Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Pedagogy before technology?


Picture credit: Mr. Tadele Mulat/Jimma University, Ethiopia
To implement online learning, we need a technology platform. However, without the knowledge of pedagogy, implementing e-learning is like being on a ship on the ocean without a captain. Pedagogy is key for implementing all learning including online learning. Pedagogy is a profession, or science of teaching, that is concerned with the study of, and practice of, how best to teach. It is a tool for managing teaching content in a specific manner.

Technology plays an important and pervasive role in modern education, business and everyday living. It is associated with an efficient modern society and economic health. The use of digital technology for improving the delivery of education has enormous potential to raise standards and increase employability. It also requires a change in teaching style, a change in learning approaches, and a change in access to information.

Online learning is a way of teaching modalities to learners who do not need to physically attend classes on campus. As it is a system of learning using the internet, online learning means students can attend the classes without being limited by time, distance and geographical constraints. This is an opportunity to provide online learning to learners who may find it difficult to come to campus for a variety of reasons and so providing online learning can be a way to ensure your courses are more effectively designed and taken up by your target audience.

For this reason the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), drawing on the work of the African Universities’ Research Approaches (AURA) programme, coordinated  a two day workshop at Strathmore University, Kenya on “Developing a strategic plan to operationalize investments in strengthening research and teaching ” (July 27 & 28, 2016).  The workshop was attended by Jimma University, Ethiopia; Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Tanzania; and Kenyatta University and Strathmore University, both in Kenya. An important aim of the workshop was to focus on strategies for implementing e-learning for research and teaching.

Producing an operational plan: a starting point for online learning

On the first day, our training focused on what the operational plan means and how it looks in terms of the main content that needs to be included. This topic was presented by Jagdeep Shokar, IDS.
The content that should be included in an operational plan include:

  • An executive summary (what the plan aims to achieve, why this is important and how it will go about achieving this)
  • The lead person (i.e. the individual who will lead the overall activities of the project)
  • Background or content
  • Outcome and output,
  • Resources
  • Risks and challenges. 

As, at Jimma, we have not had many opportunities to think about our operational plans in this way before, it was useful to go over these basic steps.  Since we are keen to address the challenges of developing e-learning at Jimma, writing an operational plan that will include strategies for implementing our e-learning was a useful starting point.  

Blended learning can be a useful approach (using a mix of online and face-to-face)

It was interesting to hear Professor Gilbert Kokwano, from Strathmore University Business School, highlight the importance of online access even if the connectivity is not perfect. He believes that using a blended learning approach is better than just face-to-face learning and would be a good approach for education, in particular in an African context. He also emphasized that multidisciplinary or geographical variations, of learners coming together in one place (online or face-to-face) enables individuals to learn through others’ experiences.  After the presentation we had the opportunity to reflect on how we relate to each institution on online learning. What was significant here was there were different experiences, and contexts, expressed in the group which allowed us to appreciate that we are not alone in the challenges we face at Jimma.

Open Access

Professor Martin Weller’s film on “Digital scholarship and openness in Higher Education” made us excited. Weller explores how digital network technology and open access movements are very vital for sharing resources. In terms of promoting your research to a wider audience, open access can be more vital for reaching out than academic publishing channels as open access are available to the public and academic journals can be costly.

Weller adds that the quality of online learning can be as good as face-to-face learning, provided that it is designed appropriately for an online environment. In sharing his insights - like the impact of new technologies, open education and learning environments - Weller has given us some ideas and approaches that we can take back and apply within our institutions.   For me these are inspiring ideas because one of the areas we want to develop at Jimma is our online learning.  The concept of applying a pedagogical approach to enriching our e-learning strategy and plans for the future is a good place to start.

Getting support is key to developing online learning

Irene Maweu, e/merge Africa, talked about “E/merge Africa: unleashing the power of networks in Africa”.  E/merge Africa is a free membership group created in Africa in order to share online support, IT support, course delivery, facilitating webinar etc.  Since she is an expert in human capacity development and communication, especially in e-learning, course design and content development, she had some valuable information for us (e/merge Africa could be a way that we can get some support for our plans to develop our online learning).

Esther Gacicio, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), specializes in instructional designer and content development as well as e-learning facilitation has talked about “Moving teachers competencies in curriculum delivery to the 21 first century”.  KICD’s objective is to give training for the Kenyan elementary and high school teachers on how they can develop curriculum and implement on their activities of teaching and learning processes in the entire nation (Kenya). Ethiopia does not yet have an institution like KICD looking at this area – there is a clear need for an institution like this in my country – although the Ministry of Education has played such roles at different times for different universities, high schools and for elementary teachers.

