

The IT operations team also offer incredible services, and move with speed whenever we make any requests or complains on the level of services that we get. The computing facilities at the institution are improving to cater for the demands of eLearning.

Apart from the Learning Management System, we have a state of the art digital studio and student computer laboratories. The lecture halls are also being upgraded to make it easy to use recording facilities that can allow lectures to be hosted on our learning management system.

The Role of Training and Support in eLearning Success Part III

In is the third blog in this series. Part I dealt with the key issues in eLearning and Part II is about training and support. In this part, I discuss methods and procedures that we have adopted, and how they have contributed to our success.

We have adopted a number of methods and procedures to ensure that our work goes on seamlessly. This procedures are mainly administrative to make sure for example that all the training schedules are done and dispatched on time via campus communications, ensuring that all bookings for training are captured and if there is any additional information the trainees need to know is communicated to them, informing the office of staff development of the training for their records and also for catering purposes (we offer a light snack for every training that takes more than three hours), analyzing the training reports and where intervention is needed doing so promptly, reporting back to the office of staff development as well us updating our databases of the people who have attended training and most important that the training actually takes place. There are also elaborate procedures and steps that we follow in putting forward feature requests and reporting bugs to the technical departments. Other methods for success include proper documentation, sound project management, team and capacity building and marketing.

On the documentation, we create a report of each and every training, consultation, meetings with stakeholders, and things that arise during our course of duty. Also, at the end of every week, we prepare personal reports detailing out every major task that we have done, and its status. The personal reports are usually divided into administrative tasks, training, meetings, consultations, technical and seminars. These reports helps us in sharing of tasks and also when we need to do an audit of the capacity within the team. In addition, we prepare monthly reports with an audit of all the activities that have been taking place.

The eLearning division is small compared to the demands of our clients. Good project management and planing is essential. Over the last year, we have been having a number of special academic projects (also as part of our marketing) going on. These projects had an overwhelming demand for our support and its only through good project management we managed to deliver. Due to the success rates of the projects, next year we have many more projects lined up. For next year too, only proper management of our training and support will make us succeed.

Continuous team and capacity building takes place during our "Capacity Building Sessions" every Friday afternoon. During these sessions, we hold our division's meeting and a team member does a training/demonstration of some of the talents or skills she/he has for the benefits of all the other members. Also, as part of the capacity building, members are encourage to attend conferences and seminars on eLearning.

Marketing and changing of mindsets is very important. We have to convert the traditionalists to use eLearning. Our approach to marketing reach-one reach-all. When a lecturer shows interest in using eLearning, we encourage him/her to setup a project. In this project, we offer all the necessary resources, support and training. We work to make sure that the project is a success. Once this project is successful, we ask the academic, now the champion to lobby within his/her department. The champion schedules and invites us for a meeting with the department. During these meetings we
informally discuss the fears, expectations, promises, challenges, etc of eLearning with the academics. It offers us a chance to not only listen to our potential clients but also to know them. This of late has been driven by the successes that have been reported by other departments. We also offer incentives in the form of laptops to the champions.

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The Role of Training and Support in eLearning Success Part II

I start this part with a quote from Micheal Fledstein's Blog, a reflection/reaction posted by Stephen on an article appearing on the Communication of the ACM. The blog article's title is "The Sesame Street Syndrome".

In the final paragraph Stephen notes

The misuse (or not) of technology in lectures is merely a symptom of a wider malaise in university teaching. Giving academics a “fair fight” must mean giving them all of the resources, training, time and support needed to be effective teachers, not just the bare minimum needed to be
boring lecturers.
The fair fight being quoted here arises from the perceived lack of control of the learning process by academics. It is seen as a problem when students are using the wireless technology in the classroom to do things that are totally unrelated to what the academic is offering.

Our approach to giving the academics a "fair fight" is training them for a mind-set shift. From seeing students as only passive recipients of knowledge to seeing them as active creators of knowledge. Training them to pass the control of the learning process to the students (the shift from the sage on stage to the guide on the side).

Training and Support
On training, the eLearning division in liaison with the office of staff development sends out monthly training schedules. The training times are varied and flexible to cater for the different timings and
schedules of the target client. On timing we have main training scheduled between 9.00-12.00 and 2.00-4.30 on weekdays, lunchtimes on Wednesdays (except when we have an elearning seminars). We only offer student training on request from the lecturers although we do a 10-15 minutes demonstration on how to navigate the eLearning site, on invitation to the lecturers' lectures. In the training, we have included other components like image editing. Image editing was introduced when we discovered that our clients needed to use graphics but they did not know how to scale them for the web.

The characteristics and strategies of the support that we give are:
  • On-time - We have an email address accessible to all members of the team where the campus community contacts us on. During office hours, a request is processed within the hour it is received. During weekends however, response may take sometimes but occasionally there is someone within the team who checks the emails. We also have a support telephone line that is maned always during working hours. In addition, the ICS helpdesk forwards to us all requests from the campus community that are related to eLearning. Our on-time support makes sure that we build and maintain a level of confidence with the stakeholders that -"we are with you throughout the learning process".

  • Clarifying the issues with users. It is important as a support division to understand what the users' concerns are. In the support environment we at times receive calls that we do not understand for example we receive call that the "eLearning site is not working", at a time when we are using it. We therefore, have to understand what the users' mean by and their perception of what is "not working". In some cases we find that the users have an incorrect url, or there are settings within their computers that are not properly set, or the network is not working from their offices among others. In line with clarifying the issues with the users, we show the them alternatives that exist - without over-burdening or confusing them. Again, we reassure the users that we are with them and update them regularly on the issues they have raised.

  • We also provide timely follow-ups to find out how the academics who have attended training, and showed interest in using eLearning are doing. The follow-ups are mainly on email. During this follow-ups we have found out that some academics at times get stuck and do not know how to ask for assistance.
  • Apart from the academics, we provide student training and support. This is critical for the success of eLearning as students are the recipients and main consumers of the eLearning products. It is a cumbersome process but manageable.

