Thursday, 8 August 2019

Digital Technologies, Disruption and the role of Universities

To set the context - Between 1985 and 1989, the Cray-2 was the world’s fastest computer. It was roughly the size of a washing machine. Today, a smart watch has twice its capabilities.

While more than 43 % of the world population is connected to the internet with a vast majority of this percentage coming from the developed world, the UN has set the ambitious goal of connecting all the world’s inhabitants to affordable internet by 2020. However, despite the fact that this target looks a bit unrealistic as we near the end of 2019, we have witnessed unprecedented increased access to information, education and global marketplaces, which will empower many people to improve their living conditions and escape poverty. As per the World Economic Forum these 7 technologies are actually changing our world – and this is what is being termed as the 4th Industrial Revolution.
  1. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
  2. Digital Health
  3. Large Scale Digitization
  4. Internet of Things
  5. Blockchain
  6. Digital Learning
  7. Wearable Internet
So, within a small island context, where we are used to be mainly consumers of technology, we need to transform our environment to become innovators and game changers to address the main challenges related to sustainable development, agriculture, health, education, climate amongst others. We need to look into how can research, innovation and development of digital technologies and innovative applications of same can empower small island states to address key issues related to the SDGs through enhanced partnerships between public – private – government – academia. It is preferable to embrace disruption before getting disrupted.

Some key leading questions for this session that we hope will be covered:

  • How do we maintain such an ecosystem with these key stakeholders to achieve those goals?
  • What are the gaps and how to address gaps related to skills mismatch and the collaboration between academia and the private sector?
  • What type of educational model and curricula that we must focus on?
  • Can we still focus on the same old recipe to achieve a different outcome?
  • What type of transformation our education system has to go through to ensure we remain contextually relevant to the i4.0 era?
There were two keynote speakers and five panelists. Out of the five panelists, three were from industry while two of them represented academia. The keynote speaker, Prof Moran from Curtin University, focused his speech on the role of universities to convert threats related to industry 4.0 into opportunities. He stresses on the role and relevance of Universities in the digital era of disruption while emphasizing on the need to strengthen the partnerships with the private sector. It is however clear that Universities cannot envisage the status-quo scenario. Mr Tan Chee-Peng centred his keynote speech on the importance of a shift in mindset to embrace disruption in the industry 4.0 context. Each of the panelists described key projects and cases from industry on the types of innovation that they were bringing to their own context. Projects on e-Health for example were being undertaken at the level of State Informatics Limited. The representative from Ceridian Mauritius coined the idea of Creativity 1.0 taking over from Industry 4.0. In light with the mindset change as highlighted by Mr Tan Chee-Peng, Mr Mooneegan of Ceridian requested UoM to champion a forum with key stakeholders on Society 5.0.

As a concluding note from the Chair of the session, it was highlighted that we tend often to oversimplify the problem by stating – “Either embrace disruption or be disrupted”, but it was clear from the different speakers that there is much more to look at especially from the perspectives of Universities and their leadership roles in the development of a so-called “ecosystem of disruption”. From that, the need for closer ties between University, Government and the Private Sector becomes more obvious – the triple helix model. However, in so doing a number of ethical issues have to be addressed, as highlighted by the different speakers and at the same time, it is important that Universities do not compromise on their core values, independence and academic freedom.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Internationalisation of Higher Education in Africa : Issues and Opportunities

The UNESCO Symposium on Higher Education was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 24th to 27th July at the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy. The key theme of the conference was Internationalization of Higher Education in Africa and same was addressed through a series of high-level panel discussions and interactions with the participants. One of the sessions was specifically devoted to “Collaborations between African HEIs to contribute towards the SDGs”. A major factor that was highlighted (among other classic factors such as research, engagement with local communities, continuing dialogue with stakeholders, collaboration & exchanges) was the promotion of intra-African mobility. It was highlighted that intra-African mobility was a real short-coming as many African institutions were mainly looking to the north for partnerships and as a result, neglected internationalization within Africa.  

One keynote speaker highlighted, according to him, the key mistakes that African countries were making while focusing on internationalization. He stressed that in so doing, many countries or Higher Education institutions in Africa were merely copying and pasting what was done by other countries mainly in the developed world in terms of their strategy. His main argument was that internationalization within Africa (what he calls Africanization) was a key step towards strengthening Higher Education Systems in Africa globally. The argument was that a power relationship would still hold when African HEIs partner with those in the North which is not necessarily good for developing countries in the long term. Internationalization of HEIs in Africa has to preserve local contexts, identities, cultures and practices and has to result in the export of these to the global world. The downside of internationalization has also been highlighted, such as increased competition for student recruitment, access to research funds and rat-race for publications. Internationalization activities have also been limited to a handful who have the means to travel abroad (e.g. student exchange). 

