Behind the scenes at Virtual University of Uganda

P1090476our campus in Kampala

Virtual University of Uganda (VUU) was granted a licence from the Uganda National Council for Higher Education in 2011, and we have been growing steadily since. We are proud to be pioneering elearning in Uganda and the region, and we are gradually becoming more well known even outside the continent. We had our first graduation in July and it was a colourful and happy occasion presided over by our Chancellor Lady Justice Flavia Senoga Anglin. Our friends on Facebook number almost 27,000, and we are also very visible on Twitter and Google+.

Our students come from, among other places, Uganda, the Philippines, the UK, Belgium, Tanzania, Malawi, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi, and Kenya, including a number of Ugandan professionals living abroad). Our staff are sourced globally, regionally, and nationally and represent Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands, England, Scotland, Uganda, Tanzania, Cameron, Italy, and Bolivia. We are a hard-working group and undertake all our tasks with professionalism and integrity.

Our Vice Chancellor is the veteran Belgian educationalist Professor Dr Michel Lejeune. He studied in Belgium, Oxford, and Canada, and holds two PhD degrees from Louvain. Having been a high court judge in Belgium, he was the founder Vice Chancellor at Uganda Martyrs University, and later the Deputy Executive Director at the Uganda National Council for Higher Education.  Those of you who know him, will remember that he is uncompromising about quality in higher education.

Michel pic

Second in command is Professor Dr Deirdre Carabine, Director of Programmes (Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs). She studied in Belfast, Paris, Munich, and Dublin, and is also the holder of two PhDs. She came to Uganda in 1993 to work at Uganda Martyrs University, and by the time she left, she was Deputy Vice Chancellor (AA), having also headed the Institute of Ethics and Development Studies and set up the School of Postgraduate Studies. She then founded International Health Sciences University before moving on to become founder Vice Chancellor at Virtual University of Uganda. She is passionate about online learning and has overall responsibility to ensure that all teaching and learning materials are of the best possible quality. She is also chief editor for the VUU Open Access Resources Series.

Carabine

The Chairman of our Board of Trustees is Professor Dr Charles Olweny, senior oncologist and educationalist, and previously VC at Uganda Martyrs University; the Chairman of our University Governing Council is Professor Dr Patrick Mangheni, formerly CEO of RENU, the Research and Education Network of Uganda. The other members of our full-time staff include Ms Lindo Victoria Ndagire, University Secretary in the Registry, and Mr Vincent Oloya in the Finance Office. All other staff members are contracted to teach courses in their areas of expertise. Our current programme leaders are Dr Ashis Brahma (Holland), Professor Adalbertus Kamanzi (Tanzania), Drs Arjan de Jaeger (The Netherlands), and Drs Jimmy Opoka (Uganda). I think you will agree that we are a diverse but well-qualified team.

It is because we have a very sleek physical infrastructure that we can concentrate on quality multi-media materials that make the student learning experience more enjoyable. This is what our Learning Platform looks like:

Moodle

You simply log on, go to your classroom, and learn! Simple. And we are always on hand to help you. We are proud of the fact that we offer premier student support both within and outside traditional office hours. So you do not have to travel to the university EVER: except perhaps if you wish to attend graduation! All registration, learning, Live Classes, and examinations are done online. All you need is a reliable internet connection. No more traffic jams as you struggle to reach the university at 6.00pm four evenings a week! Learn while you earn, as we say, and, most conveniently, learn at your own pace and in your own place!

If you would like to be part of this revolution in learning, visit our website to find out more about us. Currently, we offer Master’s degrees in Public Health, ICT4Development, Executive MBA (with Oil and Gas specialization and Hospitality Management coming soon), and MA International Development. We also offer a number of free online course each year (called LOOCs — Little Open Online Courses). These lead to postgraduate certification. We also offer training programmes for university staff who wish to learn how to be an online lecturer or how to manage an eLearning Platform.

To contact us, visit the website,  phone Victoria on +256 312 202137 or +256 772 202137, or mail Victoria at infovuu@virtualuni.ac.ug. You can also call in to our campus at 425 Zzimwe (Church) Road, Muyenga, Kampala (opposite Tankhill Parade).

We look forward to welcoming you as our student!

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.

Uganda’s First LOOC

Virtual University of Uganda
Postgraduate Certificate Course: Project Management for Development
18 May – 20 June 2015
Uganda’s first open online course!

PM

You may have heard of MOOCs, well, we at VUU have just opened our first LOOC: that means: Little Open Online Course. We have around 25 students registered — our target class size. We hope that more people will become familiar with online learning and perhaps sign up for a full degree course.

We are excited to be on the frontline of online education in the region.

We shall be offering another topical short course mid-October to mid-November.

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

P1090482

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.

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.

VUU’s Admission Policy

VUU has changed its admission policy due to popular demand. Instead of having two intakes a year for the three established programmes (International Development, Public Health, Business Administration), you can now apply for admission at any time throughout the year. We can custom build a course for you.

ICT4D is ready to start with its first students.

VUU is fully licenced by the Uganda National Council for Higher Education and recruits its tutors locally, regionally, and internationally.

Come and join us for an exciting learning experience! Visit us online at: http://www.virtualuni.ac.ug