Apart from the training, we have departmental visits where on invitation by eLearning champions in the departments, we go to introduce eLearning to the departments. This visits are not so detailed in nature, but we use them to informally discuss the fears, expectations, promises, challenges, etc of eLearning. It offers us a chance to not only listen to our potential clients but also to know them. This of late has been driven by the successes that have been reported by other departments.

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The Role of Training and Support in eLearning Success Part I

I received a request this week "to put together a short workshop on supporting e-learning in the institution (University of the Western Cape, UWC) for the AVOIR meeting". The workshop need to cover things like "strategy, organization, activities, what works, what doesn't". I have 90 minutes to convince, showcase, and discuss with the over 30 participants the issues pertaining to the use of eLearning and related technologies. In these series of blog articles, I will go through the Mind2Finger issues that am going through in preparing for the workshop. In this first issues, I will identify the key issues in eLearning. These issues will form the foundation for the next sections and they are:

  1. Online tutoring
  2. Online Resources
  3. Assessment of Online Learning
  4. student issues
  5. Content issues
  6. Staff issues
Online tutoring is a challenging and daunting task requiring a number of interventions from a number of stakeholders in the higher education institutions. It involves among other things preparing lecturers and students for the online experiences, managing students in the online environments, and using a number of communication tools that are available in the learning management system(LMS).

The online resources that are available for the campus community at UWC are the learning management system, the multimedia studio, and a host of other computing facilities including computers, scanners, cameras etc. The participants in the online learning environment are trained on using the LMS, using multimedia, effective writing for eLearning, and creating interactivity. There is also a support division (The eLearning Division) to assist all the participants in their pursuit. In addition, we have the Information Technology operational and hardware maintenance section of the university, computer laboratories, and FSIU and AVOIR developers assisting in building tools for the LMS.

Lack of familiarity to the alternative forms of online assessments has to be addressed in the training and support. The lecturers are trained on the various tools provided on the LMS, how and when to use them, and how to prepare their students for the online assessments. The tools for assessment of online learning that are being used constantly are the discussion forum, work groups, multiple choice questions, and other innovative online assessments like the worksheets, assignments, and essays. The Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has also been used, though not as much as the other forms of online assessment above.

The main concerns for students in addition to training and support is access. Most student access their online course materials on campus, and we have limited computing facilities for students. A booking system for computer laboratories is in place to assist the students. Also, due to this fact, we encourage lecturers to extend and stretch deadlines for online activities over a longer period of time so that all students can get a chance in using the computers. As I will discuss in the next sections, we have structures for academic support for students offered by the lecturer and the computer literacy and induction offered by our eLearning Division.

On content, the main issues rotate around "dumping", size and type of content and copyright. In our training, we emphasize that the LMS is is NOT a dumping site for class readers and class notes. We advocate for well-thought, structured and manageable content. We encourage the lecturers to "pass on" responsibility of learning to the students through the use of the tools available. On the size, due to limits in bandwidth, we recommend the use of media that is bandwidth friendly. We also train and assist lecturers and students in optimising the size of the content put online, for example on image editing. In our LMS a host of media types are supported including text, images, video and audio, presentations, SCORM among others.

The staff issues relate to the lecturers and in some cases faculty administrators. The main concern for now is time and skills to facilitate online learning. For skills, we pass them through the various models of training and consultations we hold with the lecturers. This training also assist them in exploiting techniques that would speed up their online facilitation. We also encourage them to make use of their student assistants and workstudy programmes within their departments. Over the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in a number of student assistants being used to assist the lecturer in online courses facilitation. Staff training is done in collaboration with the Office of Staff Development at UWC.

In the next part, I will explain to some details the training and support strategies that we employ.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Testing Performancing

I was looking for adds-on for my Firefox installation when I came across Performancing. Isn't it great what and how web technologies are being designed? With only a few clicks, I can be publishing my blog stories as they happen or to put it right, just think with my fingers on the keyboard.

Since blogging is setting the stage, and moving eLearning to higher grounds, cool tools like Performancing that not only saves time and clicks, but also offers a wide range of capabilities are welcome.

--Only if I had known of it earlier

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Time to Go eLearning Way

I have heard probably n times (where n tends to infinity)that the reasons we do not want to go use eLearning is because of time and cost. Needless to say, some of the people who believe they do not have time for eLearning or creating online learning materials, can spend on average 2 hours daily on a computer researching why time is a constraint in their dreams of having an online course sometime. Miraculously. I argue that we cannot have all the time to do all the things we want to, rather we create time to do the things that we value. The next time I hear someone say there is not time to create online learning experiences, I will translate it to I do not see the value of eLearning. For any good purpose, if any professor can have time to prepare learning materials for an face to face classroom session, and have them typed - and even goes an extra mile to have presentation slides done for the course, that professor has more time than is demanded for in creating a online learning course. Only a reorganization of priorities and energies is needed. One thing I however agree on, without contradicting myself, is that the initial time investment is enormous. But the gains once that is done it terms of man-hours is enormous.

I would apply the same argument for the cost. In life, we do not have all the money to buy everything - else we would not be having all these budget committees. But where do we direct our monies to? What have we done with the little we have? Have we tried to collaborate with other like minded partners in the pursuit for eLearning?

There are new and emerging cheap options that can be used to deliver eLearning. If this options are explored further, I believe eLearning can take off in a big way. But until then, I do not have more time and money to write another sentence in this blog.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What are the Barriers to Widespread Adoption of Online Education?

There seems to be a bug with the editor on beta. So the emphasis might not come out now as I would have wanted them to.
I take a block from the just published "Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006" on the question of barriers to adoption.

