Wednesday, 26 December 2018

One year to go...

The end of 2018 practically marks the 2nd year into my mandate as Pro Vice-Chancellor. Looking back at the achievements of 2017, and the plans for 2018 and comparing with what has been achieved is overall positive, but personally I think much more could have been done. However, as time goes by, one realizes the complexity of this organization and how it is difficult to bring all ingredients together so as to progress faster towards our goals. Nevertheless, this is a huge learning experience.

In 2017 fees for postgraduate courses were reduced massively to encourage more graduates to join the UoM for Masters level programs and to make our courses more accessible to the community. Based on intake numbers for academic year 2018/2019 (Aug 2018 session) we had managed to recruit approximately 300 additional students.  
 
With respect to the internationalization strategy that was approved by Council, the International Affairs Office is now operational and is highly engaged into making staff and student exchange programmes successful, and working with student recruitment agencies to increase the intake of international students. The August 2019 student recruitment will provide us with an indication on how this strategy will fare.  
 
The framework for the GTES has allowed the UoM to get engaged with industry related courses smoothly. Two such programmes are running with Accenture and one with Maubank after the policy had been approved.  
 
As we have moved to the learner-centred credit system modeled on the ECTS (a system that I always thought would be an improvement of the actual teacher-centred credit system of the UoM), the technology-enabled learning policy will now play an important role as the UoM starts implementing the LCCS. LCCS is being piloted and managed by my colleague Pro VC (Academia) with close support from my office. In terms of the eLearning infrastructure, new servers are being purchased, and cloud hosting of the eLearning platform is being envisaged, while ZOOM is being used for the delivery of virtual lectures.  
 
Regarding the BSc Digital Innovation and Enterprise, a partnership with an important IT company and key local player is being formalized and we expect this to be ready for our August 2019 intake. We are also working with the Faculty of ICDT to kickstart short professional certification courses related to the film post-production sector. In terms of consultancy and contract research the figures are just unbelievable with an all time peak of around 50M MUR reached in terms of total project value. Beating this for the forthcoming years might be a real challenge, but the idea is to continue to aim higher and higher.

For 2019, the two key plans are as follows:
  • To engage into transformation leadership development at the UoM at all levels through a series of capacity building with the support of a highly experienced local consultant.
  • The setting up of the UoM Foundation to allow endowments to the University from benefactors. This is not new as the work had started previously but it had stalled for some reasons.
  • Increasing student numbers especially postgrad and international students while stabilizing the intakes on undergraduate programmes through innovative marketing approaches.
  • Staff welfare is high on my list, but the task is a bit more difficult than I thought, so it’s part of the longer-term strategy. Two key aspects of focus here – continuous professional development and team-building/leadership/loyalty and sense of belonging/humanity first approach. To achieve these, there are a few hurdles to surmount.
Of course, my office is engaged into a lot of additional activities which have had impacts and I must acknowledge that I am surrounded by a team of highly competent and loyal professionals.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Little knowledge is dangerous!

It has been quite a while that I was reflecting on a few issues and was willing to find an interesting subject to narrate down some of my thoughts towards the end of this year. In fact, I was always reflecting that in such a world dominated by technology, the internet and unprecedented, uncontrolled access to information, not only how do we filter what is to be retained and to focus ourselves upon, but also how do we refrain from self-proclaiming ourselves as the jack of all trades but the masters of none! In such a world where one can know about the causes of diabetes in split-second search using three keywords, that does not make one a medical practitioner or a specialist in diabetes. 
  
Unfortunately, what we see nowadays is that too many of us, including me maybe, often think we know better in every field than our fellow real experts in those areas. Why is it like that? Possibly because one has difficulty to establish himself or herself in his or her own chosen field. This might be one reason. The other reason could be that one is always on the look-out to prove he or she is a multi-skilled person with spectacular cross-competencies, and therefore try to get involved in everything that moves. Having said that, it does not mean that one should not be doing so, as after all many of us do make a living out of the so-called “general knowledge” and we are free to think and do whatever we want as long as it’s within the law.  

Reading a lot, carrying out intensive research on things that we have particular interest in, and engaging in a few projects and activities here and there, do indeed bring us to a certain level of self-improvement. However, this does not make us experts in the area. In this world where digitization is taking on everyone and everything by storm, does it mean that everyone who uses WhatsApp or is able to send an email is an IT professional? That reminds me of the current buzzwords, such as Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain. I still recall that 17 years ago when I was doing a master’s in business information technology, we used neural network to predict the prices of gold, and we were exposed to the concept of fuzzy logic for expert system-based reasoning and the use of genetic algorithms for decision-making processes in businesses. We were talking at that time about how to structure data in data warehouses, and how the analysis of patterns and trends in those data could help businesses. Any clue of what that meant? Yes, it’s called data science today!
  
