The Association of African Universities (AAU) continues to devote more time to the education and awareness creation on various available softwares, platforms and applications that can be used during the COVID-19 pandemic by the African Higher Education community. The AAU which is also the African Union Commission’s implementing arm and the coordinator for the Continental Education Strategy (CESA 2016-2025) , took time to study the knowledge and skills gaps that were created by the pandemic as well as the 4th Industrial Revolution and designed targeted staff development and training workshops as a response. This was done through its Workshops Unit headed by Dr. Violet Makuku, a Quality Assurance Specialist and Project Manager-HAQAA Initiative.
Special tools and platforms for teaching in Practical-Oriented Disciplines were also captured under these training programmes. The workshop series has a focus on equipping staff from institutions that offer programmes in disciplines such as Agriculture, Architecture, Music, Dance, Art and Design and Medicine, among others. The positive impact of the workshops held earlier has already been felt as participants indicated from feedback, that they had acquired relevant skills which had improved the quality of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure that top-notch facilitators were engaged to offer these training, the AAU issued an open call for prospective facilitators in various disciplines, and followed a rigorous selection process, to choose the most qualified facilitators.
Capacity Building Workshops Platform for Learning and Exchange
Some of the latest virtual workshops held, which provided the platform for AAU to continue its awareness creation and sensitisation on the available ICT-driven tools included the workshop on ‘ The Teaching of Modern Irrigation Engineering Techniques’ that was facilitated by Tawanda Bangwayo (Water and Irrigation Engineer). Another one was titled ‘ Working in ICT Driven Higher & Tertiary Education Spaces’ and this was facilitated by Dr. Violet Makuku, AAU. All these workshops were organised on the findings from the needs and knowledge and skills gaps analysis that normally precede the planning and execution of each AAU workshop. Participants were encouraged to attend the virtual workshops to enhance their knowledge and to hear from colleagues across the continent on effective teaching and learning methods during the COVID-19 pandemic using the alternative ICT-driven methods rather than adopting a wait and see approach.
The Working in ICT Driven Higher & Tertiary Education Spaces is a workshop series that targeted a number of aspects including the acquisition and use of the SurveyMonkey and Google Forms for data collection, analysis and preservation for later use in research and Monitoring and Evaluation. Short surveys done on the use of the SurveyMonkey during the workshop session indicated that 97% of the 83 participants attending that session never used it. This was a clear indication of the need to carry out thorough training on how to use these tools for different purposes, yet one could easily assume that many Higher & Tertiary Education personnel know and use them frequently. The participants were excited about the fact that these tools could be used to collect both qualitative and quantitative data. They also realized that the creation of questionnaire items is something they could do with more practice.
During the training sessions on how to use Google forms and the SurveyMonkey, individuals and institutions were encouraged to make use of such tools to be more efficient because once a questionnaire is generated, a link can be generated and sent out to many respondents through e-mails and social media, among others. “Gone are the days when lecturers and students would literally move from place to place handing out hard copy questionnaires, collect them and do manual data entry’ said Dr. Makuku, the workshop facilitator, as she reminded participants about the need to swiftly catch up and use e-tools which simplifies teaching, learning and research processes. The advantages that were outlined included the fact that responses are automatically collected, meaning that manual data entry which mainly results in errors, omissions and time consumption can be avoided. These tools also enable data export to other tools, for example, to the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) for analysis while one can also use them for data analysis, to some extent. The SurveyMonkey, for example allows users to select an option where it can send the questionnaire to targeted respondents for a fee.
Lecturers were encouraged to learn how to use the various ICT-driven tools so that they could effectively teach their students and prepare them for the new world of work which now involves working in digitalized workspaces.
The AAU highly recommends that institutions take advantage of the available free software, applications and platforms while purchasing others which may not be free for the benefit of staff and students since they can enhance research output and make the practical teaching of research components like data collection and analysis easier. Institutional leaders are encouraged to purchase softwares/applications such as the SurveyMonkey for students and staff and organize institutional workshop training sessions, which the AAU is also ready to handle. The Quality Assurance Specialist and Workshops coordinator at the AAU, Dr. Violet Makuku discourages the use of trial versions since they normally expire and lock in all the work that has been done which may result in data loss. In most cases, the work done becomes permanently inaccessible unless the person subscribes through paying for the software.
AAU encourages stakeholders to invite their colleagues and make them aware of the AAU workshops sessions to enable them update their skills and familiarise themselves with the range of available ICT-Driven tools to improve on their efficiency and effectiveness.