Previous studies in this series have identified a number of areas of concern for the potential growth of online offerings and enrollments. Academic leaders have commented that their faculty often don’t accept the value of online learning and that it takes more time and effort to teach an online course. To what extent do these leaders see these issues and others as critical barriers to the widespread adoption of online learning?
The evidence: Problem areas identified in previous years are still seen as areas of concern among academic leaders.
  • Only 4.6 percent of Chief Academic Officers agreed that there are no significant barriers to widespread adoption of online learning.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the academic leaders cite the need for more discipline on the part of online students as a critical barrier.
  • Faculty issues, both acceptance of online and the need for greater time and effort to teach online, are also important barriers.
  • Neither a perceived lack of demand on the part of potential students nor the acceptance of an online degree by potential employers was seen as a critical barrier.

If 95.4% of the Chief academic officers say there are NO significant barriers to online learning, why are we not seeing high adoption of eLearning in the universities - especially the traditional ones? I have a problem though with the way the question was asked "There are No Significant Barriers to Widespread Adoption of Online Learning" and tend to think that the result would be significantly different if the question was "There are Significant Barriers to Widespread Adoption of Online Learning".

If student discipline is seen as a barrier to adoption of online education, what are the attributes that the online learners have to be regarded as disciplined?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Are African HEIs Missing out on eLearning?

Stephen R. Ruth in the current issue of educause discusses financial and strategic perspectives of eLearning in a study that found that the market for distance education is increasing annually by about 25%. In the paper, the revenues growth rates for for-profit higher education institutions in the USA that have adopted eLearning have quadrupled those of the traditional universities a fact that Stephen asks whether it is too good to be true. Other interesting findings are (excerpts):
  • Three-fourths of academic leaders at public colleges and universities believe that online learning quality equals or surpasses face-to-face instruction.
  • The larger the school, the more positive the belief in the quality of online learning compared to face-to-face instruction.

In the US, many traditional universities use eLearning, but are unwilling to offer fully online programs. This is a fact I have observed with the few universities that offer eLearning programs in Africa. There are suggested strategic/financial approaches suggested that the traditional universities can use to "achieve full utilization and possible profitability" from eLearning investments:
  • Investigate mergers and integration.
  • Establish a no-nonsense, globally oriented virtual university.
  • Limit bricks-and-mortar investment in favor of blended learning.
  • Support the deliberate proliferation of distance-learning adjunct faculty.
  • Accept that e-learning is costly but crucial.
I will highlight the last one, which I think the players in the African Higher Educations should concentrate on before checking on the other four. Stephen puts accepting that eLearning is the way to go " is an easier solution, far less painful than any of the approaches already suggested". A quote by Victor Hugo can be used to explain the eLearning idea: An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. And Stephen says "e-learning is a necessity, a significant convenience, an indispensable service, and a way of life".

And to answer my question, African Higher Education Institutions are missing big time on the eLearning issue. To the best of my knowledge, there is NO university in Africa that has an eLearning financial model to sustain it other than that financial vote that usually goes to the Information and Communication Technologies department. I can already see someone thinking that there is always the issue of lack of resources and some other excuses, but my question is what have the HEIs in Africa done (or are doing) with the meager resources at their disposal? We got first to work optimally with the little we have, stretching it for maximum returns and that would give us something, albeit small to grow.

Palaver: I am disturbed by the news that there are people who use the scarce bandwidth in Africa to watch and engage in pornography and other weird online behaviors at the expense of the taxpayers.

Hand-helds in Education

Today I had a very interesting conversation with my friend from Sokoine University of Agriculture. The talk was about using just-in-time and and what I would adaptive technology for learning. He had ideas of how to use hand-held devices in elearning - especially because the people who own cellphones in Tanzania has increased tremendously over the last few years. This according to him would extend the reach of education to people who are diversely located. One of my reservations though on the use of hand-held devices for learning is the type and size of content. Can the cellphones be used to convey meaningful - and I mean significant content that can be used as learning material? In as much as every technology would bring along its limitations and challenges, I do not think the cellphones are yet evolved for the level of interactivity in content, that I would say can facilitate learning. That is not to say that they can not be used in learning. I believe they can, for example in sending out notices, reminders and any information that can be sent in short messages, urgently.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Using Chat to Support Teaching and Learning

Today I was scheduled to attend a meeting outside town, to go there and find out the meeting was postponed without notice because the main presenters were not available. I just felt it was a wasted morning, but it was good I managed to pass by the barber shop for a clean shave. The taxi that I came back with was being driven by a lady, and behind her seat there was a big sticker "I am a Taxi Driver NOT a Woman Driver". It just hit me that we might still be experiencing stereotypes on the job choices when it comes to the gender and some jobs. Anyway, I managed to reach home and start my other scheduled activities for the weekend.

I received a call to assist someone with some assignment on Break-even Analysis and Sensitivity Analysis. I just remembered this topics I had encountered them 4 or 5 years back when I was doing my undergraduate degree. I think the course name was either Decision Support Systems or Operations Research or both. Since I engage financial arithmetics when colleagues and friends seek programming solutions for their assignments (sometimes someone brought to me the Black Scholes method to optimise some solution, I could see the disappointment on his face when I told him I had never heard of Black Scholes models), I had to take it on. Luckily it was some of those very straightforward things that I could find easily after doing a very simple web search. The next minute, I was the sage in financial accounts taking someone through profit and loss calculations, break-even analysis and so much more.

