Survey results: Higher education and distance learning
- Between May and July 2020, in response to Covid-19 restrictions, COLEACP provided training on digital learning tools for professors and lecturers from five university-level institutions in Africa and the Caribbean. We asked participants to evaluate the impacts of this training and their future needs for capacity building.
- Although respondents (teachers) considered their level of digital skills to be between basic and sufficient, the vast majority have taken the plunge.
- Some have since trained some of their colleagues in the use of Moodle, Camtasia and/or Zoom.
- But many feel that additional support will be needed to ensure quality distance learning, and that many of their colleagues could also benefit from this capacity building.
- Most respondents feel that despite some technical limitations – especially students’ access to quality internet – e-learning is here to stay, and will continue beyond the current health crisis.
|feel their students have good ability for online learning||expect to teach hybrid courses, both face-to-face and online||have passed on aspects of their COLEACP training to colleagues||want more training on moving from face-to-face to digital|
In response to Covid-19 restrictions from early 2020, COLEACP accelerated its movement towards digital learning, and between May and July 2020 provided training on distance learning tools for professors and lecturers of universities and training schools in ACP countries. This survey aims to evaluate the impacts of the training and future needs for capacity building in digital learning. Around 50 questionnaires were shared, eliciting 17 responses (26%), 13 in French and four in English. Although the survey was limited in scope, the results provide a useful snapshot of the present situation and future needs regarding virtual learning in ACP higher education institutions.
The higher education institutions involved were:
- The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), Andros, Bahamas
- Kenyatta University, Nairobi County and Kiambu County, Kenya
- Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques (ESSA), Université d’Antananarivo, Madagascar
- Université Gaston Berger, Saint-Louis, Senegal
- Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), Dakar, Senegal
Universities and distance learning
On the situation before Covid-19, 13 teachers (77%) already had a distance learning space available to them, such as Moodle or an equivalent. One respondent said their university included distance learning in its future plans; three said their university did not offer any solutions for distance learning.
On the situation during the health crisis, nine respondents (53%) said that their university had introduced special arrangements for the implementation of Moodle or another platform to structure distance learning courses. Seven respondents (41%) said that after the crisis their university will continue to implement a distance learning platform.
Following the COLEACP training, at the start of the new school year, 11 respondents (68%) reported that their courses will be partly face-to-face and partly online; two respondents said that all their courses will be online.
Students and distance learning
All 17 respondents felt that their students have the abilities (skills) to take online courses (Table 1). Rating students’ ability on a 1–5 scale, 71% felt that it was good or very good. Only one respondent gave a rating less than 3 on the scale.
In the teachers’ experience, the main difficulties for students in distance education are access to the internet and/or IT equipment, followed by self-motivation. Lack of contact with other students was also highlighted by some.
Regarding the most appropriate learning activities for students, teachers reported that their students learn best via videos and live presentations.
Teachers and distance education
Following the training, although their use of specific tools improved, teachers rated their overall ability to manage online courses as ranging from basic to sufficient. This suggests that more will be needed to enable them to fully convert their course content for online use.
During the crisis, most teachers (77%) have been using Zoom software for online teaching. 53% have used Moodle, and 35% have used Camtasia.
71% of respondents had been asked by their university to make their courses available online. Just three respondents had not put any courses online.
During distance education via Zoom, while teachers in French-speaking universities tend to use text-based presentations, with just some videos and interactive (Moodle) activities, teachers in English-speaking universities were using fewer texts or Moodle activities, and more videos.
As a result of the COLEACP training, 74% of teachers said they have trained three to five colleagues on how to put courses online.
All the respondents said they want to continue using e-learning from the beginning of the new school year. Most believe that their teaching will alternate between face-to-face and e-learning.
Most teachers who responded (82%) are keen to receive more training on moving from face-to-face to digital teaching, including training on specific digital tools, and on methods of distance tutoring.
Some respondents also specifically requested more information on acquiring licences for digital tools, and implementing practical sessions virtually.
A COLEACP expert trainer in digital learning highlights that:
« It is not always easy to set up online courses in some African universities because of the overwhelming number of students, in addition to difficult access to the internet. In Kenya, for example, according to reports, teachers, wanting to keep up with the pace of the students, have set up WhatsApp groups to keep up with the courses. Unfortunately, most of them do not have access to the internet. In Senegal, there was a time when the government set up a project called “one student, one computer”. At first the project was very big but it was badly managed and now we don’t hear about it anymore. Added to this is the lack of equipment, which prevents teachers from carrying out their work. Even if the arrival of the pandemic has made it possible to rethink a form of distance learning, several parameters need to be taken into account.
Now is the time to think about what can bring about changes in the schools of tomorrow. What is needed is to put in place an education policy that will enable the needs of emergency situations to be met. We need to start with priorities, for example, access to the internet and computers is essential for students. We all know that in Africa there are quite a few problems that need to be addressed, but education remains and will remain a very essential area. »