The emergence of COVID 19 has affected many activities including learning and teaching in all academic institutions worldwide. In order to cope with this uncertainty caused by the pandemic in the education sector particularly, adaptation mechanisms were envisaged. For the case of UR, efforts were mobilized in order to tap into the existing e-learning platform in the quest to make online learning, teaching and assessment happen.
The Moodle platform was initiated back in 2015 thanks to the support of Instructional Subprogram of UR Sweden Program ; a bilateral research cooperation between Rwanda and Sweden. Currently, the platform boasts 95% of all the university of Rwanda teaching modules with an average of 83K visits per day.
The University of Rwanda team led by Dr Mathias Nduwingoma alongside Thashmee Karunaratne, a staff at the University of Stockholm, spearheaded the platform project under the coordination of Instructional Subprogram.
Thashmee recalls the long journey towards having one of the most efficient e-learning tools in Rwanda. At the beginning, people could not figure out motives behind the new tools being developed. According to her, the team was resolved to support the university with appropriate ICT tools to improve the quality of education in the university.
“Our main objective was to identify which tools and technologies that are most relevant and useful for online education” She said, adding that the next step was to select the right people for training both technicians and faculty staff.
Along the way, a total of 21 IT technicians were trained to managing and maintaining e-learning platform whereas 1346 lecturers were equally supported to develop courses and modules and upload them online.
In addition, a few members of UR community dubbed “champions” were trained to provide technical support to staff to ensure that uploaded materials are more interactive with students.
Among the champions include Mapendo Mindje, a UR teaching and Research assistant. He lauded gains from online system being one way to help those who cannot get finances to go for a particular course rather stay home and learn with others remotely. However, Mapendo reckons that online education itself can’t be adequate for competence in all the subjects.
According to him, once online will be blended with face to face, even subjects requiring practicals will be enjoyable since a student will feel more responsible for fetching more learning resources than relying on the ones provided by the teacher.
“I feel a positive vibe about online education in terms of students’ calling for being responsible for their own learning” He added.
Dan Tumusiime, a university student noted that the platform is a relief to students because it saves both time and money since learning materials and recorded lectures can be accessible from anywhere at any time.
“You do not need to go to classroom after travelling a certain distance ; you can learn from any place” Tumusiime witnesses, adding that the new move encourages hard work and ownership among students as it promotes self directed learning.
eLearning from a research perspective
Dr Jean Claude Byungura is a UR staff who conducted several researches about the integration and use of different E-learning systems. In one of his two research papers he explored adoption and use of UR Moodle platform from the perspective of teachers, students and E-learning specialists.
He noted that for the platform to achieve massive success, stakeholders have to invest and develop adaptable mindset. According to him, online users should keep in mind that technology is disruptive and thus, users have to always adapt to the disruptive technological changes as far as being able to cope with the new innovative working environment.
“New technologies are introduced to the human and we should consider adapting and use these new tools and systems” He said
Byungura also called on developers to consider the agile and user-centred design approaches during the design, development and implementation of e-learning platforms. Besides, he noted that the notion of interactivity is critical in the e-learning systems. This is because interactive systems make users interested in engaging in online learning activities.
“We should be able to develop e-learning systems and the associated pedagogy that makes online learning process more fun” He concluded.
It is worth pointing out that the University of Rwanda is on the verge of integrating blended learning model. This means that learners will tap into learning sources that comes from different modalities and different media including classroom, laboratories and online materials.