The internationalization strategy of the University of Mauritius was also presented to the participants of the Masterclass workshop on internationalization and the different components that has been put in place under these strategies. The issue of different secondary educational qualifications within different African countries and their equivalence to meet entry requirements at the University was lengthily discussed and different participants shared their own models and experiences. The moderator highlighted that in the US or UK Universities, they deal with the problem through the Foundation course for African students from those particular countries (who do not have a direct equivalence to match formal entry requirements). While the UNESCO through a presentation regarding conventions for recognition and equivalence of post-secondary educational qualifications in Africa urged countries, who have not yet ratified the convention to do so, it was highlighted that there was a dire need for an African Transnational Qualification Framework that would help address the gaps and harmonize the secondary education qualifications and quality throughout the African community.

The role of Digital Technologies in the internationalization process could not be overlooked and there was a growing consensus among the participants. For a long time, e-learning has been seen as a new form of distance education. However, the emergence of digital technologies, high-performance telecommunications infrastructure has given rise to a completely new dimension to the educational transaction. One speaker coined the idea of having common first year modules for a number of African Universities online to achieve the so-called Africanization of Higher Education. Such modules could be either taught by one lead academic from one University or jointly taught depending on the model in place. Such measures largely made possible by new technologies is a key enabler for internationalization of African universities.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Moodle 3.X detailed step-by-step guide

For roughly 2 decades now, we have been using Moodle as the preferred e-Learning platform at the University. Gradually we have moved from version 1.9 to 3.4.

While Moodle is essentially a Learning Content Management System, the structual changes in new generations require both planning for migration but also continuous retraining of staff who are used to previous versions.

Training academics on using a new system is indeed a challenging task because of one major risk factor, namely that they forget about the system after the training and do no really engage in its uptake. The second constraint is also reluctant to change, especially when users get used to an existing system.

Training and retraining is also resource-consuming. From preparation to actually running the workshop and ensuring uptake is often an uphill battle. Therefore a tempered approach sometimes can be more helpful by complementing face to face training with self-learning resources which participants can continue to consume after the training. There is thus an improved chance for uptake. The resource being shared below is a detailed 145 slides leading the participant step by step through the Moodle eLearning platform. 


Monday, 18 February 2019

Free Public Higher Education - Is it time for a National University of Mauritius?

On the occasion of the new year 2019, the Honorable Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth addressed the nation and announced free tertiary education at undergraduate level for all Mauritians studying in the public institutions of the country. While the population in general reacted favorably to this landmark announcement, there is also skepticism emitted by members of the civil society including political observers, academics and economists. Mauritius is well known for its successful education system. Free education in Mauritius was established by the Government in 1976 which many at the time criticized as an electoral measure while sympathizers of the then Government characterized the initiative as a visionary measure to shape the future of the country. 42 years later, indeed free education has proven to be the engine for the socio-economic progress of Mauritius - a country whose main asset is its manpower and intellectual capital. Free Tertiary Education is not in itself a novel concept. Since 1977 the University of Mauritius was technically delivering undergraduate courses at no cost to those who obtained a seat. Students were not charged tuition fees but nevertheless, had to meet general fees which was around Rs 4000 in the late 1990s and that gradually increased to Rs 27200 in 2018. It is still very affordable from a comparative point of view, but for lower middle class and for those at the bottom of the ladder, access to higher studies might seem a distant dream for them despite other Government measures such as free transportation for students since 2005. The University of Mauritius, for a long period of time since its creation until the early 2000 was the only public university of the country and the preferred institution for the majority of Mauritians who did not have the means to study abroad. In 2018 the University had around 9700 registered students.

Read the full article here -

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning 2019

It still feels good and we experience a strangely positive sensation when we flash back to 2010, when the University of Mauritius was announced as the winners of the prestigious award in distance education of the Commonwealth in the category "Interactive Materials Development". In 2016, our team participated in the PCF8 in Malaysia, and it was a really good feeling to see a team of young researchers reach a certain level of maturity presenting in front of an international audience. Their work was commended. PCF9 will now be held in Edinburg and the team is again working to submit proposals to present at the forum. The three abstracts submitted are provided below:

