eLearning and Studying Online at VUU

When Virtual University of Uganda was conceived in 2010, a lot of work lay ahead to prepare for the provision of education to graduate professionals who could not afford to leave work to gain a higher qualification. As the first online-only postgraduate university in Sub- Saharan Africa, VUU is built on the idea that tertiary education that is sourced globally and locally, and enhanced through appropriate technology, can provide solutions to the perennial problems of quality and access by transforming the educational experience for students and teachers alike.

This young university is a testimony to the fact that technology-supported learning can save human-power hours and cut costs; it can enhance content quality; it can bring the very best content to more students, and it can enhance the development of critical minds through the provision of education that is truly fit for purpose. But most of all, it can enable young professionals add to their skills and knowledge portfolio without sacrificing their salary. We build on the fact that students no longer need a desktop with a dial-up internet connection: cheap tablets and smart phones can connect to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) via an app that enables students to study offline as well as online.

VUU Governance

Governing Council VUU: old and new teams

As a pioneering e-learning university, VUU delivers online education in a creative and challenging way to provide first-class education that can rival, and even surpass, the traditional full-time programme where one teacher stands in one classroom, teaching one class, for one timetable hour. In a world where multi-media is no longer a set of different technologies to be brought together in one learning package but is encompassed within the computer itself, stimulation is a major component of an online course. Given Uganda’s generally poor reading culture, engaging with online materials that include video and audio clips at the click of a mouse makes the learning experience much more pleasurable and satisfying for the self-regulated learner using a VLE.

Globally, online education is being used in a creative and challenging way to provide first-class education that can rival the traditional full-time programme. In a Sub-Saharan Africa context, despite the often-cited difficulties, VUU was successfully set up as a result of much creative thinking that compensated for limited financial resources. VUU uses the best Open Source Software (OSS), and was the first fully cloud-based university in Africa. Using the OSS Moodle as our VLE (All teaching materials are uploaded to the VLE which is hosted and backed-up in The Netherlands), and we make the most of Google Apps for education as shared work spaces to host our administration files, and our curriculum, while the documents for and minutes of our meetings are shared webpages (with security certification) with all documents stored in Google Drive. VUU has no servers on site and uses Google Apps for mail, chats, documents, hangouts, sites, and a number of other apps that enhance our internal networking and our student communication. In order to deliver quality online content, we pioneered an IT architecture that is made up of many parts, all of which work together to deliver what we need in a very cost effective way. This approach obviates the need to re-invent the wheel and lets the experts at Moodle and Google do what they do best.

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At VUU, we believe the university teacher who is on his/her toes is more like a curator than a repository of knowledge. In searching the Internet for content, VUU lecturers compile course materials that are a mixture of their own notes, online lectures from world-renowned authorities, videos from the YouTube education channel, scholarly articles, and podcasts from universities worldwide. As “virtual” teachers the quality of the learning materials our online students receive are much better than the materials we could deliver in a traditional classroom. Putting the content online for students to read as “homework” and then discussing the materials in the live classroom (the flipped classroom approach) constitutes a satisfying learning experience.

And while online learning programmes are still relatively new in Africa, we at VUU are convinced that it is only a matter of time before they are recognized as being equal to, if not better than, conventionally-taught university courses. Rethinking the traditional idea of the university and its practices will take time. In today’s world a university does not necessarily need physical classrooms, lecturers’ offices, and student hostels, but it does need investment in appropriate technology as a key priority in setting up programmes for tomorrow’s student. A slim physical infrastructure means that more can be spent on sourcing the best materials and tutors. In this way, servers (whether local or in the cloud) become the centre of the university.

Through our Moodle platform, our students can access learning materials, post assignments, enter discussions with their peers and teachers, search, download, and read in our e-library, and keep in constant contact with their course tutors. Our e-library is an extensive collection of resources that can be accessed by staff and students 24/7. The tutors for the courses are drawn from highly-skilled, well-qualified educationalists and professionals from Uganda, the region, and globally. Their wide range of skills, competencies, and strengths will ensure that all students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints and knowledge in the pursuit of knowledge enrichment.

