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Friday, June 18, 2021

Student success in a time of crisis

Universities have had to adopt a hybrid approach to teaching and learning since the coronavirus outbreak.

University faculties were requested move to online teaching platforms something that was a relatively new experience to both students and lecturers.

Director at the Department of Education Innovation at UP Professor Gerrit Stols said during the first week of fully online teaching and learning in 2020, 21 791 UP students attended virtual online classes on a daily basis.

Stols said this figure compared relatively well with university’s earlier statistics, which indicate that for the same period in 2019, on average, 23 319 students accessed the University’s campuses on a daily basis.

Stols said UP adopted a hybrid approach to teaching and learning in 2015 already.

He said this earlier move eased the switch to remote teaching significantly in 2020 when the country was under lockdown level five.

“Of course, it must be remembered that we have a fairly mature learning management system – our online platform called clickUP – that we have been using for several years, with which both lecturers and students are familiar,” he said.

“This is also why during the orientation programme for first-year students, UP ensures that all students attain a reasonable level of digital literacy largely by means of the first-year module, Academic Information Management,” said Stols.

Adding that even though the transition was relatively easy, teaching and being taught solely online was a new experience for all.

The University of Pretoria’s student population is about 53 000 students so the full and complete transition from some online usage to total online usage required complex logistical planning and processes.

READ: Boosting connectivity in African universities: a lofty ideal, but doable

Norman said this is why UP’s Department of Education Innovation developed a series of intensive courses to enhance the digital literacy and fluency of academics who felt that they needed to upskill, while the Department of Information Technology Services developed a platform, UP Connect, that provided students with free internet access and gratis data when the platform was slow to connect.

But there were challenges. Vice Principal for Academic at UP Professor Duncan Norman said there were about 200 students who could not access online learning platform “clickUP” due to living in areas with no internet reception or access to electricity.

“Loan laptops were provided to those who required them and. There was also a team of dedicated Education Innovation staff who developed a strategy to ensure that these students received at least hard copies of their study material as well as telephonic tutoring,” said Norman.

Norman added that the Education Innovation department also developed a series of intensive course material to enhance the digital literacy and fluency of academics who felt that they needed to upskill, while the Department of Information Technology Services developed a platform, UP Connect, that provided students with free internet access and data when the platform was slow to connect.

More than a year later, a total of 87% of students indicated that they were fairly/mostly/fully able to manage studying online, Norman said.

Norman said the most encouraging matter about this process is that 85.47% of students reported participating in online tutoring sessions in order to better understand their course content.

“This showed that the vast majority of staff and students managed to move with confidence into the new dispensation of remote teaching,” he said.

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