Universities across continents explore Glocal Classroom

Four universities on four continents have embarked on a programme to share expertise and best practices in blending classroom and virtual teaching and learning experiences.

The universities of Stellenbosch in South Africa, Guelph in Canada, Malmo in Sweden and Flinders in Australia kicked off the first of four conferences on transforming education through technological innovation on 25-26 March at the Wallenberg Research Centre in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Professor Russel Botman, rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, said the 'Glocal Classroom' concept was about bringing together ideas on how to work together with local knowledge in a global virtual technology-driven classroom through web-based learning.

He hopes the project will inspire more technologically-driven higher education that will innovatively deepen the understanding of how internet and communication technologies could impact on teaching and learning.

"The whole idea is to learn from one another," Dr Antoinette van der Merwe, senior director of learning and teaching enhancement at Stellenbosch University, told University World News. "We want our different experiences to inform the way we will teach and engage with students."

Van der Merwe said methodologies in teaching are globally different but interaction and infusing these different methods with local knowledge could inspire a new blended way of delivering higher education across the world, particularly in Africa where there is a great need for improved access to higher education.

"The experience is not only geared to students. We also want university management to learn how technology will continuously impact on teaching and how we can make it more efficient," said Helmi Dreijer, senior director of information technology at Stellenbosch.

"The whole idea of embracing online teaching and providing related services is that students should be able to visit our university and do whatever they want quickly online," said Colin Carati from Flinders University, which has an enrolment of 25,000 students.

Carati, who delivered a presentation remotely from South Australia, said video conferencing had proved to be handy in cases where practicals were required for students who, for instance, were studying anatomy.

Gabathuse Molelu, deputy director of e-learning at the University of Botswana, who made his contribution from the country's capital Gaborone, said technology would help the university develop high quality programmes, strengthen student engagement, improve the student learning experience and intensify research.

"Whatever we adopt we are not able to have 100% online teaching. We need to extend higher education through blending online opportunities within the framework of lifelong and open distance learning," Molelu said.

Helmi Dreijer said the concept of the 'glocal classroom' will also, through technology and innovation, help advance Hope@Africa, a partnership between seven leading African universities, and Hope International, a collaboration between Stellenbosch University and four Swedish universities that was launched last month.

The partners in the two networks aim to jointly promote human development and tackle major societal challenges - in Africa and in the rest of the world.

The next Glocal meetings will be held at the University of Guelph in May, Malmo University in September and Flinders University in November.