Luis Arnoldo Ordonez Vela spoke about “building collaboration interdisciplinary groups with the support of technology tools and social media”. His current research interests focus on the determinants of participation in society and the impact of digital technologies, specifically, the role of information in decision-making mechanisms in the Latin American environment and mobilization of knowledge between universities and Latin American society. His presentation was more on how we can share and transfer knowledge through social media, libraries, culture, ICCT etc. He also shares how collaborative research is very important for the development of any country. This is an interesting perspective for me because in Ethiopia, there is a need for a more inclusive, interdisciplinary approach and developing our technology tools, and fostering usage, would be a valuable step in progressing our country to being an efficient modern society enjoying better economic health. In Jimma, we have started working with an interdisciplinary approach and can really see the benefits; however, good access to the internet remains a serious challenge which, until it is overcome, prevents us from being in a position to take up the challenge of sharing and transferring knowledge in this way.

Preparing our operational plans

We also had the opportunity, during the two-day workshop, to prepare operational plans for each institution which we did in groups with support from the presenters and facilitators. Through the process, our guide reiterated that pedagogy, ICT and content experts are very vital in order to implement successful online learning. After the discussion, and once work on operational plans had concluded, one presenter selected from each group presented the plan that had been worked on. At the end of each group presentation there was several questions and discussions in order to shape the operational plan of each institution.  I found it a useful process to work on an operational plan for Jimma as a group as it allowed our group to discuss our context in detail, in particular the challenges we face in delivering online learning, and to work through our concerns with support from the facilitators and experts.  

Exploring teaching styles

On the second day, we looked different teaching styles which was facilitated by Siobhan Duvigneau, IDS, and utilized a number of quizzes on teaching styles which are available online (through Google). We have got a lot of experiences from the sites that we visited, and we tried to answer the quizzes to the best of our knowledge.  The focus of Siobhan’s agenda was: exploring how to improve teaching and learning experiences, behaviours and skills. She is passionate about approaches that foster critical thinkers, independent and self-directed learners who are confident networks, problem-solvers and knowledge co-creators. 

Teaching methods are general principles, or pedagogy, used for classroom instruction. There are different teaching styles in the world. Each country or university has its own teaching styles depending on the curriculum they have. For me, a student-centered approach is very important. It is a teaching method that focuses on student investigation and hands-on learning. In this method the instructor role is facilitating, providing guidance and supporting of students through the learning process, so that students play an active and participatory role in their own learning process. So, this is very important for Ethiopia/Jimma University in order to create skillful students to have their own jobs than seeking from the government.

The next presenter was Dr. Philipp Grunewald. He asked us to reflect on yesterday’s work (operational planning) on how was that useful to me and to my university? According to Philipp, when we are involved in teaching and research, we can contribute knowledge to the community and to the entire nation. This indicates that better teaching, and better teachers, will be created. He gave a strong emphasis on knowledge and skill. As a teacher we have to teach students to gain more skill than knowledge. To increase employability, we need to focus on active learning rather than passive learning; train students to be job makers rather than job seekers. In that context, Dr Grunewald is inquiring how creative commons and open source software can support social systems (organizations, corporations, enterprises, social movements, etc.)

In order to alleviate problems in Ethiopia, students who have graduated from the universities should become involved in the private sector and look at creating jobs for themselves rather than seeking work from the government. So, the universities strategy, when they teach students, should focus on skill rather than knowledge. If students are mature in skill, they might have a possibility to create jobs rather than seeking them from the government. I think this is the good idea that I got from the workshop.


Do you believe that pedagogy comes before technology?  I am still reflecting on this question as a result of all that I experienced in the two day workshop and it seems to me that pedagogy is quite key for designing online courses, and that e-learning (or a blend of face-to-face and e-learning) could provide opportunities in an African context which will really progress our education and research agendas.  However, it was also beneficial to look in detail at developing an operational plan that includes strategies for online learning as this is what an institution really needs in order to support teaching and research. 

Last, but not least, I would like to thank the host organizer (Strathmore University, Kenya) and also the sponsor organization IDS and the AURA project team members.

Mr. Tadele Mulat, ICT Team Leader, Jimma University Library System 

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