Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Are we really poor takers of technology?

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) launched the DE policy in June 2013. The presentation of the DE policy took the form of a mini workshop organised by the TEC where stakeholders in the tertiary education sector were invited to present issues related to DE provision in Mauritius from their perspective.

I was one of the presenters  and I talked on copyright and intellectual property issues related to distance education. There was also a presentation from one of our former masters student Mr Avinash Oojorah who is now a lecturer from the MIE. The talk was related to makers and takers of technology.

In short, the key points made by our good friend were centred around questions namely:

  • Why are we poor takers of technology? Why don't we use all the features of an LMS such as MOODLE?
  • Why don't we become makers of technology, for instance developing our own LMS?
  • The TEC should consider setting up an incubator for research in education technologies and/or distance education
Nice presentation and good questions except that............. we have most of the answers!

My reply to the first point is simple. We at the VCILT, we have always looked into ways to become SMART rather than poor takers of technology. A 'rich' taker of technology does not mean that ALL features on an LMS should be used. Indeed a rich taker should be a smart taker. The rule of thumb is that use what you need and discard what is not needed. The policy at the VCILT before adopting any new feature is that thorough technical and pedagogical testing should be done prior to its deployment for full use. 

With respect to the second point, in 2004 the VCILT had embarked on a very ambitious project of developing our own learning platform. It was developed and used but sustaining such an initiative was very costly and the unprecedented growth of open source initiatives made it ridiculous and devoid of logic to continue to develop a platform when our primary aim was to provide a service to the academic and student community. To 'make' technology does not necessarily mean we develop our authoring tools or develop software from scratch. The open-source community is an excellent proof for this. An innovative service produced from one technology that exist can in turn become in its own right another piece of technology. 

As for the last point, the TEC is a regulatory body and I believe it is not its mandate to house an incubator for research in education technologies and distance education. The country has three or four public universities and institutions like the MIE/MGI etc are here and its their mandate to have research incubators. The VCILT since 2002 has been in itself a research and development incubator in education technologies, e-learning and open and online learning....

Quite a few examples can be given on the last point. In 2002-03 the VCILT worked on an interactive multimedia CDROM for History and Geography funded by the MRC with the collaboration of MIE and MES. Practically 10 years ago.....This was a revolutionary product cum incubator technology which saw a real implementation about a decade later e.g in the form of Sankore project. 

Lets talk about an incubator for human capital in the field of education technologies. Again the pioneering role of the VCILT is more than obvious as we are feeding the human resource inputs to institutions like the MIE in terms of trained edtechies..

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Contradictions of Former Vice-Chancellor Rughooputh Ramesh

For once and since weeks I felt this urge to write a bit about my experience with the Former VC following his outburst in the press after receiving his 'feuille de route' from the council of the University. For once we will deviate from education technology but we will remain in the sphere of education and education management practices.

If I had to describe my feeling after the news, one word would suffice : relief. I am not happy as such but I am definitely not sad at all. To be frank, may be i was in fact happy. Anyway that is not so much the issue nor the way deemed a bit brutal by some in the way he was sidelined. 

Let me come on a few on the big contradictions of the press statement given by the Professor himself.

1. When he was appointed VC, the first thing he said was that 'no one will speak to the press on behalf of the UoM'. He will instil discipline and rigour and that a 'bunch' of people are tarnishing the image of the UoM.

  • When the Council of the University has terminated his contract with immediate effect, Prof Rughooputh in the next second was a full time academic staff  of the University. He chose then to go to the press to criticise publicly the UoM, the Council, the Students and a few staff. How could he speak on such issues then to the press?? Fais je ce que dis ne fais pas ce que je fais?
2. The former VC said in a press statement that the University was not allowed to do distance education because of the open university. 
  • This is false and misleading. The Open University existed as MCA decades ago and the mandate was specifically to do distance education. The idea and bill of the open university germinated since 2000 although the university came into operation only this year.The University of Mauritius on the other hand has been active since 1993 in DE and since 2000 in e-learning. What project did the former VC had? What was blocked? The lifelong learning cluster of the UoM today has more than 1000 students.
  • If the UoM has not been able to become a full fledged dual mode institution so far, it has only itself to blame to some extent. My other blog posts and papers talk about these. The former VC found one of my papers talking specifically on this issue to contain nothing as he said it to me. 
3. The former VC said in a press statement that ''Jái deranger le systeme''. 
  • Yes he did. All in the wrong way. His first assumption was that all eggs were rotten and he was taking his time to pick and choose those he found good.  
  • A simple example is that there is a clear cut policy of Council regarding staff involvement in Consultancy projects. No staff was paid on a project which has been already approved and completed more than a year ago when staff worked on saturdays and sundays. No reply was ever received on all communications of the project to his office or through his office.......until the day he left.
  • There are three more examples like this that can be given.
  •  The UoM is a CISCO Regional Academy which is a very good thing for its global reputation. The former VC had blocked CISCO courses from being run for more than a year until students go to complain to the Minister.
4. The VC said in a press statement that he was not allowed to run ''Stand Alone'' courses by whoever. 
  • Let me remind him that stand-alone modules and the concept exist about 4-5 years prior to his appointment as VC and this was introduced by the former Pro VC Teaching and Learning.
  • The stand-alone modules of last year were advertised in the press and the reality is that there were not enough applications to run them.

5. The VC was always criticising journalists as they treat him as dictator and authoritarian etc. Today those journalists are fine just because he is using the media as a means to settle his accounts. Is this not a full contradiction of himself and/or his principles?

I will stop here because the list could go on....All that I am sure is that it is neither a bunch of students nor a meeting between a minister and the Chairman of the Council that has decided his outcome. It was indeed long overdue.