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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Academic networking, and elearning: the VUU experience

Elsewhere, I remarked that transformative higher education using technology-supported learning is a golden opportunity to make a clean break from the “Yellow Notes” paradigm as it challenges teachers to think outside the traditional box for innovative ways to enhance the student learning experience. Online education also requires us to re-think traditional approaches to assessment and ways of knowing because today’s world demands a different kind of education and a different kind of lecturer: one who is not solely a distributor of knowledge, but also a creator of knowledge and a curator of information. Creative, reality-rooted education which is “fit for purpose” can become a reality in all universities today if we embrace the idea of academic networking to deliver quality online learning materials.

I believe that today’s university teacher who is on her toes is more a curator than a repository of knowledge. In searching the Internet for up-to-date information, lecturers can compile course materials that are a mixture of their own notes, videos from the YouTube education channel, podcasts from universities worldwide (the Oxford ones are wonderful), lectures online, even whole courses online, and integrate these with discussions, wikis, and interactive debates. Putting the materials online for students to read as homework and then engaging with the materials in discussion in the (either online or physical) classroom – the flipped classroom approach – constitutes an enhanced learning experience for students. Given Uganda’s generally poor reading culture, engaging with quality 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 Virtual Learning Environment such as the Open Source Moodle.

The world’s foremost intellects in the university world have numerous videoed lectures uploaded to the internet; we can easily use these to stimulate and broaden our students’ learning experiences. We could listen to Amartya Sen on peace building, Martha Nussbaum on capabilities, Stephen Hawking on the future of robotics, Peter Singer on ethics, Germaine Greer on gender … all these are much more interesting than listening to me for three hours every week for a full semester. It simply takes a little creativity and time. I imagine an online academic course a bit like a long street. At various stages, there are books to read, notes to learn, and activities to complete, but we could also envisage more doors to the left and right of us that students could be encouraged to open and explore some side streets on their own. This enhances their experience and enriches the content – even moreso when two or more academics team up and curate content together. All this is possible using an elearning platform and embracing the flipped classroom approach.

But what about taking this even further? What if we network by pooling the best of our national, regional, and international resources. What if every first-year student of mathematics in six major Ugandan universities could simultaneously hear Professor Paul Mugambe on the importance of mathematics. Here we have one teacher, years of learning and experience, 1000 students in attendance at six locations. Mugambe does not have to deliver the lecture six times, but once only and it is recorded for posterity: future students also get to hear the lecture. Video-conferencing is a much under-utilized tool in higher education. If one university has an renowned international guest lecturer speaking about maternal health, for example, networked universities all get to listen to and see the guest speaker. They could share the costs and everyone’s a winner. And what about co-teaching: I teach in situ while my colleague’s class can follow the class while at a different location, and then the next week we swap places. Two creative minds, interested students, and more importantly, increased inter-university student interaction.

If teachers can relax, be a little more humble, learn to share knowledge and content, and stimulate student learners to think critically and outside the box (or rather as if there is no box) through various levels of networking, we would slowly bring our sharing of knowledge in the university setting into the twenty-first century. If we recognise the fact that the paradigms of the past no longer work, that our students are not empty containers waiting to be filled or dull mirrors to be neatly polished so that they reflect our notes back to us, then we can start the journey. Facts are certainly important, but knowing what to do with them is more important. Facts are on our smart phones in our pockets: we no longer have to keep them in our heads. Spoon-feeding and rote learning are no longer appropriate in a world that needs critical thinkers and innovators. And with a little more creativity, we can create semi-formal student networks for use in the blended or fully online teaching environment. Facebook, Twitter and What’sApp can also be used to deliver key messages to our student groups and being them into contact with each other. After all, who can resist a FB notification?

Taking tertiary education to the next level will mean a huge effort on the part of administrators and lecturers, but it is an effort that will reap rewards at all levels. Breaking the barriers that prevent us from sharing and working together in teams to be curators of the best possible teaching materials will not be easy. Here at VUU we have been trying with some limited success and we shall keep on looking for ways to network and work together to change the face of higher education.

One of our biggest obstacles is that online education suffers from a certain amount of stigmatization both as a result of ignorance and confusing it with traditional distance education. It will take time before the public and prospective students come to appreciate the value that results from designing online pedagogically-sound learning materials using technology and multi-media resources in higher education provision. As an online teacher, I can truly say that the quality of the learning materials my online students receive are much better that the materials I could deliver in a traditional classroom. For example, when discussing an author or a concept, we can create a link to information about that person or concept or create a clickable link to works s/he may have written. These are the side doors I mentioned earlier – doors that students can chose to open and wander around.

