In an effort to complete the 2016 academic year, the University of Cape Town leadership have called upon the body of lecturers to make use of online and blended teaching material. The University, as others in the country, are reopening their doors under difficult circumstances. These relate to continued protest action and the absence of consensus amongst students and staff on the if-and-how of reopening the University. With classroom attendance expected to be poor or even unwarranted, the problem of providing didactic learning had to be addressed. The solution, online learning. A simple call to put recordings of lectures online and to incorporate already existing web-based material.
I am well familiar with this concept. With more than 1,000 lectures on YouTube, two courses on the massive open online course (MOOC) platform Coursera® (here & here), and an international award in open education from the Open Education Consortium, I am sold on the concept of freeing knowledge from its academic confines. Knowledge through education is power. The access to it is a fundamental right and it should not be a commodity. There can be no better tool to uplift a population, than through proper education.
So now, UCT wants to embrace online education as an instant solution to save the academic year. So why, after pouring so much energy into the creation of online educational resources, am I not elated, ecstatic, vindicated? To be honest, I do experience these feelings. It is, however, mixed with feelings of trepidation, anxiety, and even frustration.
Frustrated, because my plea for the large scale creation of online resources have fallen on deaf ears. We need only look at the efforts of leading Universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Harvard and many others that have embraced the online space in their educational efforts. Not only to the benefit of their local students, but the world at large. UCT should have been creating these resources at scale a long time ago.
We have to take cognizance of the fact that the efforts of leading Universities took years to develop. Built with the input of experienced staff and stakeholders. Experts who know that simply transforming face-to-face teaching or printed material into video and electronic format does not constitute education. The problem cannot be solved with a purely cognitivist approach and most certainly, not overnight.
There are many problems inherent in the call for the rapid production of online course material. One glaring example is the lack of formative and summative assessment. The face-to-face method of providing learning material (lectures), asking a few unstructured questions during lecturing and sitting back in judgement during tests and exams is already a suboptimal approach to education. When replacing this flawed concept with unstructured online teaching, the outcome must certainly be viewed with concern. To develop a proper educational resource takes time, effort, experience, research, and most importantly, engagement and consultation with students. Watch this video from smaccDUB on how students can choreograph their own education.
The call to make online resources available must be supported. We need to do so in a measured and structured manner, though. To the University’s credit the Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty has called for the creation of a technology in education committee. The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching have published an excellent guide to the creation of online educational resources. Furthermore, they provide individual consultations and hold regular workshops. Hopefully we can use this opportunity to align our efforts with those of the leading Universities in the world.