Online Learning

I have helped and consulted large numbers of academics to develop blended learning experiences for students.  This is still a very new approach, but slowly but surely lecturers are getting used to having an online component to their face-to-face classes.  The sad part is that many still believe that uploading vast numbers of files to the learner management system is equal to blended learning.  For blended learning or online learning to be successful you really do need to create a learning experience which will guide students through the content that you make available.

I saw this video today and I do believe that this is what the learning experience of an online student should be. This is a fully online degree programme, but from the short snippets on the computer screen that I see, I do think that this is what an online course should look like.  (obviously I am only seeing small portions, but what I see I do like.)

Wits taking a digital move

Article from African Independent 24 June 2016

The University of Witwatersrand is to launch free courses which will revolutionise access to higher education.

The university is to introduce free online courses later this year, in a first for Africa.

Professor Andrew Crouch, Deputy Vice-chancellor Academic at Wits University says: “There is no doubt that there is a dire need for more places at South African universities and for access to quality post-school training.

“Wits is proud to be the first African university on the edX platform, where we offer online courses unique to South Africa.’

Massive open online courses (MOOC) offered by WitsX are free although a certificate of completion can be bought for $49 (about R725 at the current exchange rate). The first three MOOCs will be available within the next six months. They are the System Dynamic for Health Sciences which launches on August 3, 2016, Research Methods: An Engineering Approach launches on September 7, 2016 and the Result-Based Project Management: Monitoring and Evaluation which launches October 5, 2016.

“Developing these three edX MOOCs has been an exciting collaboration between eLearning staff in the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development (CLTD) and teams of academics.

“We envisage that the capacity and systems we have developed will inform and strengthen future institutional online course development and other blended learning initiatives,” says Associate Professor Christine Woods, Wits CLTD director and head of WitsX.

Photo: From left to right: Mrs Robyn Letts (MOOC facilitator, lecturer at Wits), Prof Ivan Hofsajer (MOOC facilitator, Wits), Mr Bongani Khoza (WitsX team, eLearning at Wits), Dr Nico Baird (Head of eLearning and Deputy Director of CLTD, Wits), Prof Andrew Crouch (Wits DVC), Ms Dominique Wooldridge (WitsX team, Team Leader at eLearning, Wits), Prof Christine Woods (Director of CLTD, Wits) and Mr Kieron Crawley (MOOC facilitator, Wits)

#LearningGoesOn: How some classes carried on through #FeesMustFall

Article from – 31 October 2016

Usually at 7AM Kerishini would be frantically rushing to her first seminar of the day. But in the closing months of the 2016 academic year, she was one of the thousands of students whose classes were cancelled or chose to stay home during the ongoing #FeesMustFall protests.

“I wasn’t terrified of failing or doing badly like I usually am,” she says, “I was just scared of being caught in the crossfire at campus. Even though it’s calm at campus right now, I’m still scared. The protests are very unpredictable.”

While the headlines have focussed on campus closures and violence, Kerishini and fellow Bachelor of Science classmates at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are among those who have chosen to carry on with their studies, and as a result have found themselves moving to online lectures to stay on top of their coursework. And so, far, Kerishini has been seeing an upside to the whole affair.

Our software solutions increasingly emphasise design for mobile devices, and interfaces which work on low-cost mobile phones

“When I had to drive into university, I had to wake up at 5am and leave at 7pm,” Kerishini says. “Now, I can wake up when I want to. I like studying at night so I generally sleep through the day and study during the night. I love how quiet my house is at night.”

The decision to take the classes online was taken by Kerishini’s tutor.

“One of my lecturers records himself doing each lecture and uploads them on our learning website,” Kerishini says. “He also decided to post tutorials online instead of having face-to-face tutorials however, we can meet the tutors during the tutorial time if we need help.”

Kerishini is just one of many students who have felt that they had to resort to learning remotely as protests saw many university campuses too dangerous to be on or closed down altogether. Most universities already had tools which have been in development or in early stages of deployment, preparing for a future in which online learning will become a core part of university education, helping to reduce costs and make courses more accessible to all.

At many institutions these have quickly pressed into full service with students and lecturers who didn’t want to take part in the protests for whatever reason turning to them to get through.

We spoke to Anna-Retha Bouwer, a spokeswoman for the University of Pretoria (UP) about the arrangements the faculty made for remote learning.

“The University decided to resume its academic programme by implementing arrangements alternative to on-campus lectures after the wave of protest action that has been experienced at various institutions of higher learning over the past weeks,” Bouwer says.

Tools for learning

UP has been using a platform called Blackboard for supplementing face-to-face learning for some time. ClickUP, the internal name for the system, is used for student registration and submitting coursework, but during #FeesMustFall it’s become an alternative for students like Kerishani who haven’t felt safe coming onto campus.

“All lecture and study material will be made available by the faculties either online or by other means. In cases where contact between students and lecturers is required, arrangements will be made with students per module via their respective faculties, and communicated on clickUP,” the university says on its website.

The University of the Witswatersrand (Wits) has also pushed its existing tools into service at an accelerated rate.

“Prior to 2015 eLearning was a standalone unit in the university. In 2015, eLearning was integrated into the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Development,” says Head of eLearning at WITS, Dr Nico Baird, “This signalled a shift away from seeing eLearning as a ‘nice-to-have’, towards mainstreaming the use of technology into the planning and delivery of all teaching and learning practices in the university.”

Do you think #FeesMustFall will affect your child starting uni in 2017?

Over the course of the this year Wits has spent time training lecturers and students to use its online platform, known as Wits-e, more effectively. The launch of three massive open online courses through edX has also contributed significantly to research regarding the scalability and best practices of the remote learning solutions.

