Blended learning network to overcome faculty shortages

A network of East African universities that will be able to share scarce teaching capacity through the use of 'blended' learning and effective approaches to teaching is in the offing to address staff shortages in the region’s institutions.

This network, known as the Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning – or PEBL – is a new partnership, led by the Association of Commonwealth Universities and funded through the UK Department for International Development’s SPHEIR (Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform) programme.

Under the project, interested institutions in the region will be supported to share teaching resources and design credit-bearing degree modules, which will be delivered through a 'blended' learning model. The initiative will include the Commission for University Education-Kenya, the Commonwealth of Learning, the Staff and Educational Development Association and the University of Edinburgh.

Blended learning is a teaching and learning method that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods.

Through the PEBL framework six partner universities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda have been picked to develop credit-bearing blended learning modules for delivery in degree programmes in 18 universities across the region.

The partner universities include Kenya’s Kenyatta and Strathmore universities, Makerere University in Uganda, Open University, State University of Zanzibar in Tanzania and the University of Rwanda.

The partner universities will be supported financially in developing their modules with training in pedagogy for blended learning, and in developing systems for quality assurance with respect to the modules.

The partner universities will be responsible for developing and designing the initial set of course materials, which will then be offered to the participating institutions in the region.

These materials will make up accredited, credit-bearing modules, but not full degree programmes, Ben Prasadam-Halls, director of programmes at ACU told University World News.

“Another aim of the programme is to develop pedagogical approaches to teaching which can be applied more broadly to degree programmes within the institutions,” the director disclosed.

Six modules will be developed in the first year and will focus on the areas of business, education, ICT and health, while in the second and third years 12 more modules will be developed, based on requirements of the participating institutions. Partner institutions will be funded to develop these modules.

“Blended learning is the combination of online delivery and face-to-face tutoring. In the context of PEBL this means quality assured modules developed by partner institutions but taught by academics from other institutions in the region. The modules will provide students with a combination of online teaching and in-person tutoring and assessment, resulting in degree credits from their own university,” Prasadam-Halls said.

“The University of Edinburgh, another partner in the initiative, is highly regarded as a leader in the field of online learning and online course development and will provide support in educational technology and effective approaches to delivering blended learning courses,” he said.

Additionally, Kenya’s Commission for University Education, Kenya’s higher education regulatory body, has been picked to provide guidance and reassurance to participating universities with regard to the recognition of PEBL courses.

The UK-based Staff and Educational Development Association, or SEDA, will train a cohort of partner university staff on how to lead educational and 'pedagogic change', and how to support academic colleagues to create courses that lead to effective learning outcomes.

“This initial cohort of staff will then offer training to others, including their peers in your institution,” said Prasadam-Halls.

As a result the partnership has issued a call to recruit the 18 universities interested in participating in the project, with the process of selecting the institutions expected to be completed early in 2018.

The initiative will not lead to hiring more staff for universities, partly because the blended model has online learning as a major component.

“PEBL aims to reduce the burden on staff at universities in the East African region, and enable them to share resources, and there is no specific resource to fund additional staff,” the official said.