Let me come to the point now – my area that is education technology. I joined the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies in 2001 when two persons (not me..) with great vision dared to go forward with the international trend at that time, when good internet connectivity was still a luxury in Mauritius. The Centre struggled for a few years, until we managed to start running online programs with the little means and all the constraints and barriers that we have had to face. At one point in time, the student population of this Centre was even greater that one or two faculties of the University. We developed strategies, technologies, engaged into research and development and consultancies, battled through resistance, and attempts from even the top management at some point in time for our existence, and achieved international recognition and awards. Education Technology is heavily reliant on two things – Pedagogical and Technical ICT knowledge. When we had to decide with Prof Senteni at one point in time for the profile of Instructional Designers cum Education Technologist at the Centre we had two options of either to take persons with education / human sciences profile and train them in ICT or those with a strong ICT background and train them in pedagogy. We opted for the second option, and we took the correct decision. However, in all of these aspects there is one variable not in our hands – adoption of EdTech by academics who are traditionally resistant, and this is not phenomenon encountered only in Mauritius but everywhere in the world. Those who adopt it and use ICTs in their teaching and learning become innovative 21st Century Practitioners, but not de-facto edTech specialists or strategists.  

Technologies keep evolving as well as pedagogies, but they do not happen at the same time and in the same rhythm. When our eLearning platform is not able to send a Forum Digest or Emails, that does not mean that our knowledge of EdTech is poor. That does not our knowledge of ICTs is poor. It could mean our policies of applying certain restrictions on our technology infrastructure is not allowing it while it may also simply mean we need to check on which ports to be opened. It might also mean that we know all of these but sometimes it’s a mere lack of communication and coordination that it does not happen. I always had a position which was against the overly application of security protocols in educational institutions (I used to quote this “when a thief gets in your house through a window, you do not replace the window by a layer of brick!” to express my stand), but again in this highly evolving world, I appreciate that security of data, and protection of our systems are also critical set-pieces in the long term sustainability of digitally transformed institutions. Therefore, ten years down the line, yes my stand has changed, and there is a need to relook at our strategies. The most important thing though – Awareness, and we are! 
  
Maintaining a balance, and a well-defined approach with a holistic vision of the future, coupled of course with the fact that it is important to maintain a high quality of service is key to quality online provisions. However if educational technology leaders (do they have contemporary relevant leadership skills?), cannot understand that very key aspect and the core ingredients and the drivers for their edTech strategy, they will always be the ripe target for the tons of edTech consultants that exist out there, and whose primary job is to make a living out of edTech which finally will end most of the time in the organization of a few workshops, one or two reports but with no concrete output or outcome, because time and experience has showed it to us : “ C’est un parcours du combattant ! “, and at least we, or for once, “I” can proudly say – “I” am not a novice.  

As the saying goes….”little knowledge is dangerous” and “nul n’est proph├Ęte dans son pays!”


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

UoM Trisector Society Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Here is a copy of my speech on that occasion as the Chief Guest of the event, representing the Vice-Chancellor.

Prof Hookoomsing, former Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University, Ms Bhurtoni (Disability Activist), Mr Boodhun (Legal Lead Accenture Mauritius), Ms Gopee (Project Coordinator, Inclusion Mauritius), Colleagues of the University, Staff and Students,

Ladies and Gentlemen – good afternoon to you all.
 
I am pleased today to be among you here on the occasion of this laudable initiative by the UoM Students’ Tri-Sector Society in the context of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. At the level of the University and in line with our Core Values, we are leaving no stone unturned to put in place appropriate infrastructure to ensure that our fellow citizens with any type of disability are given the full support to study in a conducive and inclusive environment. Access to education is a critical factor for anyone to have a chance to live a decent and normal life afterwards. However, there is still more to be done, and we reckon that without the support and contribution of each and everyone of us, progress will be limited.

The tri-sector concept is no doubt one of the key ingredients to help towards the holistic inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society, as we can witness today by the presence of friends from the private sector, civil societies and government, including academia. At the University, we have coined the term a bit differently through what we call the triple-helix model with a fourth dimension, the people. Indeed, no model or approach will be successful if the human aspect is not present.

