Thursday, 5 December 2019

Workshop "Blueprint for the setting up of a Mauritian NREN"

The workshop was held on the 4th December at St Regis Hotel, a beautiful resort situated at Le Morne. Well that was not the most important part! The Vice Prime Minister and our Parent Minister, Hon Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun was the main guest for the opening of this workshop jointly organized by the University of Mauritius and the University of Technology, Mauritius. I represented the University in the opening ceremony and made the speech as below.

It is my pleasure to be addressing you today on behalf of the University of Mauritius for this workshop with the theme, I quote “Building a Roadmap for the Establishment of a Mauritian National Research and Education Network (commonly known as NRENs).

NRENs are specialised internet service providers dedicated to supporting the needs of the research and education communities within a country. The primary focus of NRENs is to provide universities and research institutes with high-quality network connectivity and related services by connecting campuses and institutions to each other, and to the rest of the internet. While doing some reading online, I came across a statement, I quote “NRENs have pioneered networks, technologies and services for research and education since the internet's inception”. This is a very commendable achievement indeed. However, I wish to highlight that Technology has a history of ‘perpetual evolution’ and we have to be conscious and aware that the focus cannot solely be on the technology. 

Researchers in education have constantly brought forward the technology paradox, characterising the fact that technology ever since the radio and the TV were invented we have not really witnessed the so-called education revolution in the way it was meant to be. We have over the years witnessed the same phenomenon with the internet, smartphones, and other technological developments such as Virtual Reality, that demonstrated huge potential, but have never become or have yet to become integral and ubiquitous components of mainstream education.

I still recall some 18 years ago, somewhere around the year 2001-2002, when we started the eLearning initiative at the University of Mauritius, one of the key projects we undertook was the development of an interactive CD for the ambitious Mass Computer Literacy Project of the Government.

My good friend, Mr Raj Makoond, present here will no doubt tell you that the real success behind the CPP was neither the technology nor the nice interface or content we developed, but it was about the underlying educational philosophy and the ability of the stakeholders (government, academia, private sector and the people) to work coherently together to achieve something extraordinary.

This is simply to highlight that while we deploy the technologies, any blueprint has to pay equal or even more emphasis on the human dimension and the tangible impacts of having such networks over the targeted beneficiaries. The networks should not be of machines, and IP addresses only but of people with common interests to promote education through communities of practice in the relevant areas. If policies are conceived in such a way so as to put technology at the service of humanity, then the results will be much more impactful and transformative.

Indeed, this is why collaboration is one of the main recipes for successful NRENs. I am very pleased and thankful to see that close collaboration has been established between the public TEIs, AUF, Ministries of Education, ICT and UbuntuNet Alliance. We are also grateful to the CEO of Zamren and SomaliREN to be present here to share their experiences with us. I am reassured that the NREN by its nature fosters collaboration, it will provide us the opportunities to work together and engage in fruitful exchanges at local, regional and international level.

At the University, we ensure that our Institutional goals through our main strategic thrusts, drive our Information Technology strategy and not vice-versa. To this effect, we have setup an institutional IT Strategy Committee that engages into brainstorming and identification of key policies, strategies and actions that will help the University to maintain a competitive edge and improve efficiency through appropriate process re-engineering.

In terms of our Information Technology capabilities, the University of Mauritius has implemented comprehensive technology solutions to power institutional growth and to improve efficiency within the institution. We have a fully online Student Life Cycle System, an integrated back office system and I am informed that we have also deployed IPv6 on our Internet facing servers. This year we have upgraded our Fibre Optics backbone network to improve our bandwidth. We have also upgraded our Wi-Fi network to achieve practically full WIFI Coverage across the campus.

We are therefore committed to share and contribute to the successful setup of the Mauritian NREN. Our eLibrary which is currently available for access by other public TEIs will be part of the initiative. Industry engagement, which is one of our strategic thrusts, has to be a significant player within the NREN. Over the past three years, our key engagement priorities have been in research, quality education, digital innovation and entrepreneurial activities. We have setup a Digital Technologies incubator and we have established a living lab for innovative pedagogies which is accredited by the European Network of Open Living Labs.

I can personally see here how a convergence of the activities falling under these two entities, can contribute to impactful projects. For instance, the application of of AI-powered techniques such as learning analytics to develop smart learning environments which can lead to improvement of student learning outcomes and achievement in our Universities. I would like here to quote Tom Freston – Co Founder of MTV – “Innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way”

On a concluding note, I wish to thank the Honourable Ministers for their unflinching support and presence, the NREN local organising team, all participants, and the speakers of today’s event. With these words, I wish all of you a successful workshop.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

1st Africa University Badminton Championships 2019

I was requested by the Vice-Chancellor to represent him as the Chief Guest for the official launching of the 1st Africa University Badminton Championships 2019. It was nice to see athletes (students) from different African countries and Reunion island. Hereunder the key essence of my speech. Such kind of events align perfectly with our key strategic thrusts related to internationalization of the University, Enhancing our students’ experiences on campus through sports and the promotion of intercultural exchanges. 

We believe that the role of Universities is to provide a holistic education to our youth to make them more complete and capable as individuals to take up the challenges of life. This is why we have reviewed our curriculum model last year to promote a learner-centred approach while injecting significant funds to continuously improve our infrastructure for the benefit of our students.  

Sports is a very important aspect to promote healthy living and to improve the quality of life of our population. A healthy population can contribute better to the development of a country and is an important indicator for prosperity, happiness and well-being. Promoting such a culture among our students and citizens will surely contribute to SDG3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages and SDG 8 - Promote Sustained, Inclusive and Sustainable Economies. Sports play key roles in Gender Equality, the fight against poverty, and social inclusion amongst others.

Sports transcends race, communities, religions and nationalism (yes, i see Nationalism as a key hurdle to achieving global peace) to bring mankind together to overcome hurdles to building global peace and sustainable livelihoods for humanity.

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.