And while online learning programmes are still in their infancy in the region, I believe that it is only a matter of time before they are recognized as being equal to, if not better than, traditionally-taught university courses and certainly distance-learning programmes. I am 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. But online learning that mimics the traditional classroom practices will take us backwards and not forwards. Academic networking is one of the core components for the creation of quality online materials. You know the saying about many hands making light work? The same concept applies here.

Virtual University of Uganda: Collaborations

VUU is currently collaborating with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (Uganda) and University of Africa (South Africa / Zambia)

      MUST Logo    logo

With MUST, we are sharing our Information and Communications Technology for Development programme, and with UoA our Executive MBA programme. In this way, we hope to strengthen partnerships and raise the benchmark for the quality of our learning materials.

To learn more about us, visit our website at: http://www.virtualuni.ac.ug

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Virtual University of Uganda and Mbarara University of Science and Technology

VUU and MUST are pleased to announce the new programme: Ict4D

MUST : VUU advert

PG Diploma and MSc Icts for Development (ICT4D)

ICT (information and communications technology – or technologies) is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application,
encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network
hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the
various services and applications associated with them, such as
videoconferencing and distance learning.1

Rationale
It is a well-known fact that KNOWLEDGE = power, health, and, oftentimes, wealth. In this age of super-fast global communication and the vast resources available on the world-wide-web, ICTs are changing the way we do business, learn, and communicate, and there are few excuses for those in “developed” countries not to equip themselves with empowering knowledge. And while information itself is important, we must know where to get it, how to get it, and what to do with it.

While it is true that the majority of the world’s peoples are cut off from access to knowledge and information – and there are many reasons for this North-South divide – recent years have seen a huge increase in the number of people in the “developing” world becoming connected and accessing knowledge. As of May 2014, Uganda’s population was recorded in excess of 36.3 million of which around 20% had internet access.2 While this represents only a small percentage of the country’s population and is small in relation to the more than 2 billion internet users worldwide, nevertheless it is a laudable statistic that is slowly being reflected in changing ideas and raising expectations. Interestingly, more than 50% of the population possesses a mobile phone!

Until relatively recently, ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) were generally seen as specialized and often mysterious. For example, in the not-so-distant past, the computers in an organization were controlled by an ICT Manager or Systems Administrator who had absolute power in terms of how and access. With more and more people owning and setting up a laptop without the need for a Systems Administrator, the introduction of more friendly user interfaces, social networking, and cloud computing, much of the mystery has been taken out of ICTs for the average computer user.

Information and Communication Technologies are used either directly by the target groups (the population) or indirectly to assist organizations such as NGOs to improve socio-economic conditions in developing countries. For organizations such as NGOs, ICTs provide a useful tool for sustainable development and an absolute need in emergency situations. However, there is a lack of capacity in developing countries to develop, maintain, and utilize the ICT resources. This has been noted as a significant cause for failure of ICT projects.

But ICTs comprise much more than computers and how to use them. At the individual level, mobile phones, tablets, digital radios… are knowledge access points, while mobile money eases financial transactions. At the national level, the use of ICTs includes mHealth systems, eTaxation systems, eBanking, eGovernance …

As organizations such as: infoDev and ICT4Dev demonstrate, ICTs have many roles to play in almost every area of life: democracy, banking, retailing, education, marketing, gender, business, public health, human rights, environment, governance, agriculture, the media, health …. Innovative solutions to some development problems are emerging at a very fast rate, for example, the introduction of the mobile money networks made the fast transfer of cash relatively simple, while at the same time saving travel money and eliminating the need for difficult paperwork in a bank. The text services for rural farmers (while still suffering from a number of drawbacks) ideally makes it easier for farmers to stay up-to-date with current market prices, and the same service used in health service provision in rural areas has certainly seen an increase in those accessing health care (mHealth). However, many ICT4Dev projects fail because of poor management or collapse once donor funding has been withdrawn. A gap in this area is clearly seen.

In order for the Virtual University of Uganda to remain relevant to the practical development needs of the country (and indeed the region), and as a university offering online education, it is logical that one of our programmes is ICT related. When we set up the programme (which is accredited by the National Council for Higher Education – 17 July 2012) we received many suggestions from prospective students to offer traditional ICT courses; however, we believe that other universities have sufficient coverage of that area.We thought it was time to offer a specific tailor-made postgraduate programme in ICT4Dev. Our programme, offers not only courses on programming, computer languages, hardware and software, we also concentrate on the latest interventions and innovations that impact significantly on development encouraging our students to think outside the traditional ICT box while embedding ICTs in the whole area of development theory and praxis.

We are the only university on Sub-Saharan Africa offering the programme (with the exception of South Africa).3 This means that we are at the cutting edge of academic developments in the field.

Aims and Objectives
It is precisely because many innovative ICT4Dev projects fail outright, are not sustainable nor contextualized, that the region needs experts who have both the knowledge and the skills necessary to implement and manage ICT4Dev projects successfully. The programme will, therefore, aim to train innovators with “technical competencies” and “contextual competencies” to fulfill this function.