A Digital Learning Transformation Roadmap for the University of Mauritius

The University of Mauritius embarked on the open and distance learning journey in 1993 and engaged in the promotion of distance eLearning and technology-enhanced learning in 2001. At the same time the University’s development was impacted by the integration of technology within different other spheres of the institution’s activities such as financial management and student records. Gradually over the years the University had a well-established financial management system, student information system including online module registration system, the intranet mark posting system, and a human resource management system, an eLearning platform along with a number of other IT-enabled services such as the Google Suite and the Research Management Information System amongst others. However, it has been observed that there are certain gaps and challenges for the institution to achieve its strategic goals. While a number of IT systems have been developed over the past years, they are either operational in isolation or they are under-utilized and might not have not been developed within a coherent strategic context. The University has moved from a traditional credit system to the learner-centered credit system, inspired from the ECTS model in 2018. Such a model is heavily reliant on improved teaching and learning infrastructure, including technology-enabled educational practices as well as on smart and improved services to the academics and students. Within the 21st century context, the strategy of the university is to focus less on the term distance education as the digital technologies have helped to overcome the distance and real-time barrier through virtualization and two-way communication in real time. In this paper we carry out a qualitative analysis using mainly desk studies of existing documents and reports on the current operational model of the University of Mauritius. Based on the information gathered and available a digital transformation roadmap to primarily support the new educational system and the relevant support structures to achieve efficiency, improve learning and teaching and position the University as a key regional player in digital education. The roadmap includes key components such as (i) integration of learning management system with the student information system, (ii) blended learning suite using Google classroom, (iii) knowledge and document management system, (iv) intelligent classroom management through smart card-based services, (v) WebTV and Virtual Lecture Repository and (vi) Mobile Services suite. Within this digital transformation framework, the use predictive analytics through artificial intelligence and machine learning will be transversal to the different components to ensure better efficiency and decision-making processes. A coherent integration strategy and a well-defined action plan, timelines and roles definition are important to ensure a successful implementation of the digital learning transformation process.

Scenario-based Learning Design for Workplace eLearning

eLearning is making significant impact on workplace learning especially in settings where the employer cannot afford to release employees during working hours and where there is a need for rapid and specific personalized training on a particular product or service. In some cases, there are situations where the critical mass is not achieved to justify allocation of resources for presential training. On the other hand, workplace training and learning has to be contextually relevant and concise while achieving key learning outcomes within a specific time-frame. A typical development lifecycle of an eLearning course is a composed of a set of processes and phases depending on the chosen instructional design methods. Classic models such as ADDIE normally span over long periods of time following a waterfall development concept. These approaches or models are not appropriate for workplace eLearning in a professional development context. There is a need for rapid prototyping and development of interactive eLearning products. There are two different approaches for rapid eLearning development namely content-based learning and scenario-based learning. While the rapid eLearning development method can still be applied in a similar manner for each approach, the learning design process is different as one model is mainly centred on knowledge acquisition with some extent of application, while the other model is mainly centred on a complete cycle of knowledge acquisition and application. The former is relevant where a salesperson needs to know, for example, the detailed technical specs of a new computer system which is on sale, while the latter can focus on the development of the right skillset needed to convince a customer to purchase a computer system with the specific technical specs. In this paper we go through the learning design process for scenario-based eLearning using the rapid development methodology using an authentic case-study within the workplace. The main phases of scenario-based eLearning lifecycle is based on the following five phases namely (i) select a specific skillset, (ii) identify and describe a contextual relevant scenario , (iii) develop a storyboard (iv) implement the storyboard into interactive scenes, (v) publish the scenario and (vi) piloting and evaluation. Scenario-based eLearning design are fully SCORM compliant and can be fully integrated into broader course structures on platforms such as MOODLE. We finally demonstrate on the MOODLE Platform how scenario-based eLearning can be used in a hybrid outcomes-based learner centered virtual environment.

The use of learning analytics to improve online learning experiences: a systematic literature review

Information and Communication Technologies are transforming the educational landscape in such a way that there is a blurred line separating traditional teaching and learning and online education. Online education was seen as the logical evolution of distance education with the advances of the Internet and the world-wide web. However, ICTs are transforming the bricks and mortar institutional delivery methods with virtual learning and online learning converging to a such an extent that the learner can experience anytime, anywhere learning irrespective of the mode of education that he or she is engaged into. Such learning transactions occur in virtual environment which are extensively data-driven making educational data mining through learning analytics a useful and powerful tool to assist learning designers and teachers in making pedagogically sound decisions to improve the overall educational experience. Researchers have argued that understanding patterns in such wealth of available data could be of value to address drop-out issues in online learning, improve student engagement and performances as well as the overall learning experience leading to better student satisfaction. Learning analytics, as defined by Long & Siemens (2011), is the means to measure, collect and analyse volumes of data about learners’ progress in order to understand, optimize and improve their learning experiences. Researchers have expressed diverging views about the differences between educational data mining and learning analytics. In this paper we look at the foundations of these divergences, conduct a review of how learning analytics has been applied in online environments and how the field of educational data mining precisely using learning analytics as a method has evolved and impacted on learning experiences of students in terms of retention, performances and student satisfaction. We discuss how different types of analytics such as descriptive, prescriptive and predictive analytics can be used throughout the different phases of the student online learning lifecycle to improve the learning outcomes and experiences of the learner.

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!”