e-Ready for e-Supervision

Photo of Speranza Ndege, Director, Open, Distance and e-Learning

Speranza Ndege, Director, Open, Distance and e-Learning

Two necessary things to enable any e-Supervision strategy are the technological infrastructure and online access to all kinds of content, namely: papers published in academic journals, books, working papers, PhD thesis, etc.

Speranza Ndege introduced us to the work that is being carried out at the Open, Distance and e-Learning department.

An initial stage that took place from 1997 to 2000 was mainly focused on digital and information literacy, so that academic and administrative staff became proficient with the tools that were to be used in the future.

The department then began in 2000 to seriously address the issue of virtualising some of the units they were imparting. After an initial pilot project using a US-hosted installation of Blackboard, the University quickly switched to their own Moodle installation once fiber was deployed in the main campus and important investments in technology were carried on.

The programme now has 750 virtualized units that serve many learning modalities: from pure 100% online learning to online support for regular face-to-face students, including blended learning courses with a mixed combination of face-to-face and online lectures.

The new technology has, of course, implied new pedagogical approaches, now focusing on constructivism but heading to a more collective or socio-constructivist approach. The student has been put in the centre of the learning methodology and classes have been or can be divided into small groups to encourage dialogue and debate among students.

Indeed, an early stage of e-supervision is already in use at Kenyatta University, as ODeL encourages supervisors to supervise students online, enabling the creation of online forums, fostering the exchange of communications online between students and supervisors or even enabling the defence of a PhD thesis through videoconferencing.

But, of course, not everything is communication, acces to information is another important issue in this regard.

Mary Anne Muirui and John Thuku, from KU library, explained the advances that the university library is doing in matters of digital access to its collection.

Heavily relying on free software like Koha and DSpace, the library has set up an institutional open repository where to store all the academic production of the university. Services are offered through subject libraries and campus libraries which can be accessed through the online public access catalogue (OPAC). Online access also includes bibliographic sources with abstracts and full text access to journals, books, theses and dissertations, conference papers, CD-ROMs, accompanying books, etc.

The library provides physical facilities as computer labs or access to networking (cable, wireless, etc.).

A crucial aspect such as capability is already covered by the library, as it provides user training and awareness through many courses and guidance to users, such as an introduction to new users, information searching, training on how to avoid or detect plagiarism or preparation for correct referencing and managing one’s own bibliography using Zotero.

We started this reflection by stating that two necessary things to enable any e-Supervision strategy are the technological infrastructure and online access to all kinds of content. Both conditions are already met at Kenyatta University.

The major concern of the University is, thus, how to go from still somewhat isolated or incipient initiatives of e-supervision to a comprehensive and massive adoption of e-supervision as an ordinary tool.

A major shift, they believe, will surely be needed at the mindset level: the tools are there, and it is just a matter of how to appropriate them for every day supervision… and taking into account the new challenges that this adoption will raise.