On completion of the programme, students will:
understand the contextual frameworks of development in all aspects
understand how ICTs impact on development
be enabled to link development theory with ICT practice
have the knowledge to engage critically with the role of ICTs in development
be familiar with the key debates in ICT4dev
have a thorough understanding of the basic concepts of ICT
have thorough insight in the technical skills of GIS, visual representation,
have a thorough insight in the application of ICT in one of the following sectors: education, health, finance
possess the competences to enable them to handle practical aspects of ICT4D projects such as sound project management, stakeholder
analysis
have the skills to keep themselves up-to-date in the field of ICT
have the skills to adapt new upcoming ICT technologies to local conditions.

Programme Structure4

PGDID 101: World development today 3 CU**

PGDICT 101: Introduction to ICT4D 3 CU

PGDID 103: Development projects: planning and management 3 CU

PGDICT 102: Hardware and networking for development 3 CU

PGDICT 103: Software and databases for development 3 CU

PGDICT 104: New internet based paradigms – moving to the cloud 3 CU

PGDICT 105: Information systems design and implementation 3 CU

PGDICT 106: ICT policy and regulation 3 CU

PGDVUU 102: Ethics and integrity in technology 3 CU

PGDVUU 101: Research Methodology 3 CU

Total Credit Units: Postgraduate Diploma: 33 CU

* These courses may also be taken as stand-alone certificate courses as part of Continuous Professional Development.

** Lecturing hours, practical hours and others are not included in this structure because these are not applicable to online courses. However, it is expected that students spend at least 8 hours per week on the learning platform; this includes 1 Live Classroom (1 hour per week) and 2 Chat sessions (2 hours per week).

Continuation to Master’s Dissertation

On successful completion of the eleven courses leading to a PG Diploma, having gained a CGPA of at least 3.0 in the taught courses, candidates may be qualified to register as Master’s candidates and proceed to work on the dissertation which will be supervised by a regional / international expert in the field of study chosen.

MSCPH 201 Dissertation (MSc) 7 CU

Total Credit Units Master of Science: 40 CU

Programme Duration

The programme takes two calendar years to complete the PDG in Information and Communications Technology for Development. The dissertation takes a further six months to complete.

Programme Leader:

Dr Arjan de Jager, BSc, MSc, Ph.D, Information Manager at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and previously Senior advisor at The Center of Expertise, Programme & Country Manager Uganda at IICD, and Lecturer / Coordinator at Hogeschool van Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Programme Manager:

Professor Dr Deirdre Carabine, BA, MA, PhD (QUB), PhD (NUI), Director of Programmes, VUU

Programme Administrator:
Mrs Victoria Lindo Ndagire, BA, MA (MUK), University Secretary, VUU

1 http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/ICT-information-and-communications-technology-or-technologies; accessed 15 January 2015.

2 State of Internet Freedoms in Uganda 2014, accessed at: http://opennetafrica.org/wpcontent/uploads/researchandpubs/State%20of%20Internet%20Freedoms%20in%20Uganda%202014.pdf; accessed 15 January 2015.

3 http://www.cs.uct.ac.za/about-us/newsletters/fd.pdf; accessed 15 January 2015.

4 In order to remain relevant, all courses are revised after being on the learning platform for two calendar years.

ICT4Dev

Postgraduate Diploma / Masters ICT4Dev

It is a well-known fact that KNOWLEDGE = power, health, and oftentimes wealth. In this age of super-fast global communication and the vast resources available on the world-wide-web, ICTs are changing the way we do business, learn, and communicate, and there are few excuses for those in “developed” countries not to equip themselves with empowering knowledge (EK). And while information itself is important, we must know where to get it, how to get it, and what to do with it.

While it is true that the majority of the world’s peoples are cut off from EK – and there are many reasons for this North-South divide – recent years have seen a huge increase in the number of people in the “developing” world becoming connected. As of June 2011, Uganda’s population was recorded in excess of 33 million of which around 3.2 million had internet access. While this represents only 9.6% of the country’s population and is small in relation to the 2 billion internet users worldwide, nevertheless it is a laudable statistic that is slowly being reflected in changing ideas and raising expectations.

Until relatively recently, ICTs were generally seen as specialized and often mysterious. For example, in the not-so-distant past, the computers in an organization were controlled by an ICT Manager or Systems Administrator who had absolute power in terms of how and access. With more and more people owning and setting up a laptop without the need for a Systems Administrator, the introduction of more friendly user interfaces, social networking, and cloud computing, much of the mystery has been taken out of ICTs for the average computer user.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are used either directly by the target groups (the population) or indirectly to assist organizations such as NGOs to improve socio-economic conditions in developing countries. For organizations such as NGOs, ICTs provide a useful tool for sustainable development and an absolute need in emergency situations. However, there is a lack of capacity in developing countries to develop, maintain, and utilize the ICT resources. This is an important cause for failure of ICT projects.

