Centres for Competence in Digital Education
AAU-EPFL joint capacity-building initiative
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have evolved in a big way to impact all the sectors of economies including the educational sector. It is said that the education sector has been slower in harnessing the opportunities from technology compared to the other sectors. Africa as a continent still faces many challenges in adopting ICTs to improve processes and benefit from the efficiencies promised by technology. African countries are challenged by the digital divide which makes it difficult for technology implementation to cover and benefit the most vulnerable and unconnected communities.
One of the positive impacts of COVID-19 in Africa has been that it re-prioritized to topmost priority the proper implementation of ICTs for teaching, learning and research by educational institutions. For a long time, the educational institutions had accepted that they needed to invest in the integration of ICTs to transform how they delivered their services. However, committing financial and human investments and piloting digital courses had not been urgent for most educational institutions in Africa until the pandemic affected the functions of the educational institutions.
Under the ACE Impact for Development project a collaboration was initiated by the Association of African Universities and the EPFL – École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne of Switzerland to implement the Centers of Competence in Digital Education (C-CoDE) Initiative. The C-CoDE initiative involves six (6) ACE Impact host Universities that were competitively selected to to establish Centers of Competence in Digital Education on their campuses. The C-CoDE centers are being mentored to promote the sustainable integration of digital education in the teaching processes, as a means of strengthening the quality of teaching as well as expanding access to higher education.
The C-CoDE initiative recognizes the need for ICTs to be implemented in a thoughtful way so that the focus shifts from the technology to how the teaching methods, faculty and students interact with the technology in order to achieve the intended teaching and learning outcomes. The initiative also pays attention to the importance of building the capacities of academics, digital education experts (pedagogy engineers) and the technical specialist teams. The training strategy ensures that the digital education experts are being trained so that they continuously run training programs for their university faculty as an ongoing commitment to sustain the new ways of teaching. The Vice Chancellors of the participating universities are involved to ensure that the initiative has support at the highest leadership level. The Vice Chancellors have committed financial and infrastructural resources to support the success of the project.
The six participating universities are the National Open University of Nigeria; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria; University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani, Ghana; Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Université d’Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou, Bénin. The participating ACE Centers in these universities include the Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL), the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Power and Energy Development (ACE-SPED), the Africa Center of Excellence in Population Health and Policy(ACEPHAP); the Center for Dryland Agriculture(CDA), the Regional Center for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (RCEES); CEA-Centre d’Etudes, de Formation et de Recherche en Gestion des Risques Sociaux (CEFORGRIS) and CEA-SMIA (Centre d’Excellence Africain en Sciences, Mathématiques, Informatique et Application.
The C-CoDE initiative is being piloted from September 2021 to July 2022 with the participating institutions through training and coaching to transform their educational curricula by integrating modern digital education methods. Overall, close to 200 faculty and staff would be trained. However, 18 digital experts (three from each of the six-participating universities) have received training in leading the digital transformation in their respective institutions. The bigger goal is to use the lessons from the C-CoDE initiative to transform the way that other universities in Africa are integrating digital educational methods to deliver their curricula. The broader goal is for the selected Centers to eventually serve other African higher education institutions using a training-the-trainers model, within the broader ACE Impact project portfolio and beyond – across the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region.
Training under the C-CoDE initiative is innovatively delivered using the flipped classroom style. The quality and engaging learning materials and activities were prepared in advance and made available on the EPFL Open edX platform. The participants study and prepare themselves ahead of the live sessions. During the virtual live sessions, the facilitators provide clarifications concerning the content and learning activities that participants would have gone through. Live sessions are used for building and sharing common knowledge through group activities, live discussions, and presentations. Participants are also exposed to and encouraged to use a variety of online tools and technologies to interact and put in practice teaching paradigms.
The C-CoDE initiative is being delivered in both French and English to accommodate the languages of the participating universities. The digital experts (3 from each participating university) have been trained in course design, educational resources and development and implementation of learning management systems. They are scheduled to do their last module focused on online delivery and evaluation in March 2022. A total of two hundred (200) faculty members have been selected to participate in a digital education masterclass from January 2022 to July 2022. The female participants are 36.5 % of the total number. The digital education masterclass for the selected academics is composed of 4 small Private Online Courses (SPOCs).
African governments and University leaders have critical roles to play in facilitating the effective mainstreaming of digital methods by African higher education institutions. Support is needed from African governments to commit resources for the development of robust national internet infrastructure by supporting flexible national communication policies for the benefit of the educational and research communities and institutions in their countries. National governments are strategically positioned to bridge the digital divide by prioritizing the internet coverage of unconnected areas for the benefit of academic communities and others that are potentially vulnerable.
University leaders are responsible for creating the vision for digital education and championing its effective implementation at the institutional level. They are also key in connecting with government leaders and ensuring that the needs of the academic communities are clearly understood.