Teach online or go home, lecturers’ dilemma

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Uasu secretary general Constantine Wasonga says new tools cannot replace lecturer's job descriptions. PHOTO/COURTESY

• Universities shut down on March 15 and have now lost five weeks of the first semester.

• Online learning attempts have been hampered by a lack of proper infrastructure.

The disruption to university teaching and learning caused by the coronavirus outbreak has brought a new headache for lecturers. 

They have to switch gears to online teaching or be declared redundant by their institutions. 

Universities shut down on March 15 and have now lost five weeks of the first semester. Online learning attempts have been hampered by a lack of proper infrastructure. 

University of Nairobi professor and technology consultant, Bitange Ndemo says it is time institutions realised “there is a new normal”. 

The former ICT principal secretary says he has consulted with top ministry officials on possible scenarios to limit the damage on teaching and learning in universities. 

Ndemo says his proposal banks heavily on a proper provision of online learning.

 “We are in the fourth industrial revolution and there are pockets of resistance but eventually people will realise they have to adapt or go home,” Bitange told the Star on Tuesday. 

He argues that if taken for granted, online learning will wipe off those rigid to the system — students and academic staff alike.

“We have been thrown into the deep end and we need to swim or drown. For example, if the pandemic runs for 18 months, will we continue sitting and waiting?” Bitange asked.

In the short term, he says, the government will need to train lecturers to take up the change. 

In the medium term, the government must consider duty exemptions on laptops and tablets and provide reliable bandwidth to keep teaching and learning going.

“Nothing is perfect on the first day. We will need to address the underlying problems but the comfort with the status quo should stop,” he said. 

It is an argument that does not hold for the academic staff union leaders. 

University and Academic Staff Union secretary general Constantine Wasonga said while technical assistance is important, it cannot fit the educators’ job descriptions. 

He also picks holes in the capacity to administer tests and assessment through online platforms. 

Ndemo, however, says “this is a traditional way of thinking where rigid classroom tests account for assessment.” 

We have other methods and tools of assessment that can work just fine, Ndemo notes. 

He says digital media tools like webcams that allow non-disruptive peer observation offer considerable promise in giving teachers timely feedback they can use.

He says a shift should be made towards blended learning incorporating both online and technology-driven collaborative modes.