Mauritius is a fast-developing country, and the ingredients that will help us to move from a middle-income country to a high-income economy is there, the blueprint is there and key actions are reflected every year in the budget. But in that quest for development and economic progress, there are two important questions to answer:
  • In our rush and quest for more progress and development, are we not leaving behind key values of humanity, mankind and ensure inclusion at all levels and for all types of vulnerable groups?
  • How come in the Mauritius of the 21st Century we still have families living in extreme poverty, and others struggling to live a decent life because of prejudices?

Inclusion of all different groups in society is indeed a pressing issue not only at the local level but in a global world and is not only limited to people with disabilities. Indeed, having international days to remember, celebrate and sensitize the world about challenges, difficulties and achievements of mankind and organizing workshops and events of this kind definitely help to further such causes that we live and stand for. However, it will be of no use if there is no change in human mentality and our inner attitudes, behavior and the whole bunch of prejudices that exist from within us.

To be able to bring this change in mentality and inner attitudes we first need to go back to what we often call “the first principles” and engage in deeper thinking about the very basis of our existence on this earth and about its purpose. Today in this world we are taught to show contempt first rather than compassion towards a fellow human being. Yes, while giving someone 5 cents to complete the rupee you might have been lured by unknowingly paying for someone to buy a cigarette but have you ever thought that in some other cases it might have been the 5 missing cents for someone to buy milk for his kids? No, because we are now in a ruthless society where everyone is in a race to get ahead of the other. We have learnt to think differently. We are taught to look at the 5 cents less we will have rather than the rupee the person in need will have and which could change the world for him.

It is unfortunate today that mankind despite being granted with brilliance, intelligence, and superior abilities, yet drops bombs in its greed for power and thirst for more wealth to create more disabled persons. As somebody has rightly said “I see humans but no humanity”. This is why today, it is more than commendable that you are engaged in a noble cause linked to basic humanitarian values of not letting anyone behind and helping each other to overcome the challenges of life which often takes diverse forms.

Therefore, as the youth representing the future generations of leaders, professionals, and as ordinary citizens, my message to all of you here is to never abandon those in need and to always thrive to give mankind back “ses lettres de noblesse”. It does not take much to be a better human being and I personally believe that there is no better place than a University to set the foundations for a better world. On this note, and on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor and the University, I wish to reiterate my thanks to all those present as well as the speakers who have kindly agreed to take part in this workshop.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Africa’s Movers and Shakers in Corporate Online Learning 2018

A list of the one hundred most influential people in online learning learning in Africa is published in the context of the eLearning Africa 2018 conference. 
According to the article published on learningnews.com, "this list represents the views of key people about the personalities who lead the online learning world in Africa. Several hundred people received nominations. The judging process was carried out by an independent – and non-African - group of judges from the online learning technologies industry. 

While this list is not endorsed in any way by the organisers of the eLearning Africa event, in Kigali, Rwanda, from 26 to 28 September 2018, the event’s organisers supported the idea of the List by using their extensive network to invite nominations. Moreover, they recognise that the List gives visibility and “status” to the online learning sector in Africa and promotes discussion of this sector within Africa"

Among the three to four persons from Africa, i am pleased to come at the 39th place in the "premier platinum" category. The description given is as follows:
39. Santally Mohammad Issack - Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources) at the University of Mauritius, who promotes e-learning within the university and collaborates with agencies, such as the Commonwealth of Learning, to train officers of the Food and Agricultural Research Institute (FAREI) to develop e-learning materials for small and medium enterprises in the farming sector.
I wish to place on record my thanks to colleagues especially Prof Jhurry, the Vice-Chancellor who believed in me and nominated me for this list. I am also thankful to the COL/FAREI and other organisations with whom i worked closely in the past. I also wish to congratulate my good friend Kaviraj Sukon, Director General of the Open University of Mauritius to have made it to the 22nd place.

The full article and the list can be accessed here:

Monday, 27 August 2018

Alternative modes of assessment and evaluation of student learning for 21st Century Education

Assessment and evaluation of student learning is an integral component of the learning process. Assessment can either be formative or summative. Formative assessment is usually done throughout the course to allow the teacher to monitor the learning progress and use valuable feedback to either change the way teaching is being done to promote better understanding and to also give the student feedback on his or her progress to allow the student to identify areas where he or she needs to input more effort. On the other hand, summative assessment is a way to measure and evaluate the students learning at the end through a kind of a more formal and structured activity such as written examinations or a project. In all cases, the main objective of summative and formative evaluations is to ensure that intended learning outcomes are met. It is therefore important to define clear assessment criteria for each intended learning outcome.

