Tuesday, 7 July 2015

An example of institution-wide leadership

15 years ago, Prof Fagoonee the then Pro Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning had a vision of modernising the teaching and learning system of the University through ICTs and the use of Internet to deliver instruction online. 15 years ago, internet connection in Mauritius was still dial-ups in the small number of households that had access to it. Yet, Prof Fagoonee, had this vision for the University.

He convinced the University at that time to setup the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies, and he recruited another extra-ordinary person Prof Senteni to head this centre from 2001-2008. I had the priviledge to join the Centre in 2001 itself and to do my 'pupilage' in the field of education technologies under Prof Senteni. 

I still remember how we had to run a RJ45 connection from the Agence Universitaires de La Francophonie (AUF) - next door - to connect it to one of our computers for high speed internet connection, as connectivity on the University LAN was awful. This is how we started in eLearning (to cut the long story short).

We had a hard time to convince academics that eLearning and online instruction represent the future of modern education, and this is what Universities would need to remain competitive in the 21st Century educational landscape. Very few believed, and to some extent, some mocked the initiative, and many would have termed it as money wasting.

But we believed. Today from that generation of persons who joined the VCILT either as staff or student trainees, or admin staff, myself and my colleague Dorothy (who joined a few months before me) are the only ones who are still there.

In December 2008, the contract of Professor Senteni was not renewed, and he left for greener pastures after having provided a strong foundation to the VCILT and ensured that myself and other colleagues have attained a level of maturity in the field. The year 2009, was hard as we were left on our own with little support from the top and with the risk of being dismantled. Indeed many were waiting for that time to happen. But the team which grew under the leadership of Prof Senteni had a different set of values that were incorporated in their subconscience, and the VCILT as one block, took up the challenge to become a success a few years later. We led by example, engaging and getting recognised internationally and being active in research, and we showed to the university that online courses are feasible and that we have the capacity to do it. The successful courses like the MSc Educational Technologies, the BSc in Educational and Instructional Technologies, and the BSc in Web and Multimedia Development, proved all doubters wrong.

Today in 2015 where the University is at a critical junction facing big financial difficulties, and competition from other global institutions, it is at last realised that e-learning can be one of the keys to unlock this potentially dangerous situation. Two key situations made me reflect on the fact that finally our perseverance, belief and confidence managed to convince the University that we are a key strategic unit for the university. The first situation is when visitors from the World Bank who recently visited us queried about e-learning, instead of me answering, all my colleagues and the vice-chancellor, defended the need to go online..and the 2nd situation was when all faculties were presenting their implementation plans for 2015-2016 with regards to the new strategic plan of the University, all Deans had one major element to highlight - modules on e-Learning mode.

After 15 years, there could not be a better example of Institutional Leadership than what the the VCILT team has demonstrated...