25 June 2020 Volume :8 Issue :28

UKZN’s New Pedagogy Facilitated through Online Learning

UKZN’s New Pedagogy Facilitated through Online Learning
Professor Nirmala Gopal, academic activist on Human Rights.Click here for isiZulu version

- By Professor Nirmala Gopal

It is June 2020, and since the country’s national lockdown, major transformation in the way we teach and learn at UKZN has been triggered and fast-tracked by COVID-19.

We have noticed how ‘Online learning is catalysing a pedagogical shift in how we teach and learn. There is a shift away from top-down lecturing and passive students to a more interactive, collaborative approach in which students and instructor co-create the learning process. The Instructor’s role is changing from the “sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side”’ (Stern, 2005).

Predicated on the preceding notion, this opinion piece intends to contextualise UKZN’s narrative of online teaching in relation to two of its Strategic Goals: teaching and research.

UKZN’s online initiative began almost a decade ago with staggered buy-in by staff and students. Notwithstanding the staggered buy-in, staff and students acclimatised to Moodle and other intermittent forms of digital platforms.

UKZN’s digital or online teaching and learning philosophy was premised on its Teaching and Learning policy (implemented in 2009) that focuses on learner centeredness. Informed by Jean Piaget, UKZN’s Teaching and Learning policy emphasises:

•    The learner as a unique individual

•    The relevance of the learner’s background and culture

•    Increased responsibility for learning belongs to the student

•    Motivation for learning comes from successful completion of challenging tasks.

By extension, the above constructs demonstrate the notion of “leaving no student behind”. Online teaching provides the opportunity for deep learning framed by Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy.

These philosophies have been the hallmark of UKZN’s ideation of a Premier University of African Scholarship.

During a period of three months the global and national Higher Education sector reinvented itself. All for a good cause. Students are at last co-creators of knowledge. There is greater transparency and accountability on all stakeholders. Students are at the forefront of debating, analysing and critically assessing what they are taught, how they are taught and what their own teaching and learning responsibilities are.

Online learning has secured UKZN’s place on national and global Higher Education sector’s map.

We did this when we incorporated rigorous international best practices into our local best practices and re-commenced online teaching and learning initiatives at the commencement of COVID-19 public communication. The University’s executive management constituted and directed the “project” with the expertise of the strongly entrenched University Teaching and Learning Office.

The online teaching and learning plan accentuated and entrenched online teaching pedagogies to ensure the preservation of knowledge creation through quality models.

Staff as key stakeholders in leading the initiative promptly got on board with a matter of a week or two following the clarion call for this transformed mode of teaching and learning in pursuit of the idiom “no student left behind”. 

The political consciousness of the Executive Management Committee, staff and students drove this concept with appropriate vigour. Every student’s needs matter. This is regardless of race, gender, culture, geographic location and other relevant variables. The University invested sleepless nights and long days in ensuring maximum participation of all stakeholders.

This initiative witnessed a great sense of staff collegiality and cohesion (a significant yet unintended by-product) as various skills and knowledge were shared to ensure no staff or student was left behind. The organic cohesion the University witnessed was a further accomplishment, which too had its genesis almost a decade ago.

The University Teaching and Learning Office under the stewardship of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sandile Songca worked tirelessly and in consultation with the University Executive Leadership Forum, Senate and other relevant committees to achieve pre-determined milestones in readiness for a world-class experience for staff and students.

In preparation for the exciting journey but conscious of a degree of staff and student trepidation, staff began their reskilling via a host of high-level training opportunities offered via online platforms. University academic and support staff instinctively showed an appetite for the training, evidenced by large numbers of participants. Students participated in dry runs to ascertain where challenges exist with the University responding accordingly to alleviate challenges. Of course the University as a learning institution put its best foot forward in ensuring multiple support opportunities for staff and students for the long-term sustainability of online teaching and learning. 

Numerous virtual training courses and workshops were oversubscribed by enthusiastic staff- a further indication of staff commitment to provide a much deserved quality education to our dedicated cohorts of students. I make a distinction between cohorts to demonstrate that UKZN has a heterogeneous student population and whose needs are indeed nuanced. Hence training sessions were and are based on the heterogeneity of students.

Simultaneous with staff training mandatory decisions on revised teaching and learning models, implementation dates, modes of assessment, student access and other practical matters occurred. All preparation was in favour of facilitating staff and student mandates.

UKZN’s well-resourced, established and vibrant University Technology Enhanced Learning (UTEL) ethos facilitated on-line teaching and learning. This collaboration between the University’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO) and Information Communication Services (ICS) which commenced long before the pandemic propelled the University’s technology trajectory. UTEL was established to provide a suite of technology rich teaching and learning solutions and innovative pedagogies, using eLearning, online learning, blended learning and the flipped classroom approach. The stage was set almost a decade ago.

The University’s revitalised recording studios facilitated online teaching in a professional manner. Staff have access to existing well-designed e-learning solutions. They were able to maximise technology enhanced teaching and learning activities.

Abreast of continuing advances in digital technologies, social media, and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, UKZN’s online teaching now gives students, “much more control over access to and the creation and sharing of knowledge. This empowers students, and staff to finding ways to leverage this enhanced student control to increase their motivation and content relevance”. (Teachonline.ca: 2018).

UKZN patiently waits to harvest the fruit of online teaching as staff and students become more familiar with digital technologies for teaching and learning. Undoubtedly for staff unrivalled pedagogical responses and strategies are emerging. UKZN known for its academic distinction provided training opportunities on teaching with online pedagogy, uploading videos in Moodle and Zoom using Kaltura. Staff are skilled in using an existing teaching and learning platform but with latest technology to provide students with a rewarding and relevant learning experience. 

Online opportunities are great. Initially some students may experience some discontent and trepidation. But if we go back to the invention of Braille in 1824 by Louis Braille we realise how more citizens could access learning. In a similar vein online teaching will give more South Africans Higher Education opportunities. The bigger picture is we will close the gap between the have’s and have not’s. After all this is a principle that guides the majority of us. Online teaching will materialise the philosophy of Ubuntu. We just need to embrace online teaching and our centuries of values will unfold. All made possible by the Coronavirus.

Remember the 1790 education system developed to prepare citizens to work in factories. The 4th and 5th Industrial Revolutions require us to prepare and be prepared for requisite skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, analytical thinking, etc. These skills are pre-disposed to make us relevant for the workplace.

Let us be the Apollo 17 that was successful during a time of crises with minimum resources. In the words of our President Cyril Ramaphosa, ‘we shall prevail.’ ‘Technology makes this possible. Let us not be left behind.’

If you are experiencing challenges with accessing online platforms or you have not interacted with the University since lockdown - let us help you! The University has a dedicated team to assist you. Please share your experiences with us by sending the following details:

•    Your name and surname

•    Your student number

•    Your cellphone number

•    Your e-mail address

•    Your home address where you reside at the moment

•    GPS co-ordinates where your home location is.

Send your responses to UKZN using the following contacts:

•    E-mail: data@ukzn.ac.za

•    SMS number: 073 529 0192

Let’s embrace the new normal and work together to save the academic year – after all, we are all in this together!

UKZN’s Professor Nirmala Gopal is an academic activist on Human Rights and anti any form of oppression and discriminatory behaviour.

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