OPINION | Higher education sector must make long-overdue reforms to embrace and develop blended learning

Columnist Siyabulela Christopher Fobosi says the Covid-19 pandemic is pushing universities to move towards online learning, combined with supervised classroom teaching.
NEW DOOR: Columnist Siyabulela Christopher Fobosi says the Covid-19 pandemic is pushing universities to move towards online learning, combined with supervised classroom teaching.
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So 2020, the year we would want to quickly forget is over and we are all full of hope that things will be better in 2021.

While there are promising indicators, such as the huge worldwide Covid-19 vaccination programmes kicking into action, it is clear the pandemic is still far from being defeated.

We are indeed winning battles but the war is still raging on.

Pursuant to the Covid-19 pandemic, continuity of teaching and learning in universities and colleges continues to be a major problem for all stakeholders.

The matric results were out this week and universities are now preparing to welcome new students for the 2021 academic year amid Covid-19 and level 3 of the lockdown.

The pandemic continues to interrupt the basic human right to access higher education.

Covid-19 calls us to rethink literacy in the context where online learning is used.

Rethinking literacy in this context does not close or complete a thought around the teaching and learning environments.

It invites further engagement on the possibilities of developing blended learning.

It is open, because it is suggestive of a variety of options and possibilities to implement blended learning in universities.

Teaching must guarantee that learning is pedagogically sound, learner-focused, and available in blended format.

Most notably, technology must concentrate on successful learning experiences.

How concepts and activities are conveyed and what it means to be informed have been intensely changed by digital technologies.

The lecturers’ ability to leverage technology, personalise and streamline the learning process for students, makes blended learning an effective way to maximise the impact of teacher time through direct instruction.

Blended learning as an instructional methodology influences technology to provide an approach that is more personalised, providing control over time, pace and path for students in their learning process.

Through blended learning, students will partly learn online and in a supervised class environment.

Blended learning has become increasingly popular in higher education across the world.

A critical question to think about going forward is whether students and lecturers are prepared to embrace blended learning and opportunities?

Some students access their devices on a regular basis and, it is vital to note that this is education in its own right.

Lecturers should be able to explore practical skills and strategies to help students think critically about the information around them.

Due to the lockdown regulations, some universities are implementing online registrations.

The continued lockdown due to Covid-19 is pushing universities to use blended learning.

Such learning entails teaching that integrates technology and digital media with traditional instructor-led classroom activities, giving students more flexibility to customise their learning experience.

Since Covid-19 has influenced global higher education, universities around the world have responded in different ways.

For universities in Africa, the pandemic has brought unparalleled instability and confusion,  which needs collective effort to address.

It pressured Africa’s higher education sector to make long-overdue reforms by magnifying perceived barriers to the willingness of students to engage with their learning.

Covid-19 has demonstrated the need for universities with both computers and data packages to support their student bodies so they can learn and engage in the digital space.

To encourage them to continue to participate online, some universities have gone out of their way by offering devices, either tablets or smartphones, to their students at home.

Obviously, with larger institutions, this is much more complicated.

With the urgent need for South African universities to implement blended learning, government needs to set aside budget for this.

Siyabulela C Fobosi is a senior researcher, UNESCO ‘Oliver Tambo’ chair of human rights, Nelson R Mandela School of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Fort Hare


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