This insight has proved invaluable as Wits launched a way for lecturers to lecture and students to learn when university campus became too dangerous for some.

“One solution which has been fast-tracked as result of the protests is lecture capture,” says Baird, “We planned to roll out a lecture streaming pilot study in the first semester of 2017. Following the protests, we decided to make a scaled down version of the service available immediately, to allow students to more easily access material for exam preparation. We are currently rolling out a lecture capture and distribution service in partnership with Grove Group, a Google Premier Partner.”

Problem solving while problem solving

If #FeesMustFall has proved an unexpected test ground for future online learning tools in South African universities, it’s also revealed weaknesses within the systems. As ever, it’s connectivity that’s the biggest issue, especially for those students who don’t have access once they leave the campus grounds. This has made some angry, as it accentuates the divide between the haves and have-nots.

“We use campus WiFi, but nobody gives a fuck if you have to use internet elsewhere. In fact, I don’t think it’s come up at all,” says UKZN tutor Jesamine Rikisahedew, who is also studying for a masters in Biological Science.

That’s not to say no-one’s come forward to try to help: Cell C, MTN and Telkom have all offered to zero-rate traffic to university websites until the end of the 2016 academic year. This offer was seized by a number of local universities, including Wits and UKZN.

“We have provided them [network operators] with specific IP addresses and, until the end of the year, students will be able to access these services without it using their own data,” says Baird.

Telkom has told us that UKZN has taken also taken it up on its offer.

Despite the cost of data coming down there is of course the question of what students have to use to access this content.

“Due to the nature of the strikes at the Westville Campus, not everyone can access the LANs. They get kept inside by protesters,” says Rikisahedew.

Not everyone has a notebook

So it’s not just the cost of data that’s an issue. Many students at our universities don’t have computers right now. UKZN, for example, did make it compulsory for first years to have a notebook from this year – and allocated notebooks to NSFAS students – but that means those in other cohorts still studying don’t have tools to access the net at all. Wits’ Baird is well aware of the lack of reliable access to computers off-campus too.

The net result of this is that many students have to use their smartphones to access this content. Not ideal, but reportedly workable.

“Our software solutions increasingly emphasise design for mobile devices, and interfaces which work on low-cost mobile phones,” Baird says.

As exams approach, Kerishini says she’s coped well with the disruptions but she relies heavily on her own discipline to make sure she studies. “I’m fortunate enough to be disciplined enough to work when I need to. I procrastinate sometimes but I get the work done.”


Time to blog again

Pushing Green Button Showing Starting Or Choosing

During the past four years I have neglected my blog. To be honest I neglected many things in my life while I completed my Master’s and my PhD, but now I have completed my studies and I will again try my best to post on a more regular basis. This time however when I blog it will not only focus on technological advances and online tools, but also rather focus on areas of interest to me. Primary focus at this stage is leadership, academic innovation and research.

As an update I would also just like to mention that I have moved from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg and from the Central University of Technology, Free State to the University of the Witwatersrand. I have kept quite a low profile at conferences and also limited my public speaking and workshops during the past four years. It would actually be an interesting challenge to see just how long it would take to actually claw myself back into the main stream academic, educational technology and general technology communities. Is this even possible? During the past four years things have changed and the things that I specialised in is now part of everybody’s lives. How to get ahead of the crowd again will be a challenge and being able to present on topics that ahead of the rest will take some time.

The innovative use of technologies in ways that have not been thought of before will take some reflection and research, but I am sure with dedication this will again be possible.

Innovation is key when you deal with technology, the ability to teach with technology should be seen as an art, that is exactly what it is. The ability to create and structure a course in a way that will engage students using technology should not be taken lightly. But let me not get ahead of myself. I want to keep posts short as to make them easy to read and understand.

During the next few weeks my blog will get a facelift! And I will start to post more often. Follow me on Twitter @nicobaird

eLearning Update 2015

About two years ago I went to the eLearning Update conference in Jhb! It was one of the best conferences I have ever attended on eLearning with every single presentation keeping my attention. I contacted Prof Johannes Cronje during the week and asked him to send me marketing material for the conference. He not only did that but also created a discount code for anybody entering the code when they pay for the conference! You can save R500 by entering #‎nicobaird‬ when you pay.

If you attend please also let me know! I would love to meet you!
This is one conference that is absolutely value for money!

Some more info! (and the link where you can register!)

The annual Elearning Update is a key conference in the field of Learning and Teaching with Technology. Now it its eighth year, it will bring together an incredible line-up of key movers and shakers across various fields and professions.

This year the focus is on ‘Tech Trends for Learning and Teaching’. An international selection of speakers will share their experiences of improving teaching and learning with Technology.

What makes this conference unique is the wide range of applications that are covered, from university, to industry to school.

The conference will cover aspects such as:

Emerging technologies – what is around the corner?
Badges and gamification – how to motivate and recognise learning
Achieving cross-platform and online-offline capability
The life of an Instructional Designer
The importance of information literacy
How to develop solutions for distance education
The value and importance of assessment.

Make sure you don’t miss this opportunity to be part of this exciting and unique conference, taking place in August, by registering at the conference website now! Click here:

Who should attend?
Elearning Practitioners, Instructional Designers, Learning Designers, Elearning Developers, Elearning vendors, Publishers, Human Resource Developers, Teachers, Lecturers, Academics, Learning Managers, Principals, Technology Managers, IT Directors.

(Includes refreshments and lunch, but excludes accommodation and travel)

Full conference R7000
Networking discount R500 (Enter promotion code #nicobaird)
Single day R2500

Bulk offer: Pay for 4, send 5

Best wishes

If you need more motiv8tion to attend, visit our website

Tel +27 84 988 4888

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