Students login to their classroom for eight hours each week. This means 64 hours online for the duration of each course. Our student care service monitors student activity on the platform closely. For self-regulated learners (as in distance learning), the course materials are carefully designed to facilitate students learn at their own pace and in their own place. Group discussions are built into the course and all students must participate. Again, this is monitored by the Registry and is participatory on the part of the tutor. Wikis are also part of the learning experience and students are encouraged to participate in these shared learning spaces. One hour per week is dedicated to a Live Classroom. This software works in a similar way to video conferencing but is adapted to simulate a classroom. Here, students discuss the various topics they have been introduced to, and tutors have an opportunity to answer questions and throw more light on some difficult topics. Individual course libraries with required and recommended textbooks and articles are available 24/7 online and can be downloaded to read offline.

This approach to higher education represents a golden opportunity to make a clean break from the “Yellow Notes” paradigm of the past, as it challenges teachers to search for innovative ways to enhance student learning. It is in this way that VUU is trying to provide creative, reality-rooted education that takes learning today to the level of tomorrow. At VUU we are convinced that online learning initiatives are a creative and challenging response to providing tertiary education in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller as a result of information technologies. We look forward to better and better academic practices in the future as we continue to embrace recent and newly-emerging software and technologies to the benefit of the entire higher education sector.

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2016 in retrospect

2016 was, overall, a good year for Virtual University of Uganda. Our student numbers are creeping slowly up, and we are confident we will be able to reach our targets this year and be sustainable for the future thereafter. Not only are our student numbers rising, we are also adding to our administrative staff.

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Mrs Maria Renee Rada joined us as Programme Leader in ICT4D and as IT Consultant. Her contributions to our young university are most appreciated.

One significant event occurred towards the end of the year: on 9 December, VUU turned 5.This is still a small figure but it is a sign that we are moving on and gaining strength and acclaim. Our international body of teaching staff continues to provide us with premier services from England, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, Tanzania, Bolivia, Malaysia, and, of course, Uganda.

We are currently working on new programmes in the management area (human resource and organizational behaviour) and are hoping to recruit students for these programmes for the August intake. We continue adding courses to our Corporate Academy, this year Spanish and Excel (and we continue to offer Moodle training and courses for librarians).

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Our Vice Chancellor Prof. Lejeune was busy this year with his work as Chairman of the Board of Directors of RENU (Research and Education Network) and as Chair of the Uganda Vice Chancellors’ Forum. Both organizations are happy to gain from his many years of experience in higher education in Africa.

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Professor Carabine was in demand on the conference circuit this year. In May she spoke at Education Innovation Africa in Nairobi; in December she gave the keynote address at the UbuntuNet Alliance conference in Kampala, and she participated in a panel discussion at the Times Higher Education Summit on BRICS and Emerging Economies in Johannesburg, also in December.

Our coverage in the Times Higher Education sparked a number of engagements ), not least of which was a podcast for The Academic Citizen on virtual learning in Uganda which came out in October. And an article about the first five years of VUU will appear in an upcoming issue of World University News.

On the social front, we enjoyed our Drop-in Day in May, and many students and well-wishers came to chat and exchange experiences.

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Our second graduation, presided over by Chancellor Lady Justice Flavia Senoga Anglin, was held in July where our first honorary award (M.Phil) was given to Mr Ahmed Ibrahim Ahmed Bholim for services to accountancy in East Africa.

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It has been a busy year indeed and we look forward to an even more exciting 2017. With new programmes and new staff, we hope to forge even deeper alliances with sister universities across the globe. Wish us well as we pioneer online learning in Sub-Saharan Africa!

THE BRICS and Emerging Economies

Virtual University of Uganda has been asked to participate in the Times Higher Education BRICS and Emerging Economies Universities Summit. We are delighted to get this recognition. We shall be talking about the opportunities of mLearning and eLearning for BRICS and EEs. Other speakers include John Aubrey Douglass of the University of California, Berkeley, on ‘The Flagship University’ and distinguished social scientist Simon Schwartzman of Brazil’s Instituto de Estudos do Trabalho e Sociedade. This conference takes place in Johannesburg between 30 November and 2 December this year. Prof. Carabine will represent VUU.

