DUT AIMS FOR EXTENSIVE DIGITALISATION
By: Dale Munatswa
As part of its efforts to become a world class university, the Durban University of Technology has taken a step towards achieving its goal through the expansion from traditional learning to e-learning.
Traditional learning refers to a process that has been used for many years. It involves a teacher giving instructions to students face to face in a campus class room. E-learning, on the other hand, is conducted via electronic media, typically on the internet.
Lately the Durban University of Technology (DUT) has been working on a vision to extensively expand e-learning, in efforts to revolutionise the learning experience.
According to Professor Graham Stewart, Director of e-learning at DUT, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ahmed Bawa, set up a team to spear head the programme in 2012. The team’s main objective was to advance learning technology at the institution. One of its milestones at the moment is the accessibility of wireless internet connection (WiFi) in most DUT campuses and residences.
Professor Stewart said that the current status of the university in terms of e-learning capacity is 34%. This figure however is based on numerous factors such as infrastructure availability and its usage. Stewart explained that the vision was to increase modules that are offered online and to increase learning materials that students can refer to. For instance, Mp3 notes that will be available and accessible online at any time.
In a fast, technologically developing world, learning in tertiary institutions has been evolving and evolution is a change appreciated by some and merely condoned by others.
Tony Manyangadze, a Public Relations B-tech student said, “It has been useful especially when used to its fullest potential. We get notes and slides online, we submit assignments and we discuss issues online at any time. So it is something that we can’t do without.”
Ningi Luthuli, a journalism first year student said, “I think that as much as it is convenient for some people who have internet, it kills communication between people. It does not create a friendly environment where people physically interact and share ideas. Hence it destroys ‘the spirit of Ubuntu’ (the essence of being African).”
Educational technologist Gita Mistri, from DUT’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, said that the University is in it’s transition period and there is awareness of the changes among academic staff members and they are pleased with its increased usage, especially the blackboard learning management system.
However despite the mixed reactions of students and lecturers, Professor Stewart said that the university was aiming high in achieving its goals and becoming a leading institution in offering online classes and qualifications.
“By 2015 we want to have at least 50% of qualifications and programs at DUT with online content. The aim is to upscale the level of online classrooms in terms of provision and usage”, said Professor Stewart.
Much is yet to be done for the university to reach its aimed milestone. Both students and academic staff have to work hand In hand to establish it. Acquiring the technology required for e-learning is expensive so there is need to overcome financial challenges.
The readiness of students is crucial. Students should be prepared for the change, that is, they must be equipped with the adequate knowledge on how to use the e-learning facilities. The devices to access the online content should also be available and accessible to students at all times.
Mistri said, “This is an exciting time for DUT students and it is challenging at the same time because it is a change and all changes require some sort of adaptation but I think everybody loves digital technology.”