However, the focus of this blog is not more on the solution, but the media used to offer the solution. We were using an Instant Messenger (IM) to communicate (for the friend was in Kenya and am more than 3000 km away). It was interesting how for example I had to minimise the formula to fit the situation. Here is a snippet of the IM chat with permission from the anonymous friend. It has breaks where I put on comments to show the advantage and disadvantages of the chat as a teaching and learning tool.
(13:29:25) Anonymous: i am in the middle of calculating break even analysis, please assist
(13:30:06) James: break even analysis....
(13:30:21) James: I came across it in decision support system in my undergrad
(13:31:27) Anonymous: it is a team case study and have got to contribute....
(13:31:42) James: is it online?
(13:31:55) Anonymous: yes
(13:32:10) James: whats the url?
(13:32:43) Anonymous: let me attach it here, coz you'll need authority to login
(13:32:51) James: ok....
(Anonymous tries the inbult IM file sending option that does not work for us. A chat is only useful for text-based communication, and mainly when the text is not extending more than a couple of lines)
(13:41:00) Anonymous: did u receive my attachment?
(13:41:24) James: let me check
(13:41:35) James: no
(13:41:47) James: send it to my email
(13:46:16) Anonymous: whats ur address
(13:46:29) James: myemailaddress
(13:47:37) Anonymous: ok, thankks
(13:47:46) Anonymous: when do u respond to it?
(13:48:07) James: we can discuss
(13:48:15) James: if you will be online
(I believe in showing people how to fish, not to give them fish. I was alse learning, and I needed to learn together with Anonymous)
(13:48:21) James: I got it now
(13:48:23) Anonymous: when
(13:54:46) Anonymous: do we discuss now or later?
(13:55:01) James: lets go through it
(13:55:17) James: do you know the calculation of the first bit?
(The assignment had eight sections. The first one was straightforward. I also wanted to know where Anony got stuck)
(13:55:33) Anonymous: yes
(13:55:48) James: second?
(13:56:06) Anonymous: no
(I know now. I offer the formula)
(13:56:17) James: for that the formula is
(13:56:22) Anonymous: calculating break even analysis
(13:56:49) James: Break even= Fixed Cost/(unit price - variable unit cost)
(13:57:01) James: simply put
(13:57:29) James: Q=Fc/(Up-Vc)
(13:57:56) Anonymous: i'll work out later
(13:58:00) Anonymous: next
(14:00:41) James: a minute
(I receive a call from a friend and have to answer it, I need to inform Anony to hold for me. With the formula Anony can be able to proceed with the calculations)
(14:07:13) James: AC=Total Cost/# of units
(14:09:10) James: Fourth
(14:10:25) James: you can use the formular for one with 150,000 units
(14:10:53) James: derived from if 40%=60 000, 100%=?
(14:11:06) James: got it?
(14:11:37) Anonymous: yes
(14:12:09) James: for four, adjust the Vc=150 000*30
(14:13:16) James: six follows the same formula
(14:13:23) James: but with 120 000 units
(14:13:56) James: ditto to seven
(14:14:04) Anonymous: ok
(14:14:13) James: and the rest are discussions
(14:14:23) Anonymous: thanks a million
(14:14:29) James: Do you see the whole picture now?
(14:14:49) Anonymous: i'll workout the rest iin the evining, i owe you one
(14:15:55) Anonymous: u going out for a drink?
(14:16:18) carice2: am not drinking this weekend
(Anony now comfortable and happy with the help so far)
(14:16:56) James: let me forward you a powerpoint ppt that I have downloaded from the net, and check out if it is helpful
From the above, the chat can be used to support and enhance teaching and learning. However, it is not possible for one to simultaneously offer support to more than a given minimum number of students. Also, its archival is sometimes limited as it is too personal to be opened up to the rest as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that those who might be having the same problem can refer to.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Are you Using Ubuntu in Schools?

Today I attended a function to launch the IADP International Association for Digital Publications' (IADP) Affordable Access Program for South Africa. The special guest at the function was the South African Minister for Education Naledi Pandor. Her speech touched on various issues of importance to education. However, she is like my dad who is neither a digital immigrant nor a digital native, maybe more advanced than my dad because she can use a computer. She said that earlier in parliament, the Minister for Finance had sent a missive to her asking her "Now that you are rolling out computers in schools, are you using Ubuntu?". She did not know what Ubuntu is, despite it being a household name here in South Africa. Luckily she had the local daily which, while she was scanning through she had seen Ubuntu being mentioned. She quickly opened it and read through and discovered that Ubuntu is a computer 'system'. With this vital knowledge, she sends a reply back to Trevor "Yes, my department is looking of ways of rolling out computers with Ubuntu". She say she thinks that the Finance Minister went home thinking that she knows what Ubuntu really was.

For my readers who are like the minister, Ubuntu is a linux-based operating system that is available as a free and open source software.

Do you use Ubuntu or any other free and open source software?

Open Access, Free & Open Content & Coursware

There is an anonymous comment on my blog "eLearning in Kenya Universities" to the effect "e-courses on CD courseware because we first got to resolve the big issue of content ownership. Lecturers seem to believe only in selling their courses and feel that they are not being paid for putting their course lectures in public domain". I agree with the author of the comment that Intellectual Property (IP) is a big issue especially when it comes to digital publishing. However, I do not agree with the notion that knowledge is a commodity that should be out there for auction to the highest bidder. In my earlier post, I mentioned that knowledge becomes power when its transferable, and can be used to improve and enrich lives. You are not powerful if you have the knowledge that you have intentionally hoarded. To put it into context, I will copy-n-paste blog I had done elsewhere on open access. Here it goes.
Open Access (OA) is resources or allowing resources to be openly (as opposed to closed, clandestinely held, or shut) available to users without restrictions or requirements for authentication or payment. OA initiatives ensure that any information that is deemed helpful to the society is opened up to the community.

From the scholarship point of view, the focus for the OA drive would be to have the all the academic articles published from renowned journals, and that researchers and scholars in the institutions need, be made openly accessible. There would be an incredible cost saving from the exorbitant prices imposed on the purchase or subscription to such journals. The money saved can be channeled to other uses. This can be made possible especially because most of the research publications are from research that has already been funded by other agencies. Achieving the OA from the scholarship point of view can be done by negotiating with the academics and researchers who publish those journals to openly avail them (divide and rule), or by negotiating with the publishers to publish the journals in OA.

