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Makerere considers replacing evening classes with e-learning

Date: 
Monday, 28 August 2017
Publisher: 
Author: 
Moses Talemwa

Mid this year, the Makerere University Council received a proposal to replace evening classes with e-learning.

The move was a measure of solving the unending problems with evening classes. MOSES TALEMWA has been looking at the way Makerere University is carrying out its e-learning project.

Early this year, the director of Quality Assurance at Makerere University, Dr Vincent Sembatya, revealed that there was a proposal before the university council to replace all evening classes with e-learning.

“The move will enable those on the evening scheme to enjoy as much if not more learning time, as their day counterparts, without straining university resources,” Sembatya revealed.

“It is not rocket science that the lecturer who has been busy during the day is exhausted when the evening class settles in for a fresh class at 5pm.”

He explained that the university also lacked the money to adequately compensate the exhausted lecturers for their labours on the evening programme, and so e-learning is a viable solution.

Dr Sembatya added that the introduction of e-learning is already in advanced, with several developments already in place.

Headed by the deputy principal of the college of Education and External Studies, Dr Paul Muyinda Birevu, the e-learning scheme has seen several academic programmes unveiled on a pilot phase. “We are on course to make sure e-learning takes root,” Birevu revealed.

“The first stride has been to update our ICT policies, properly articulating how e-learning will take place, which has been adopted by university council in 2015.”

The policy is run under department of Distance and Lifelong Learning (formerly known as a the Centre for Continuing Education). Under this measure, the department will evolve the Open, Distance and E-learning institute, which will coordinate all online learning across the university.

“For now, we are converting some of the lecture rooms into digital classrooms with interactive smart boards and mounted projectors with support from the African Development Bank,” he said.

ONLINE DEGREES

Over the last year, the scheme started by training 40 lecturers in e-course development and many more will be trained over the next year. To ease the transition to e-learning, the African Development Bank has donated 100 specialised laptops, which will be used by lecturers to aid e-learning.

“It is not a matter of putting modules in a [particular subject] and slides online – we are training lecturers in how to facilitate online and subsequently developed the courses,” he said.

“We have been able to ‘online-ise’ the bachelor of commerce programme, which can now be completely done online,” Birevu revealed.

“We have also developed two seed programmes; the Bachelor of Youth Development Work and the Master's in Instructional Design and Technology, which will start this year, as they have already been accredited.”

The two programmes will enable the university to test how online learning happens, and will be reviewed progressively. Birevu believes that the programmes will lead to development of other online modules.

He acknowledges that this is not as fast as he would want.

“We are moving slowly, because we are working with people who are used to the traditional way of teaching and learning,” he explained. “But as time moves on, we are also introducing blended online [where some courses are trained traditionally, with others available online] in some of our programmes, such as the Bachelor of Education.”

He explained that the Swedish government, under SIDA, are also working to bring more modules in Bachelor of Education online. There are also plans to ‘online-ise’ the Master of Public Health by the end of the year.

Hospice Uganda is introducing a master's in Palliative care, which will be largely online, later this year. It is also a Makerere University programme.

EXPANSIVE TARGETS

Over time, the move will see Makerere expand its enrolment dramatically. “We are aware that many of our students are also at work to raise tuition or other challenges; so, we can reach them wherever they are at minimal cost to both the learners and university,” Birevu said.

“The students will need the assurance that they can access learning materials seamlessly, whether the lecturer is around or not – and online learning is the solution.”

CHALLENGES

However, with every initiative come critics. Some, who insist that they are still studying the way e-learning is happening, are concerned that it is still a far-fetched measure.

“How do you conduct exams under e-learning, or determine who is sitting for these exams?” one critic asks.

To this, Birevu acknowledges that this is a problem, but it can be worked out in time.

“We can have online exams that are blended – where we have an actual room with actual invigilators, or we can put up mechanisms to check against cheating,” Birevu replied.

He also notes that online learning will also ease assessments where the examiner requires objective questions.

“The objective answers are automatically marked immediately – so, they don’t even need to be examined again.”

Dr Sembatya also acknowledges concerns by critics that the programme will require substantial funding before it takes off.

“However, in the long run, if you think about it critically, you will find [e-learning] cheaper for the university than traditional learning.

While Sembatya and Birevu are committed to make e-learning work, as they await approval from the university council, they note that current challenges will making it inevitable.

“For example, lecturers are already saying that they will not teach on the evening programme because there is no money,” Sembatya says. “We are staring at the solution.” 

mtalemwa@observer.ug