In many elitist and competitive systems, supervised closed book examinations have long been seen as the preferred choice for student assessment and evaluation. It was perceived as the best way to ensure that the assessment processes were reliable, authentic and to maintain the integrity of the competition. Over the years the model has been widely implemented and accepted at all levels of the education systems throughout the globe. However, researchers and practitioners have started since some time to question the validity and relevance of such examinations, that normally rely mainly on memorization abilities of learners and have a limited range of application, in terms of what we can really measure out of them. With the proliferation of technologies and the internet, does it still make sense to rely on the ability of individuals to memorize and recall information in a closed-book examinations setting that lasts a few hours? Is it sufficient to assess in such a span of time about the intended learning outcomes and the learning that took place over one year? Is it a reliable way to measure whether the students have the necessary skills to apply their knowledge in the real world and in authentic situations?


While many developed countries and higher education institutions of the North have started to gradually move away from the traditional systems of evaluation and assessment, we note that developing countries are still lagging behind and in many cases, we have witnessed the consolidation of such systems. On one hand people would be talking about 21st Century Education while on the other hand, in the name of quality assurance, decision makers and school leaders would prefer to play the safe way by maintaining supervised closed book examinations. When we refer to 21st Century education, it is often pointing to learning in a context driven by technology and amidst an unrivalled abundance of all sorts of information at your fingertip.


When you could get to know the Capital of any country or the date a particular President of the United States died within seconds on the Internet, we need to ask ourselves, about the relevance or pertinence to ask a kid or a University student to remember this information because they might come out in an examination? Is it not wiser in the current era that we assess their ability to use the right tool to find such information when the question is being put to them? This further reminds me of a technique often used by some teachers of General Paper subject. They would dictate their students different sorts of essays related to themes normally to be covered or that may be highly probable to come out for the exams. Students would be expected to memorize these essays to have a better chance to perform in the exams.


21st Century Education is not only about developing a certain expertise of a subject matter but also characterized as the acquisition of other skills known as soft skills such as the ability to communicate better, to apply the knowledge acquired and to develop the capability to engage into reflexive practices. In the past, the teacher was seen as the one who knows it all. The content was at the center of the teaching and learning process. This is no longer true in the information and knowledge age. It is therefore obvious that the teaching methods and assessment instruments that we devise are relevant to that specific context. If the way we teach changes, then the way to assess has to evolve accordingly. Let us have a look of a few alternatives to the standard supervised closed book examinations.
 
Project Work

Project work has the merit to engage students into inquiry-based learning combining at the same time acquisition of information, application of knowledge and to reflect on one’s own learning through a presentation of the work done, or through the write-up of a report. Project work can be done individually or in teams and occurs over an extended period of time. At the end of the project, an artefact is normally produced which is assessed based on pre-defined criteria.


Open book exams



Open book exams can be considered as the most direct alternative to closed-book examinations as such exams are often conducted under the same parameters as closed book examinations. However they are very much different in substance, as the majority if not all of the questions set would not rely on memorization but rather would test problem-solving abilities of the student. They could be given a complex question or case-studies such as the need to advise a client on a particular legal issue, and they are allowed to consult existing laws, previous cases and other relevant documents.


Formative Assessment - Reflective Journals, Peer Assessment and Tutor Feedback


Role plays, scenarios and simulations are considered as experiential learning. Modern teaching techniques also refer to these techniques as gamification or games-based learning. They learn through interaction within a predefined context in an environment which is recreated to provide a simulation of a real-world situation where learning takes place as they walk through the process at different stages. This is called active learning and are best assessed through formative assessment techniques such as keeping a reflective journal, tutor feedback or peer-assessment. An example is to setup a mock Court room where Bar students practice as the Defence and Prosecution to argue a case. They can be assessed by their peers and their tutor as well.

Practical Work in Authentic Settings

There are two ways to achieve practical work in authentic settings. The first one can take place for example in a computer lab where students develop a piece of software to solve a real problem. These types of assessment can take the form of hackathons where teams are formed and work on a specific identified problem theme with the aim to win the contest. Practical work in authentic settings also take the form of a more formal placement in a work environment where they are assessed on different elements and skills that are expected from them.  Such concept is often called work-based learning and the aim is to improve the learning experience of the student and his or her readiness to get on the job market.

Portfolios

A portfolio is basically a collection of artefacts produced by a student during the course of a study which is then presented to the tutor for assessment. Portfolios are a useful way for a student to demonstrate application of knowledge and his or her skillset that has been acquired. A portfolio from a trainee teacher can contain a set of lesson plans that he or she designed and used in the class with the students during a teacher training course. A portfolio is normally accompany by a critical reflection component where the person records his or her feelings, findings, views and reflections through the learning process while building the portfolio.