What are the advantages that you gain as an individual by availing your materials for Open Access? I will give three reasons. One, you will be fulfilling your moral duty and obligation to the society for giving back to them. Recognising that the research that you undertook would not have been possible were it not of the society that was there. This is in the premise that there is no research that is done in a ‘vacuum’ or on an ‘island’ without people. Secondly, you are empowering others, who would otherwise not be. This in a way will create a fertile ground for you to do further research, and also get some feedback from more people who might have been looked out by lack of access to your research. Thirdly, you are fulfilling the very reason of your research – solving problems for humanity. By locking your research finding to the few who can afford the prices, you are propagating human problems that you claim to solve in your research. People who can not afford to get your solutions will seek solutions using other means thereby allowing unnecessary duplication of efforts and costs.

I maintain that providing open or free access to your course content empowers you, as you will get feedback, and it does not in anyway debar you. There are examples of Open Courseware Initiatives (OCI) that one can emulate. The widely refereed is the MIT. There is also a host of other organisations that have availed their materials openly and freely. Others have chosen to use the less restrictive licenses like the Creative Commons.

So do you have the knowledge power?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Communication in the Digital Era (error)

Whenever I want to talk to my dad, I send an SMS text to inform him I will be calling at a certain time. My dad is neither a digital native nor a digital immigrant. He is just there. For this discussion, a digital native is a person who was born and brought up in the digital era. Digital immigrants are those 'people of before' who, even though they were not born in the digital era, they have 'migrated' to it. My dad was not born in the era, and he has adamantly refused to migrate. His radio 'shikas only one station', only that the station is not Capital FM, but Citizen so that he can listen to 'Wembe' and another dude I do not like (his presentations) called Mohamed Juma Njuguna.
In the era where bytes portray some power, and whoever is able to communicate using them is highly (although not any longer) regarded, I still find some digital natives who come up with every reason not to use technology to communicate. There are others who use it to communicate but inappropriately, and there those who can ONLY communicate using technology, when it comes to constructing a simple sentence in a f2f conversation they fall flat on their bellies. There are also the class of the people especially in the field of Open Source Software (where I belong) who, INMHO (In my humble opinion), use every jargon to prove that we are not compatible with the rest.
So what is the best communication in the digital era?
I believe the KISS (keeping it simple, stupid) is the best way to approach communication. Digital Communication 101 (The first course in digital communication) should train people on how to use an understandable way of communication. For instance, I receive calls from my elearning clients that "the site kicked me out". Surely, how can a site kick a person out? Is it a figure of speech that my English teacher didn't think was important? How then would you explain to such a client what is happening? Do you tell her(not to be accused of gender bias) that the site is meant to 'kick' her out if she is just idling for more than the minimum time set in it for her own security? Or do you tell him "You were actually not kicked out, your session expired"?

Digital communication 101 to continue.

A guide to paper work.

This is a brief guide to inform all of the people who would care to know what it entails to get a student visa in South Africa. It is just paperwork that can sometimes get into your nerves.

The obvious:
A passport valid ore than 30 days after the expiry of the intended study permit.
R425 or $47 or its equivalent (if you are passing through an agent, add some more $$$)
For the under-18s proof of guardianship and its transfer thereof.

The easy to get
1. The police clearance (Certificate of Good Conduct) from CID headquarters.
2. Us$ 600 or R3030 or its equivalent as repatriation fees, just in case there is need to deport you.
3. Letter of acceptance from the institution you intend to study in.
4. The course outline
5. The fees outline of the intended course.
6. Full medical certificate and radiological report.

The not-so-easy to get
1. Proof of financial means to support you through the intended period of study.
2. Proof of medical cover for the period you are in SA.
3. The application forms.

Its a document driven process and you should not laugh if you find someone asking to get the signature of your dead great grandfather on one of the forms.

Reading, Oh Reading

Last night, just before I slept I wrote the blog about reading. I thought laying something about the feelings that I experience whenever I have to read will make me better prepared for a reading journey. Was I wrong, or its just another reason not to read? Anyway this is not the topic for discussion today. I just want to mention that my PhD proposal has gone through the second and most crucial stages in the process. I can now, officially say I have an admission for next year. The first stage was its development with the supervisors and departmental presentations where it went in cycles, each cycle coming back to me me with lots, and I mean lots of suggested modifications - that were time bound. The second phase is the faculty Higher Degrees committee where they gauge if a student has enough energy* to do the study. The third phase is the Senate Higher Degrees committee.

It is a long process, but for now, am concentrating on the comments of the second phase. The comments are just simple to understand, too abstract to do but doable, and too much to read. The comments are:
1. Please ensure that your proposal outline and proposed thesis outline strictly follow the faculty guidelines on proposals and thesis.
2. Ensure that you do extensive reading to get deep into your subject, refine your research methodology, and improve your proposal (it will be chapter one of your thesis).
3. Make sure the scope of work you set to do is achievable within the 2-3 years you are doing your PhD.

Seems that I will have to start reading right away, the technical outline of the proposal and thesis can be done in a day when the other things are in place.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Triggering and Maintaining a Desire to Learn

What is the best way to trigger and maintain an urge or desire to learn?

I ask this because whenever I feel like I should know anything or something, and the only way to know is to engage or interact with some literature, people, contexts, and so forth, I feel a certain edge of discomfort. I do not want to start, although the need to know is so irresistible. This is the time I feel I should sleep, go out to bask, drink a beer, do my dishes and all those sundry things just to find a reason not to engage with knowledge searching/building/acquisition. I often find myself looking for a reason why I should not engage with any learning. I procrastinate. Unfortunately, if I heed to any of these, when the obstructing session is gone, there is no more urge to know. I believe there is pain in knowing, there is more discomfort in knowledge, BUT there is more pain in knowing that you have intentionally killed an opportunity to know, that you have failed in creating knowledge that would have saved mankind from its problems or still you have looked on as your time on earth elapse fruitlessly. However, there is relief in ignorance because the mental disposition that would have been caused by such knowledge formula is not going to haunt me - but how long will I resist the need to know?

