The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many economic sectors and enabled a number of them to accelerate their hitherto slow adoption of information technology systems for efficient service delivery.
One of the leading emerging sectors remains the education industry. This sector is now booming with the adoption and use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education systems, commonly referred to as “EdTech”.
Global bodies such as the World Bank Group have stepped up their commitments and support to help countries leverage EdTech investments to develop resilient blended learning systems.
Locally, due to the pressures occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is growing evidence that traditional teaching methods, patterns of knowledge production and consumption, and institutional concepts of exclusivity are no longer tenable. if educational institutions are to remain relevant to the regeneration of Africa.
The emerging ecosystem of challenges and opportunities compels African and Kenyan educational institutions to embrace EdTech strategies.
Lifelong learning, in which learning happens at our convenience (wherever we are, at any time, through a variety of delivery platforms) is gaining momentum in globally due to the dynamics of the 21st century skill sets demanded by the labor market Accordingly, any consideration in EdTech must support ICT solutions that enhance the support of 24/7 learning across geographic boundaries, physical and demographics, just as a modern business increasingly turns to technology to operate on the cutting edge of technology 24/7. Proponents of EdTech agree that technology has played and continues to play a vital role in providing education to students outside of school.
Guided by my personal experience implementing ICT solutions and developing United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) technology policy with my trusted colleagues, I recently reflected on the key ingredients that constitute a solid foundation of technology in education (EdTech) .
First, educational institutions need to focus their energies on the governance and staffing structure of the ICT function. Due to the increasingly centralized nature of ICT as the nerve center of an institution’s day-to-day learning and administrative operations, there is a need for a staffing structure that positions the ICT operations manager at the highest possible level of the organizational structure. ICT integrations and operations are a management function and cannot be in peripheral management positions. The organic development of appropriate controls, policies, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) is another ongoing activity that the ICT manager would take responsibility for. Decision-making on ICT adoption models, for example, developing ICT solutions in-house, outsourcing development or purchasing off-the-shelf solutions, hosting in-house or hosting in the cloud, will largely depend on the vision and mission of an institution’s leadership.
Second, technology adoption should be viewed as a lever for driving change. An educational institution should be aware of the negative impact that technological and/or software changes may have on learning, teaching and school operations if such changes are not adequately communicated to all. the components. The latest research in this field proposes a socio-technical approach that adopts co-design, integrating users at each stage of the design and development of ICT solutions because a system is only as good as the team that develops it. The more inclusive the team, the more likely it is that the system will impact the operations of the institution; positively.
Invariably, an institution’s strategic plan, financial resources, and direction will guide the selection of tools prioritized by senior management; therefore, this article outlines some essential ICT solutions that higher education institutions can consider deploying to deliver 21st century education that supports teaching, learning and administration.
Enablers such as power supply, reliable internet access, and redundant platforms should be carefully considered. Due to the unreliable nature of connectivity in most parts of the African continent, it is necessary to deploy a few internet links which in our local context, Kenya Education Network (KENET), the national research and education network of Kenya (NREN) provides at subsidized rates. It is also necessary to have redundant power (from the main grid and backup from a generator) with some form of load balancing that encompasses failover capability.
Closely related to access is the need for helpdesk tools that handle queries and guide users. Educational institutions would need an ICT call center (Helpdesk) responsible for resolving technical issues raised by users.
Due to the increasing cybersecurity risks to which automation exposes organizations, storage, backup and remote services are also crucial factors. The operationalization of robust disaster recovery (DR) measures at three levels (on-site, remote, for example on the cloud and via tapes kept in a vault) as part of the business continuity plan (BCP ) of the organization should support data recovery in the event of service failure.
Educational institutions should ensure that continuous efforts are made to maintain and upgrade their basic ICT infrastructure. This should be guided by a 3-5 year ICT strategy that fits into the overall institutional strategic plan. In the operational framework, periodic maintenance and upgrading of technologies are also essential.
The integration of a robust Learning Management System (LMS) is a necessary requirement. Whether deployed to complement face-to-face learning at one end of the spectrum or to be an integral part of an institution’s online pedagogy, an LMS is essentially a virtual learning environment used in the delivery of educational content to learners. and paperless assessment through a variety of internet-connected technology functions. There are several options here, some of which may be open source.
To further increase remote productivity, video conferencing and monitoring tools are now an essential ingredient. Institutions should invest in video conferencing platforms that support synchronous learning. Some of the activities that a full-featured video conferencing tool supports include scheduling study groups, class sessions, locating students remotely, recording lectures, co-teaching, connecting from laboratory environments to lecture halls and the facilitation of various modes of pedagogy such as online, blended, hybrid pedagogy. and hybrid-flexible (hyflex). Monitoring tools work alongside video conferencing tools in a live monitoring environment or on their own if they have artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to flag suspicious behavior.
The integration of a student information system (SIS) helps to take the student management process to the next level. An SIS acts as the educational institution’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; holds and processes data relating to the learning path of each student in an institution. A SIS is an educational institution’s solution for managing missing grades and the institution can select certain options, each with its potential advantages and disadvantages.
From a managerial point of view, the integration of a Business Intelligence (BI) tool is also recommended. These BI tools provide real-time Business Intelligence analytics, content interaction and usage to users at different levels including professors, department heads and senior management for data-driven decision making to to help student learning. The institution may also need to invest in third-party software integrated with the LMS to monitor interactions and activities on the platform.
Finally, Learning Technology Interoperability (LTI) tools are also useful because the above platforms should not exist in isolation. LTI applications and tools allow data to be shared between the LMS, SIS, payment services and other departments of an organization such as the library; simple, eliminating the need for manual processes. In addition to the negative impacts on efficiency that disparate data elements cause in an institution, data held in various systems inevitably leads to compromises in integrity.
Other useful ICT tools for university teaching include library systems that can be accessed from remote locations securely using virtual private network (VPN) platforms, an electronic repository that hosts academic artifacts from institution, operational workflow systems (e.g. authorization, class change, procurement, etc.), electronic data management systems (EDMS) that host the institution’s anti-plagiarism platforms and tools that support inclusiveness for people with disabilities.
According to the World Bank Group, education is at the heart of relationships and human relationships. While we can never replace the magic that happens between great teachers and students in an in-person environment, it’s imperative that we focus on the social aspects of technology that enhance connections remotely and with audiences whose everyone has their unique personal circumstances and learning preferences. Much greater attention needs to be paid to how technology will enhance teaching and learning in a learning environment that has the agility and flexibility to allow faculty to reach students across the widest spectrum. possible demographic, both on campus and at home.
Suffice it to say, EdTech solutions are now a critical enabler of good academic outcomes.
Paul Okanda is Director of ICT and Associate Professor of Computer Science in the School of Science and Technology at United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa). Email: [email protected]