Last week, Oliver and Haileleul from the Engineering Capacity Building Program (ECBP) in Addis came to visit our elearning project in Mekelle. They are working for the elearning development program for ECBP, setting up eCompetence Centres at other universities in Ethiopia and are looking to develop a similar program in Mekelle without duplicating the Digital Campus project work.
All seemed to go very well and we’re currently in the process of writing a proposal for the training of more staff to become elearning experts, to be presented to the University management in the very near future.
Their most successful program so far seems to be at Adama University, where the Engineering College has been turned into an independent Institute of Technology. The (German) director and senior management have really focused on improving student computer access, by setting up 600 terminals open 24/7.
The ECBP approach taken to develop elearning course content/materials is slightly different to our approach with Digital Campus. We are training teachers to set up and upload their own courses and teaching materials, with the support from pedagogical department, whereas the eCompetence Centres allow teachers to take their materials to the centre. The centre staff then do much of the content development and uploading for the teacher. There is good reason for this difference, the ECBP approach has a stronger focus on multimedia content, whereas we’re looking at much more basic content uploading and activity creation. Expecting all staff to have the facilities, skills and time to produce multimedia content is simply unrealistic.
There are pros and cons of each approach. Sending your content off to a centre for transformation into online activities can increase the technological complexity of the activities or content developed (e.g. multimedia or flash animations), increase quality (questionably) and consistency between courses. Also it is easier to set deadlines for course production. However I have concerns that staff then have no sense of ownership of the online materials related to their course, for example, that regular updates are made and that staff participate in and monitor forum discussions. It may mean staff then don’t consider it to be part of their jobs to be involved with the online aspect. I have to ad that the ECBP approach does have the teachers working with the elearning team – it’s not a case of the teachers dropping off the materials and walking away from any further involvement.
Training teacher to produce their own online content and activities means that you can have a smaller team supporting the elearning development, providing advice and training but not the ‘doing’ and this woul dhelp to reduce the direct cost to the university. We hope it would also motivate the teachers to encourage their students to use the materials and activities if the teachers have gone to the effort of creating them. The danger is that teachers won’t have the time or skills, or it will be considered to be more work force upon them by management. Maintaining a baseline level of quality and consistency between courses may be difficult.
So, which do you think is the better approach? Or should there be a mixture between the two?
I hope that I’ll get the opportunity to visit Adama university early in the new year, with some staff from Mekelle, as I believe there will be a lot we can learn from their experiences. I think that the success of their program may be mainly due to the efforts put into providing 24/7 open access computer labs to students, something that’s yet to be achieved on anything but a very small scale at Mekelle.