Why should I sit here reading for 3 hours everyday? I mean to ask, what knowledge is enough knowledge? Is knowledge like money or power that when you get drunk of it you want more? Does one actually get drunk of knowledge? When does knowledge become power? For me, knowledge becomes power when its being transfered from one person to the other or from one state/form to another. I do not have the power in knowledge if I cannot be able to empower others with the knowledge I have, transform it from one form to another, use it to create solutions, use it to predict and forecast on the future - in short to improve and enrich life. This can only be done by foreshadowing the past, living the present and prognosticating the future. Therefore, once there is the disturbance of the mind with genuine need to learn, there is no end to the hunt for knowledge.

Seems like I do not have a reason to procrastinate today. I will seek knowledge first. Think of this: A politician would tell me knowledge would become power when its in the hands of the people. It is the same politician who would like to blatantly lie to me, even when he knows that I posses the knowledge-power. I can tell from the letters of his words that he is telling a lie. So in this case who has power?

If you read this, and have answer to any of the questions send them to me, else seek ye knowledge.

New generation of web-based tools

New generation of web-based tools for elearning and challenges of elearning

I am reposting this blog that I did sometimes back and posted it on this site. I repost it here to seek new discussions on the Web 2.0 tools and any other technology that we can use for elearning, especially focusing on the learners' ability to develop themselves as knowledge builders, showing creativity and developing an active community of learners.

What are the new generation tools for elearning? What are the challenges of elearning?

In doing this blog, I did not have the right title that would capture the message I need to convey. I started of with “E-learning Technology and Tools for the Medical Field” later to “Advances in e-learning tools for e-health” to “Advances in E-Learning tools for Online Health Profession and Education” and finally to the one appearing here. Although the papers discussed here are from the medical field, the tools and approaches can used in any discipline for an online learning experience. The quest to write this blog was triggered by two articles published recently, dealing particularly with e-learning tools and technologies for the medical field. Boulos, Maramba and Wheeler (2006) demonstrate a set of Web 2.0 tools available for use in the medical field while Clegg and Heap (2006) expounds on ways of dealing with the challenges of e-learning in the medical field. It is worth mentioning that both journal articles are available as “Open Access”.

Web 2.0 tools is a collection of website features that seek to take control of both their use and content to the end users and have certain characteristics like simplicity and flexibility, provision of rich user experience, compatibility with a variety of media and devices, Open to access, decentralized and using the web as a platform. These tools include but not limited to Wikis, Blogs, Podcasts, social software and RSS(Rich Site Summary/Really Simple Syndication).

Boulos and colleagues (2006) argue that the Web 2.0 tools and specifically blogs, wikis and podcasts are easy, cheap and easily available especially because they are distributed as Open Source. They continue to say that “if effectively deployed, wikis, blogs and podcasts could offer a way to enhance students', clinicians’' and patients' learning experiences, and deepen levels of learners' engagement and collaboration within digital learning environments”. Podcasts “have the potential of offering superior support for auditory learners....and visual learners in case of vodcasts”. The authors note however, that these tools have their own disadvantages like being prone to vandalism because of their openness, copyright infringements, anonymity of wiki authors especially where such wikis are to be used for assessment purposes. To counter these disadvantages the authors recommend moderation and monitoring of open wikis and blogs which can be time consuming; using a closed scenario where the access to the tools is restricted to a certain group of people; and seeking copyright/patent approvals when posting copyrighted/patented information on the blogs and wikis. On the issue of pedagogy and teaching practices, the authors recommend that “research should be conducted to determine the best ways to integrate these tools into existing e-Learning programmes for students, health professionals and patients, taking into account the different, but also overlapping, needs of these three audience classes and the opportunities of virtual collaboration between them.”

Clegg and Heap (2006) shows innovative ways that can be used to deal with the challenges of elearning, especially e-moderation in contexts where learners are independent and the tutors take the roles of facilitators and resource persons. In their paper they address the questions raised by this approach:

• How do facilitators recognize the need to intervene in discussions?

• How successful are they at recognizing potential intervention points?

• What style of facilitation is appropriate in the context of e-learning?

• How do facilitators promote independent learning within the module?

• How do facilitators balance the need to give students space to solve their own problems with the need to address anxieties that students may feel in an e-learning environment?

To deal with these questions, they review three message boards that “can be considered to represent three levels of a hierarchy of abstraction in term of the cognitive skill required by the student.” At each level, they recommend a number of facilitator interventions:

Level 1 - presenting self, relating to each other, making sense of self in relation to others; In this level, the facilitator should be responsive, nonjudgmental, encouraging, promoting discussions and descriptions, validating feelings, acknowledging concerns, giving advice on resources, and acting with prudent inaction(purposefully doing nothing).

Level 2 - relating new concepts to practice, making sense of professional relationships and clinical environments.
In this level the facilitator should demonstrate that is available and listening to the learners, probe and tease out of professional issues, give online support, providing additional resources, give positive feedback and reinforcements, raise subjects for debates and link theory to practice.

Level 3 - relating new (statistical) concepts to challenging academic materials.
At this level the students have some level of control of their learning process and the role of the facilitator is to maintain positive relationships with students, giving clear and positive feedback aimed at developing professional and academic confidence, challenging misconceptions, questioning global statements and ambiguities, encouraging students – especially on intellectual risk-taking and interactivity in difficult concepts, encouraging students independence, clarifying expectations of academic work and encouraging accuracy of referencing.

To achieve this, the facilitator needs to be equipped with facilitation skills. If facilitators adopted the model by Clegg and Heap, some of the concerns raised by Boulos and colleagues would be dealt with making a very successful learning experience for both learners and facilitators.


Boulos, M., Maramba, I., & Wheeler, S. 2006,Wikis, blogs and podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education, BMC Medical Education 2006, 6(41). Available from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6920/6/41 External link (accessed September 3, 2006).

