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6 November 2018
UWC eLearning Colloquium 2018: Technology must enable learning and empower students

(Published - 6 November 2018)

Evolving innovative technologies are increasingly making learning and teaching at universities more easy and accessible, as the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) 11th Annual eLearning Colloquium explored recently.

“It’s not about technology, but what you do with the technology to enable learning - because that is what we have decided to do,” noted Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic in her opening address. “You put learning upfront, and technology must only be an enabler of that learning.”

Organised by the Centre for Innovative Education and Communication Technologies (CIECT), the event saw 22 students and lecturers from various faculties engaging in discussions around blended learning, educational technologies, teaching and assessment practices - and how these benefit student development in the 21st Century.

Dr Mmaki Jantjies of UWC’s Department of Information Systems has been experimenting with a variety of technologies in her exploration of technology in teaching. Before introducing any new technology, she needs to know her students well, and understand the resources they have access to, as well as the difficulties they face.

“I’m not going to prescribe any type of technology that I know will add more challenges for my students,” she said. “Do they have data? Do they stay on campus, and so on? Their feedback guides me.”

One of the platforms Dr Jantjies is using is the Zoom, which offers communications software that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat and mobile collaboration, and which is making it possible for her to teach students in South Africa, Tanzania and Germany at the same time.

“We run a lot of revising sessions on this platform - and if the network doesn’t work well we turn off screens and it’s just audio communication between students from these three different countries.”

Another tool that Dr Jantjies has been exploring lately is Virtual Reality, which uses immersive technologies to simulate real learning environment for students: “In essence, I can take a student through a doctor’s consultation room without actually going there.”

But no matter the technologies concerned, she always goes back to her teaching philosophies, teaching plan and students: “What works for them, what doesn’t work for them, and what I have learned from that process - and how can I make the teaching process more exciting.”

Other presentes included Ziyanda Mwanda and Corinne Carolissen, who spoke on School of Public Health Assignment tool reflections; Gerald Fillies on Designing Interprofessional Curriculum for T-shaped Graduates in the 21st Century, and Priscilla Brijlal who spoke on Blended Learning in a Clinically-based Program - a Beta mode. Llyod Leach also delivered a talk on Student Tracking and Monitoring of Academic Performance, Suzanne Grenfell on Digital Storytelling: Developing Post-graduate Communication Skills, and Fazlyn Petersen spoke on Asynchronous and Synchronous Engagement and Simulations to Enhance Learning and Teaching.

Prof Lawack commended CIECT for their effort, but questioned whether it is still relevant to be talking about eLearning, as the conversation has moved beyond that to talking about and grappling with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

She said one of the things that flowed from the disruption of teaching as usual, caused by Fees Must Fall, was an opportunity “to not see blended learning as a kind of dumping ground, where we focus on dumping content onto the eLearning management system.

Prof Lawack noted the vast potential the Colloquium presented for the transformation of teaching and learning, and how important that could be. “What happens in the classroom carries on to our daily lives.”

The Colloquium started as a lunchtime series of lectures, and moving forward the idea is to turn it into a conference and publish abstracts of the presenters in a special print edition.

UWC is no stranger to the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning, education management, research and administration. Find out about 5 Ways UWC E-Learning Is Transforming Higher Education.