As organizations such as: infoDev and ICT4Dev demonstrate, ICTs have many roles to play in almost every area of life: democracy, banking, retailing, education, marketing, gender, business, public health, human rights, environment, governance, agriculture, the media, health …. Innovative solutions to some development problems are emerging at a very fast rate, for example, the introduction of the mobile money networks made the fast transfer of cash relatively simple, while at the same time saving travel money and eliminating the need for difficult paperwork in a bank. The text services for rural farmers (while still suffering from a number of drawbacks) ideally makes it easier for farmers to stay up-to-date with current market prices, and the same service used in health service provision in rural areas has certainly seen an increase in those accessing health care (mHealth). However, many ICT4Dev projects fail because of poor management or collapse once donor funding has been withdrawn. A gap in this area is clearly seen.

In order for the Virtual University of Uganda to remain relevant to the practical development needs of the country (and indeed the region), the programmes offered should centre around areas that are priority areas given our current general and economic climate and the mission and vision of the university. Our current programmes in public health and international development both fall under the general umbrella of “development”. As a university offering online education, it would seem that the next logical programme to offer would be ICT related.

And while we have received many suggestions from prospective students to offer traditional ICT courses, we believe that other universities have sufficient coverage of that area. It is now time to offer a specific tailor-made postgraduate programme in ICT4Dev. Our programme, therefore, will not offer courses on programming, computer languages, or hardware; we will, however, concentrate on the latest interventions and innovations that impact significantly on development encouraging our students to think outside the traditional ICT box while embedding ICTs in the whole area of development theory and praxis.

Aims and Objectives
It is precisely because many innovative ICT4Dev projects fail outright, are not sustainable nor contextualized, that the region needs experts who have both the knowledge and the skills necessary to implement and manage ICT4Dev projects successfully. The programme will, therefore, aim to train innovators with “technical competencies” and “contextual competencies” to fulfill this function.

On completion of the programme, our students will:
understand the contextual frameworks of development in all aspects
understand how ICTs impact on development
be enabled to link development theory with ICT practice
have the knowledge to engage critically with the role of ICTs in development
be familiar with the key debates in ICT4dev

have a thorough understanding of the basic concepts of ICT
have thorough insight in the technical skills of GIS, visual representation,
have a thorough insight in the application of ICT in one of the following sectors: education, health, finance
possess the competences to enable them to handle practical aspects of ICT4D projects such as sound project management, stakeholder analysis
have the skills to keep themselves up-to-date in the field of ICT
have the skills to adapt new upcoming ICT technologies to local conditions.

Core Staff

Programme Leader:
Professor Dr Victor van Reijswoud, BA, MSc, PhD, Professor and Strategic Advisor eLearning and ICT at Virtual University of Uganda

Dr Arjan de Jager, BSc, MSc, Ph.D, Information Manager at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and previously Senior advisor at The Center of Expertise, Programme & Country Manager Uganda at IICD, and Lecturer / Coordinator at Hogeschool van Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr Adalbertus Kamanzi, Dip. Th., BA, MA, PhD, Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow, University of Dodoma, Tanzania

Professor Dr Revi Sterling, BSc, MSc, Ph.D. Faculty Director, ICTD Graduate Studies, ATLAS Institute, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA

Dr Alfred Lakwo, BSc, MA, PhD, Director ARFAD, Uganda and previously lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University

Dr Ann Marie Begley, BNS, BA, MSc, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Professor Deirdre Carabine, BA, MA, PhD, PhD, Vice-Chancellor, Virtual University of Uganda and previously of International Health Sciences University and Uganda Martyrs University

Programme Structure

PGDID 101: Contemporary Perspectives on Development 3 CU
PGDICT 101: Introduction to ICT4D 3 CU
PGDID 103: Development Projects: Planning and Management 3 CU
PGDICT 102: Hardware and networking for Development 3 CU
PGDICT 103: Software and databases for Development 3 CU
PGDICT 104: New internet based paradigms – moving to the cloud 3 CU
PGDICT 105: Information systems design and implementation 3 CU
PGDICT 106: ICT Policy and Regulation 3 CU
PGDID 109: Research Methods 3 CU
PGDID 110: Integrity for ICTs in Development 3 CU
PGDID 111: Management and Leadership in ICT4D 3 CU

MAICT 201: Dissertation (Masters)

Total Credit Units: Postgraduate Diploma: 33 CU

These courses may also be taken as stand-alone certificate courses as part of Continuous Professional Development.

Visit our website for more information and application details: www.virtualuni.ac.ug