UFH Online Teaching and Learning During Lockdown: Milestones and Plans

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The Covid-19 pandemic is a game-changer that has compelled all sectors to adapt to a new normal.  For the Higher Education sector, the new normal implies migration from traditional to remote teaching and learning. It  entails the introduction of  blended teaching and learning modalities which may include contact classes,  online learning and in some cases, delivery of printed study materials to students, wherever they may be during lockdown.

At the University of Fort Hare, preparation for online teaching and learning started before the onset of lockdown. An Online Teaching and Learning Task Team was formed to get the ball rolling. Modules and course materials were moved online. Training and support was and still continues to be provided to ensure academic staff and students adapt to the new way of teaching and learning.  

Prof Vuyisile Nkonki, Director of the Teaching and Learning shared with This Week @FortHare  some of the milestones achieved thus far as well as future plans for online teaching and learning.

According to Prof Nkonki, using the Blackboard Learning Management System has offered the university an opportunity to continue with academic activities during trying times imposed by Covid-19. “The pandemic has forced academic staff and  students to accustom themselves to remote teaching and learning offerings during the lockdown period,” he said.

Milestones

There has been  rapid increase in the number of active courses, course views, instructor users, page views and student users on Blackboard. This is evidence that the UFH community has heeded the call to do their utmost to ensure academic continuity through remote online learning.

Below is the Blackboard overall use statistics for the period between 29 March and 23 April 2020, as reflected in Blackboard Analytics:

Active courses   -  1047

Student users    -14565

Instructor users - 509

Course views     -27295

Page views          -59337

While acknowledging challenges with connectivity and zero-rated data, course views in particular show that a significant number of students accessed the materials uploaded on Blackboard. In addition, page views show that many students were able to log in. Online engagements and interactions are continuing on Blackboard Collaborate, Microsoft Teams, and on social media platforms such as WhatsApp.

Peer facilitators offer further support to students through the WhatsApp platform. In just 23 days, WhatsApp group statistics show that just over 2000 students attended 67 Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions conducted by SI leaders who are supervised by the Teaching and Learning Centre.  These are remarkable and encouraging figures, given that few students have laptops and smartphones.

Way forward

The UFH Online Task Team is working hard to ensure that all modules are uploaded on Blackboard. Monitoring of the quality of materials uploaded and vetting of  online engagements will follow to ensure standardisation.

The critical role played by online programmes has also shown the urgent need for the university to upgrade its online systems with up to date infrastructure.  There are ongoing discussions to move to Blackboard Ultra to maximise the benefits of remote online teaching and learning within the institution.

A comprehensive proposal for  the University Capacity Development Programme and Grant (UCDG) budget reprioritisation and adjustments for submission to DHET has been drawn up.  This will enable  the upscaling of technology-enhanced learning infrastructure.

Additionally, there are plans to acquire lecture/screen capture software, curriculum mapping software and a Respondus Lockdown browser for  secure online assessment.  Consideration is given to Learning Information Services (LIS) for Blackboard-ITS integration and  a standardised course development toolkit, to ensure that UFH online courses adhere to quality standards. 

There are also plans to roll-out the formal e-Teacher training programme for academic staff. These are efforts to improve the online experience of both academic staff and students while ensuring  Blackboard is running efficiently and effectively.

The UFH Online Teaching and Learning Task Team wishes to acknowledge and appreciate the work of all  facilitators, academics, consultants, student assistants and administrators who are making all of the above a possibility.

Source: UFH Online Teaching and Learning Task Team.