IDEAS in Kenya

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In Kenya they use the term Harambe to denote a community working together to build a common cause, as South Africans, this sense of community resonates with our ideas of Ubuntu.  Ubuntu is a South African term meaning recognition of our shared humanity.  It is with this definition of Ubuntu and Harambe that the IDEAS team embarked on working with academics in Kenya to test the suitability and relevance of ‘learning design’ in the African context.  It is always great to get together with our international team from IDEAS and three of the team members travelled south (from OU) while two of the team members travelled north (from the UNISA) to meet somewhat in the middle (Nairobi, Kenya). The purpose of our workshop was multifaceted, firstly, to host a workshop titled ‘Evaluating Learning Design in Blended and Online Courses’ and secondly to engage with our peers on the relevance of this in their context. The workshop, held on the 9 June 2017, was funded by the OU and facilitated by Dr Melis Cin and Mrs Jenna Mittlemeier, both experts from UK universities. The workshop was done in partnership with ANIE and the KICD.

It is always a great experience to travel up into Africa, South Africans often have a very closed mind-set to what is happening in the rest of Africa and it is important to engage with our colleagues on the rest of the continent.  This is particularly important as South African HE grapples with the concepts of Africanisation and Decolonisation.  Issues that our Kenyan peers were already addressing in the 1970s.  It is particularly important for us to develop partners in Africa when looking at the learning design process coming out of the OU.  While we recognise the great research and tools that the OU has developed, our real interest is can and how or if we should we develop these tools for use in our context. 

The workshop was attended by participants from six countries: Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda, and South Africa and the UK. What was interesting to note was that there were a number of Vice-Chancellors and Deans from different Kenyan institutions who were interested in the learning design process (thanks to ANIE promoting it) and from the VCs to the lecturers in the room, all wanted to engage on how to better the process for the African context.  In the South Africa context there has been a call do decolonise by disregarding western theory or focusing on African theory. This workshop showed an interesting collaboration between the western theory and African engagement where each learn from the other.  Much of the OU learning design was thrown out or discarded to be replaced or Africanised.

In our Africa context, student profiles differ greatly from their European counterparts, and academics in attendance stressed the importance of having to take this into consideration in order to help make each student a success.  An example of how crucially different African students can be came from one group of participants who profiled one of their university students as a nomad herder, who would struggle with peer engagement and interaction because of the circumstances of his life.

These insights into the African context made the UK contingent question how they might engage with international students in their context and how while there are some universal modes for learning design, more research needs to be done to contextualise this.  

Furthermore, we as Africans face challenges in our universities unheard of in the United Kingdom where learning design was developed and is being employed. Large student numbers combined with a lack of facilities and resources pedagogical challenges. All of these considerations affect the design of a course and are pertinent in the African context. For example, how do you design an experiment in a course if there are no laboratories? How do you get students to write an essay when many do not own a computer? How is it possible to expect students to research when all they have is a smart phone and possibly no internet connection? Examples such as these are not unique to Africa and as such should be included in the learning design process outside of a western context.

We all felt the workshop was a success on both sides, us as the IDEAS team as well as the participants.  We all developed insight into some of the tools that can be used when designing courses, as well as coming to terms with the importance of context is in learning design process. The workshop provided fertile ground for stepping back and reflecting upon ourselves, our courses and how we could learn from one another.

Ashley Gunter and Dianne Long

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May 30 2017

Reflections from a distance

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