Clegg, P., and J. Heap. 2006. Facing the challenge of e-learning: Reflections on Teaching Evidence-Based Practice through Online Discussion Groups. Innovate 2 (6). Available from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=290 External link (accessed September 3, 2006).

Further Reading

O'Reilly, T,. 2005. What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, self published on http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html External link [Accessed September 3, 2006]

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

About Teaching and Learning

The last two days have been very informative for me. I attended a Teaching and Learning colloquium where academics and stakeholders were exchanging ideas around and on issues of teaching and learning. Although I left the the venue with more questions and answers, I learnt one or two things. For now, I will just post the questions that came up in my mind, and hope in the subsequent discussions I will elaborate on them. The questions not in any particular order.
Is the teaching and learning field broken? Does it need fixing? What need to be fixed? Who should fix it?

Are educational institutions fighting for freedom through education or freedom for education?

What is the importance of teaching and learning? What is the importance of scholarship of teaching? What is the importance of the culture of teaching? What is the importance of learning materials?

What should students know in order to ask questions about the future? How would students be encouraged to define and create their world views? How do students learn? How do we teach? What is defined by the culture and heritage? How are we encouraging students to drive innovation in Higher Education? How are we realigning the teaching and learning in the wake of technological innovations?

Is good teaching a skill that can be taught? how?

How do we shape our schools and teachers for teaching and learning?

What are we using to evaluate the success of teaching and learning? Can we justify the use of the evaluation tool?

If marks are what motivates students to learn, then why don't we link evaluations to mark?

Why do academics fail to use or adopt elearning? For those who do, why do they use it?

What is the role and responsibility of government in improving the quantity and quality of educational output?

Monday, October 30, 2006

I am an eLearning Fundi

Why the name Fundi?

Fundi is a Zulu and Swahili word for an expert or specialist or a skilled craftsman. I have been in eLearning, in the context of Higher Educaiton both in the Kenya and South Africa. I have worked in many eLearning projects, and being a strong believer in my potential, I thing I rightly deserver the title eLearning Fundi. I believe that eLearning specifically in Higher Education in Africa is a reality that has come, that cannot be lightly wished off, that will test a Universities future success in terms of reaching out wider and newer markets. The sooner the Higher Learning institutions adopt and implement eLearning the better their chances for the future.

So what do the Higher Education institutions need to do? Lets engage in a creative discussion that would answer this question or more.

eLearning in Kenya Universities

Killing my curiosity this Sunday, I decided to go through the websites of the Higher Educations institutions in Kenya to check about the level and status of use of eLearning. This is where all the dons are on strike asking their respective employers to add some dimes on their plates. Whether they are justified or not to go on strike is a topic for another discussion. Now to my topic.

Elearning is my pet project, what I breath, talk, dream, see and live. I share the content, vision and proposals of the World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty First Century (WDHE). In WDHE's preamble it is noted that there is an increased demand for and great diversification in higher education. Higher education is presented with promising opportunities relating to technologies. However, these opportunities have been a challenge in using them to improving the information processes within the Higher Educational Institutions. Article 12 of the declaration enumerates the potential and challenges of technology that are posed to higher education. It also states that: “…higher education should lead in drawing on the advantages and potential of new information and communication technologies, ensuring quality and maintaining high standards for education practices and outcomes in a spirit of openness, equity and international co-operation. [This can be done through the adoption of a number of approaches among them]…creating new learning environments, ranging from distance education facilities to complete virtual higher education institutions and systems, capable of bridging distances and developing high-quality systems of education… [and] … taking the new possibilities created by the use of ICTs into account” (pg 8). It is this in mind that I set to audit what the situation in the Kenyan landscape.

I started off by going to the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) website (http://che.or.ke) just to look for the accredited universities. The site was so helpful in offering me the listing of the universities. However, it would have been more helpful if there was more information like the act(s) of parliament that define the universities, give the CHE its mandate among other documentation. I will not comment about the website either because it was not part of my scope when I started to look around. Also there is a disclaimer that the "Website is undergoing total reconstruction [and]..[U]sers are requested to bear with the Commission during the period when this process is being undertaken". All in all, a company has shamelessly signed the pages as the one that designed it.

According to CHE, there are 4 categories of Universities which fall within the two broad groups, private or public (http://che.or.ke). There are seven public universities in Kenya (despite the fact that the latest news have been showing six), and on the private section six private universities with charters, six registered universities and five universities "operating with Letters of Interim Authority".

Starting with the public universities, there is the University of Nairobi (UoN), where am an alumnus (http://www.uonbi.ac.ke). The university in its home page has a link to an "Elearning Platform". Clicking the link takes me to a page "On-Going Projects in the e-Learning Section of MIS". Some of the urls are inaccessible because addresses given are within the local internet domain (only accessible within the UoN network). The page has some interesting projects on eLearning going on, with a link with some 48 odd courses that are available on CD for distribution to students "owing to complaints of unstable access to the University Intranet from some campuses as well as students' limited access to computer labs". I can attest to the fact of the unstable access of the internet because it took me more than 5 minutes to get a page load from one of the listed urls on the eLearning page. Since I did not see an eLearning strategy on the eLearning page, had to go back and check if I will get the university's strategy document. There was not intuitive link on the home page, so I did my favourite, Google it. I do not manage to get anything on the university's strategy, thought there are departmental strategic plans which I only manage to download after a number of time-outs. I do not know whether this is a clear indication that the UoN does not have an eLearning strategy, or may it is just somewhere that I cannot get, for whatever reason.

Next in line in the CHE Website is the Moi University (MU). Moi University in its website does not have a link to eLearning. In the whole site, searches give only one entrance of the word eLearning. In the occurrence, there is a statement the University is working with partners on a project MU-VLIR-UOS through which the ICT center " plans to develop among others; Student Information Systems, Human Resource Information Systems, Financial Information Management Systems besides the development of a comprehensive content platform to foster e-learning at Moi University". Like the case in the UoN, a search does not return a strategy document for the university. However there are the Foreword and Acknowledgement of the document - though it was not somewhere I could easily access it on the web. Elearning seems to be a new word for MU.

