Teaching and Learning Symposium Examines the Technological Future of Higher Education
The UKZN Teaching and Learning Office recently hosted the second edition of its virtual e-learning symposium titled: Imagining a Technology Enhanced Higher Education Future, which provided a platform for participants to present their teaching and learning solutions in the contested, ever-changing Higher Education landscape.
Through keynote addresses, a panel discussion and 30 presentations from staff and students, presenters shared their experiences, challenges, successes, failures, and opportunities involved in a blended learning future in Higher Education and beyond.
The Symposium chair, Mr Abdulbaqi Badru, welcomed the audience and appreciated the hard work of the symposium committee and the leadership of the Director of Teaching and Learning, Professor Rubby Dhunpath towards the success of the event. In his welcome address, he indicated the need for a cultural shift and intentional design to fully integrate technology with teaching and learning.
The UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, Professor Sandile Songca, opened the event. In his opening address, he welcomed keynote speakers, guests and presenters, saying one of the greatest needs in the journey towards blended learning is the scholarship of teaching and learning. Songca encouraged all delegates to share ideas, make new contacts and collaborations, and commit knowledge to literature.
Keynote speakers included Professor Curtis Bonk of the Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University in the United States and Dr Britta Zawada, who is the Director for Institutional Audits at the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in South Africa.
Bonk, who specialises in the disciplines of psychology and technology and is an award-winning writer and highly published researcher, spoke on Technology Today, Technology Tomorrow: Might Learning Evolutions Lead to Learning Revolutions?
He asserted that while the internet has been around since the early eighties, it was now pervasive and online learning has also undergone evolution. Speaking of the history of the internet and the world-wide-web, he highlighted that schools and universities were in the midst of social change where ‘anyone could learn anything from anyone at any time’. There are now accredited degrees and online learning programmes available free of charge, while online museums were making learning collaborative, customised, open, more synchronous, more global, immediate and shared instantly with the world.
Bonk said for universities to remain sustainable in the world of open access and blended learning, they needed to foster innovation, incubation, creativity and all high-order thinking skills. There is now an urgent need to form partnerships, use continuing education, adapt to what students needed and remember that jobs were also rapidly changing.
Zawada has presented nationally and internationally at conferences, published 16 articles and a book, and supervised both masters and doctoral students in Cognitive Linguistics.
In her talk titled Quality Assurance in a Hybrid University Setting, she highlighted the measures the CHE has put in place to ensure that quality assurance in Higher Education is maintained.
She said South Africa had always provided distance learning through various institutions with the University of South Africa being 100 years old. Quality is transformation and vice-versa, with the two closely related and impossible to divorce from one another.
Zawada spoke on the different aspects of the new quality assurance framework and how institutions could create new Higher Education practice standards, and themes tied to transformation, while institutions could elaborate on how they saw their role in change and transformation and how that aligned with the goals of their institution.
She urged universities to be transparent, know who they were and design what they wanted while not forgetting to involve their students.
An insightful panel discussion titled Lockdown Digital Transformation of Teaching and Learning: Lessons from Today, Principles for Tomorrow was facilitated by UKZN’s Dr Gbolahan Olasina, a senior lecturer in the Discipline of Information Studies in the School of Social Sciences.
Panellists included three UKZN academic leaders of Teaching and Learning, Professor Shenuka Singh of the School of Health Science; Dr Ruwayda Petrus of the School of Applied Human Science; and Dr Desigan Reddy of the School of Chemistry and Physics.
Looking at UKZN’s response to the need for digital transformation, Singh said all stakeholders were consulted and various mechanisms were put in place to better equip staff and students. She said the challenges, especially with service-based learning, prioritised senior students.
Reddy said platforms like Zoom and Teams provided an opportunity for staff and students to share ideas and experiences with each other. He said the University responded well, highlighting the provision of mobile data to staff and students which ensured continuous learning, and the mock assessments that were undertaken to ensure everything ran smoothly.
Responding to what is needed in the future to ensure that no one is left behind, Petrus said online learning in the past two years had taken place as an emergency response. Some of the solutions needed the involvement of both private and public Higher Education sectors, the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education and Training. She said the institution needed to look at how modules and programmes can be redesigned while putting students at the centre; employing online advisors, and creating a user-friendly portal for both staff and students.
Panellists all agreed that the need for blended learning could not be ignored and there was a need for ongoing communication with staff and students so the University was not caught off-guard.
Breakaway sessions heard 30 presentations from staff and students, while discussions during the question and answer sessions sparked debates and shared best practices moving forward. The best presentation prizes were won by Andrew Ross, Patrick Zimu, Reina Abraham, and Saajida Mahomed.
In closing the event, the symposium chair ran a raffle to reward four lucky people of the over 150 attendees who stayed throughout the event. The lucky winners were Sithembile Shabangu, Ntomfikile Mtshali, Andrew Ross, and Nokuthula Khumalo.
The Chair, Abdulbaqi Badru, appreciated the university leadership, committee members, keynote speakers, presenters, panel members, staff and students for elevating the overall quality of the presentations and engagements. He said: ‘Based on the continued success of the Symposium and its increasing popularity, we will be upscaling the Symposium to a conference in 2023.’
The symposium was a UCDP-funded event.
Words: Sithembile Shabangu