Moving to alternative modes of assessment and student evaluation should however be done in such a way that the integrity and seriousness of the processes are not compromised. The necessary checks and balances have to be put in place. For example, there is a need to ascertain that authorship of a report is really that of the student. This can be done through putting in place regular meetings to check progress. The use of anti-plagiarism software also helps to establish that a report is a students’ own work and not copied from other sources. Holding viva-voce presentations (oral examinations) at the end of any project or after submissions of portfolios can help establish authenticity and prevent abuses to occur. These should however be done, having in mind, and accepting the fact that examinations in whatever form they take are never foolproof.


As a concluding note, choosing the right model or type of evaluation or assessment instruments depends on what you want to assess, as well as on the subject area being assessed. No assessment method or instrument should be excluded from the beginning. It is also considered a good practice to have a variety of assessment instruments and methods in a curriculum. The idea in not to solely rely on one specific method every time and in every situation.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Keynote Speech @ eMerge Africa 2018 - Two decades of eLearning @ the University of Mauritius


I was invited to deliver a keynote speech to the eMerge Africa 2018 conference (also referred to as the festival of eLearning in Africa) which took place as an online event, hosted by the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, of the University of Cape Town (UCT). This was an excellent opportunity for us to share our own experience in the area as practitioners, researchers and advocates of 21st Century Learning.

The link to the Conference and Keynote Speakers is provided here
 
The premise of my talk again centered on the reason why the University shifted its strategy from the traditional distance education concept (yes, I find this term to be an oxymoron in the 21st Century, especially in a world dominated by ICTs and virtualization) to the more contemporary concepts of distributed learning and using the “ubiquitous” nature of ICTs and the Internet to transform teaching and learning in the 21st Century. 

The talk provided a timeline of the key events, and strategic shifts from 2001 till now and argues how a transformation of the current education system of the University of Mauritius through ICT leverages will help us to address the present and future challenges in such a way that we ensure the sustainability and relevance of the institution down the years. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

UNESCO Mobile Learning Week Presentation

The Mobile Learning Week is UNESCO’s flagship ICT in education conference. The Mobile Learning Week 2018 was organized in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for ICT. The 2018 event was organized under the theme “Skills for a connected world”. Participants exchanged knowledge about the ways governments and other stakeholders can define and achieve the skills-related targets specified by Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).

I submitted a proposal for presentation titled “Capacity-building of Educators for 21st Century Skills - Developing agents of change through formal and informal approaches using a 4P Innovation model” which was retained among the 60 selected presentations out of about 300 submissions. The audience to the presentation included Advisors to Minister of Education of the UAE, public and private sector individuals, academics and representatives of NGOs. 
One of the main components of the presentation focused on the BABA-TV project in which the UoM is a partner. The project relates to a mass-literacy initiative over Africa in collaboration with partners from France. The key message delivered in the speech was that much of the focus of the conference was on the education for kids and the youth, but there was a lack of emphasis on the importance of the need to train parents as well. 


 

Key Ideas


A key idea that emerged there which would be of benefit for Mauritius in achieving SDG4 would be to revamp the idea of the “Ecole des Parents”. In the digital age, this could take the form of webinars, MOOCs and face-to-face meetings in Social Community Centres to help those living in vulnerable situations.

The eKitabu project was another project that captured attention where Kenya is embarking on the digitization of school textbooks, with an intention similar to the one behind the tablet project in Mauritius. An innovative idea in the context of the University based on the eBook concepts, and inspired also from a similar project in UK/Scotland where University professors have embarked on to the publication of low cost e-textbooks on Amazon Kindle surfaced during the discussions, but applied in our context to our OER repository project. One of the forms that the OER repository could take would be as a repository of free e-textbooks published as OER and which could serve either as building blocks to modules that can lead to the accumulation of credits.

One of the main message put forward in the opening of the conference was a new concept – gender equality and the digital divide. It was postulated Gender gap in internet usage is widening. Now the gender issue is getting its way into the use of technology also. Is it a real issue? If yes to what extent? Is it linked to poverty issues again, as a side-effect? There can be room for research here in Mauritius and to compare with global figures.

The Minister of ICT of Egypt talked about the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for teachers in the plenary session while the Advisor to the Ministry of Education of the UAE talked about the maturity of schools in terms of adopting technology. A key idea here emerged with respect to our ongoing funded project on Education Leadership for the 21st Century by the AAUN, where we could work towards a Leadership Maturity Model for Mauritius Schools in terms of ICTinEd.