Columnists

Upscale utilisation of technology

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University of Nairobi main entrance. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Universities need to consider upscaling adoption of technology.
  • The utilisation of technology will help address several challenges including space constraints.
  • Secondly, it will help position Universities for the next industrial revolution.
  • To ensure that technology aids in higher education delivery and reforms, there are several things that are necessary.

As I watched international news this past week, I was struck by the amount of losses that global universities were projecting they would suffer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

One interviewee from a US university noted that out of the over $10 billion allocated to bail out universities from the $2.3 trillion stimulus package passed by US lawmakers at the end of March, close to $7 billion would be used to refund students money they had paid for accommodation, for example.

He went on to list non-tuition revenue that universities stood to lose, indicating the precarious financial situation that many will find themselves in.

Speaking to several parents who wanted their children to pursue university education abroad, several are starting to reconsider. Their key question is what the future of international travel is going to be and the kind of restrictions that may be placed in response to the pandemic.

No wonder some universities in the West fear that even after they reopen around 20 percent of their student population may not return this year. These realities are causing a rethink of the model of university education across the world.

Two weeks ago, I sat in a Webinar as a panellist discussing the challenges to online learning faced by African universities and best practices that can be replicated. During the discussions, debate revolved around whether online learning offered hope for the future or whether it was just an emergency response to the crisis that would be abandoned as soon as normalcy returned.

Debate also ensued as to what online learning really is. Simply stated online learning is about adoption of technology in education. The reality is that there has been utilisation of some level of technology in delivering education, be it use of laptops or even LCD projectors.

However, when we now need to move to more intense utilisation of technology, adopting learning management systems and online platforms as opposed to the traditional sitting in a physical room with students.

There are two strands of issues that arise. On the one hand are those relating to the state of technological infrastructure across the continent and access by both students and faculty. Consequently, even when there is willingness to adopt technology the constraints are such that implementing the desire becomes a herculean task.

The second relates to attitude. There is very little appreciation of what online teaching and learning in the higher education sector, the status of available technology and its effects, the quality comparability with face to face and the levels of integrity that technology would bring. Reflecting about this, I was reminded by several friends about adopting technology in other sectors and the scepticism about their adoption. One reminded me about ATM cards and how several people were opposed to them.

Many more have been reluctant to set up online banking due to a myriad of reasons ranging from the temptation to over-spend and more critically security challenges of online banking. However, considering the coronavirus pandemic online banking has become acceptable.

Universities need to consider upscaling adoption of technology. The utilisation of technology will help address several challenges including space constraints. Secondly, it will help position Universities for the next industrial revolution.

To ensure that technology aids in higher education delivery and reforms, there are several things that are necessary.

First will be attitudinal change focused on those in the sector from regulators, to university leaders, from faculty to students appreciating that technology is an aid and not a substitute. Secondly, is the required investment in technology.

If the complaints from the US universities is taken as representative of the higher education, that dwindling resource base is bound to be even more dire post Covid-19.

Online learning has the potential of transforming higher education. It will change the way in which conversations around delivery modalities are had and will change the kind of tools that are used.