The next stop is Kenyatta University (KU). It has for a long time been associated with the Africa Virtual University (AVU) which delivers its courses through eLearning. Through this association I expected to find a more developed eLearning initiative at the University than in MU and UoN. However, that was not the case. First, for 30 minutes, the site was not accessible, giving me a time-out error. Secondly, even though the site listed some programmes being offered through eLearning, there was is no cohesion between what is being offered on eLearning and what is being taught at the university. Thirdly, there was no eLearning strategy, though KU is a step ahead of the rest in that it has an eLearning site that provides some information albeit minimal for what I was looking for.

Egerton University (EU) is listed fourth in the CHE website. Although am determined to finish the review, the sites from Kenya are annoyingly slow. On troubleshooting, I find that there is a link problem between tenet (my provider) and Jumbonet and keenest. I have some reason to try once more and find that EU's site (http://www.egerton.ac.ke) does not have a link to eLearning. The only place that seems to have some activity on eLearning is its Nakuru Town Campus, whose site I cannot access for now. An excerpt of the University's strategic plan posted on the web (www.egerton.ac.ke/download/performance/Strategies.pdf) fall short of mentioning eLearning both at the ICT's strategic and the Access to Education objectives. If there are other documentations accessible on the net, they are not apparent.

In central Kenya there is the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). Whenever I think of it, I remember Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), but this is not the topic today. The JKUAT site (http://www.jkuat.ac.ke) seems to be faster than the once I have accessed so far. A search for eLearning takes me to its eLearning site (http://kewl.jkuat.ac.ke). One sad thing though, the administrator of the site copied a story I had put for the eLearning site of the University of the Western Cape(http://elearn.uwc.ac.za) about students login with their student numbers without even editing it to remove the reference to UWC. It is just funny. Like all the other universities above, it does not have a publicly accessible strategy document, or at least I could not easily locate it. Time to go to Western Kenya.

In Nyanza, I get to Maseno University (http://www.maseno.ac.ke). Maseno's site has an image place holder to a link to "Open & Distance E-learning Programme" which is not hyperlinked. I tried all the possible combinations and searches to no avail. Searches like ICT and eLearning returned not a single hit. I can conclude that for Maseno, eLearning is just but a pipeline dream.

Finally, for the public Universities, there is the Western University College of Science and Technology (WUST). It is listed in the CHE site without a link to its website (http://www.wust.ac.ke), and also Moi University mentions it as one of its campuses. That’s not the concern for this article though. My searches return nothing for eLearning and a few hits for ICT not related to teaching and learning. Nothing for eLearning, maybe having borrowed leave from its mother college.

On the private universities side, I start with the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton (UEAB). Its site (http://www.ueab.ac.ke) does not have a thing about eLearning or ICT. It has nice pictures though, I liked the one of the cows.

From Baraton, I head back to Nairobi's Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA). It is the only university in Kenya with a unique domain name (http://www.cuea.edu). It took about 6 minutes to load the home page. A search for eLearning and ICT brought no results. I checked on the links, and tried on the facilities link but got a 404 error (Page not found) on its links.

Daystar University's (DU) site was relatively fast to load. The first page of the site (http://www.daystar.ac.ke) has a nice picture of a lady wearing beaded ornaments. At DU, eLearning is still a foreign idea waiting for "the day dawn and the day star to arise".

Surprisingly, I did not expect the Scott Theological College (STC) to be listed as a chartered university. Its homepage (http://www.scott.ac.ke) has a picture of a computer lesson in progress. A search for the use of eLearning was in futility. I humbly conclude that for now, it cannot use ICT or eLearning to reach to its clientele.

The United States International University (USIU) Nairobi's site is pretty slow just like the site of the other universities in Kenya (despite the name). In its homepage (http://www.usiu.ac.ke) there is a link to eLearning site (http://elearn.usiu.ac.ke). Most of the eLearning links in the site are available in its intranet maybe suggesting that they current focus is students within campus. There is an externally accessible link to WebCT though. Seems eLearning is taking place at USIU. The welcome quote on the webpage??? "Welcome to The United States International University - a unique and remarkable institution of higher learning. Our concept, experienced by thousands of successful alumni around the globe, is simple: gather students from diverse cultures at a university located in beautiful surroundings and challenge them to learn". I have seen it somewhere.... is it paraphrased from one of those adverts/slogans by the Spur Restaurants?

The Africa Nazarene University (ANU) is the last stop in the Private Chartered Universities. Although ANU has taken "a different way to Higher Education" (http://www.anu.ac.ke), it has not taken the eLearning way. Although it claims to have necessary facilities to that can support eLearning in my opinion, nothing has been posted on the site as proof that it is moving in that direction.

For the remaining universities as listed in the CHE website, I would look at them when I have time. They are:

Registered Universities
The East Africa School of Theology
The Kenya Highlands Bible College
The Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology
The Nairobi International School of Theology
The Pan Africa Christian College
St Paul’s United Theological College

Universities operating under Letters of Interim Authority
The Kenya Methodist University
Kabarak University
Kiriri Women's University of Science and Technology
Agha Khan University
Strathmore University

From the brief summary above, if the websites analysis is something to go by, it is justifiable to conclude that in Kenya, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are a distance away from reaping the benefits of eLearning. My main questions for now are: Are these HEIs aware of eLearning, its potential, promises and benefits? Is there anything that is being done that has not been reflected on their respective websites? Is there anything in the pipeline in the arena of eLearning? Are there collaborative projects going on among the HEIs institutions themselves, and among HEIs and the corporate world toward eLearning use in the HEIs? What of the government? What is the government of Kenya doing to ensure and improve access to education through the use of technology?

The whole WHDE report is available from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001419/141952e.pdf