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Education Innovation Africa

Professor Deirdre Carabine attended the Education Innovation Africa Conference in Nairobi last week. She was a panelist speaking about the future of mobile learning on the African continent. It was an exciting topic and generated a lot of discussion from the attendees (around 120 experts in the delivery of education at all levels). Her main point was that while the future of mobile learning is certainly clear, stakeholders are coming to appreciate its benefits rather slowly. All panelists spoke convincingly about the need to sensitize more people about the benefits of learning online rather than in the traditional brick and motor institution that is becoming increasingly expensive. You can visit the conference website at: http://www.educationinnovationafrica.com/.

 

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Here at Virtual University of Uganda, we think we are finally beginning to make inroads into the market for mobile learning as more professionals are coming to appreciate its benefits. A very powerful example of the flexibility of mobile learning: three weeks ago one of our Kenyan students had to leave the Live Classroom halfway through the discussion because he had to catch a flight from Nairobi to Mombassa. Ten minutes later he was back “in class” in the taxi to the airport via his smart phone!

Visit our website to find out more about us and what we do; and read about our approach to online learning at our Open Access Publications site.

eLearning in Africa

Although Virtual University of Uganda will not be attending this year’s eLearning Africa Conference, we are making sure to keep up with all the latest news and innovations on the elearning scene. We know we are at the cutting edge of online teaching and learning on the continent, and we are proud to be spear-heading this development. We have just completed our Strategic Plan for the next 5 years and are pleased to announce that we will be adding two new specializations to the Executive MBA programme: Tourism and Hospitality Management and Health Services Management. These are in addition to our already-existing Oil and Gas specialization. Indeed we have come a long way from chalk and talk to click and learn!

You can keep up with all the recent news at: http://ela-newsportal.com/

study online at VUU

Virtual Classrooms

Visit us today online to find out more about the postgraduate programmes we offer and how you could study online wherever you are in the world.

A virtual classroom for the 21st century.

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New Intake

Applications are invited for our postgraduate programmes:

Public Health

ICT for Development

Business Administration

International Development

Visit our website to find out more about these distance-learning programmes.

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Distance Learning with a Digital Dimension

VUU offers three modalities for its postgraduate programmes: online (fully virtual), blended ( a mix of online activities and teaching), and distance learning with a digital dimension. The last modality means that all learning materials are neatly packaged on our website where they can be downloaded at any time. All online activities can also be accessed by distance learners. We offer Public Health, International Development, Business Administration, and ICT4D. Visit our website to find out more about us. www.virtualuni.ac.ug

VUU — bringing you into the digital age!!

A Paperless University

David Okwii’s write up gives a good and well-written account of what we do here at VUU. You can read it here. David works at http://www.dignited.com.

Blended Learning, Flipped Classrooms, and Yellow Notes

One of the latest buzz words in higher education is the “flipped classroom”. This approach to teaching and learning is a blended approach where the lectures are moved onto an asynchronous learning platform while the classroom becomes a place to reinforce student engagement and deepen their mastery of skills. So the teacher moves away from being the “sage on the stage” to being the “guide at their side” (as one website puts it).

I like it; it makes a lot of sense. After all, why do I have to spend time reading notes to my students when they can read them for themselves? A real teacher (in the Socratic sense) should be a support, a prod for deepened thinking on the part of the student.

This is what we do at VUU. The lectures and classnotes (including videos, reading materials, audio briefs, and links to urls) are situated on our learning platform (Moodle). We then use the synchronous sessions (live classes, and from September the face-to-face sessions also) to guide, discuss, and share ideas. Such an approach moves sharply away from the rote learning of yesterday and focusses on how to think and what to do with facts. Most of us carry encyclopedias around with us on our phones, tablets, and laptops — we do not need to learn facts; we need to be able to think and apply skills to all sorts of situations.

However, this approach can take the teacher out of our comfort zone. I cannot simply upload a presentation, even with audio (the craze for PPPs drives me mad in that it represents a serious dumbing down of education). I am forced to think, to read, to keep up-to-date.  What do students do when given an assignment? The generally “google” it. We teachers who dish out the same old same old each year to a fresh group of first-year students will have to start to do the same lest our students become the teachers! If we deliver quality, up-to-date learning materials online, and become midwives in the classroom, we could create a win-win situation all around.

For more on the flipped classroom see:

www.cst.usc.edu/teach/strategies/the-inverted-classroom.