Monday, August 26, 2013

Oral cultures and online learning

Some of my colleagues in Africa have told me that because they're from oral cultures they find it difficult to express themselves in writing, and this comes in the way of collaborating with people elsewhere. So when I began to work on introducing e-learning in the AuthorAID project, I was worried whether the participants, most of whom would come from Africa, would feel comfortable asking questions and sharing views through writing. We have been conducting workshops in Africa and other developing countries for more than five years, and we usually see a lot of lively interaction. Would the online medium suppress expression because people have to write and not talk?

After facilitating four AuthorAID online courses in the past year, I'm happy to say that has not happened. Instead, I see hundreds of posts in every online course and sometimes I find it hard to keep up!

Edith Wakida, a research administrator at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda, was one of the most active participants in a recent AuthorAID online course, and a forum post of hers led to a recent post on the AuthorAID blog, which is read by many researchers in developing countries. Her advice on the importance of following grant instructions has thus reached not only her fellow participants in the online course but a great number of developing country researchers through the blog.

So I think the online learning format, far from suppressing interaction or sharing, can facilitate greater and fuller expression of ideas and experiences even when the participants are from oral cultures and don't have much experience with e-learning. But creating the right virtual environment for such interaction to take place can be a challenge.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Online learning: Where are the voices from developing countries?

The founder of Udacity, one of the three major initiatives offering MOOCs (massive open online courses), has made the controversial prediction that in 50 years there might only be about 10 universities left in the world. In May 2013, the first MOOC-driven master’s degree program in computer science was announced by Georgia Tech and Udacity.

Anyone in the world can take MOOCs. From my home in India, I completed a free 3-month MOOC taught by professors at Harvard University. This experience led to a series of blog posts and also the realization that there are few voices from the developing world on MOOCs. An article on the World Bank EduTech blog adds support to this view. It’s not just about MOOCs but about ICT in higher education: I don’t see any blogs from developing countries in the top 50 higher education technology blogs.

I don't think ICT in higher education has to cost a lot of money. Based on my experience creating and teaching online courses on AuthorAID Moodle, I'm convinced that ICT can be hugely beneficial in a higher education context in developing countries, even under a tight budget.

I hope to find more voices from the developing world on learning and teaching online. For the time being, I'm happy to see a blog post on MOOCs from a Nigerian researcher. (Incidentally, she was one of the participants in a recent AuthorAID online course.)