Higher education in the 21st Century shouldn’t be boring. Gone are the days where students endured a two-hour mental assault from a disinterested professor. At least they should be gone, by now. After all, education is not a consultation but a collaboration. Therefore, the role of a university professor is not to prove how much she knows but to facilitate learning.
I believe it is time for universities in Zimbabwe to enter the digital age by embracing technology as an essential aid to learning. It is quite shocking that even though all universities have an IT department and sometimes even teach computer science up to postgraduate level, none of them have fully embraced online learning.
Education is about relevance, engagement, and synthesis, and not just knowledge acquisition as we are forced to believe. It is pointless to acquire knowledge that you don’t know how to apply. So, how can universities, and even relevant government ministries make education more relevant? How can lecturers ensure their students are engaged with the subject matter, so that they reach a point of creating new knowledge?
5 lies people believe about technology in the classroom
If you ask any lecturers in Zimbabwe they will tell you this: for the quality of education to improve, the infrastructure should improve, new and more textbooks should be bought, the classes should be small and intimate, the education system in primary and secondary level should improve, lecturers should not be overworked.
I agree but I believe our higher education sector can only improve if lecturers take an effort to integrate technology in their classrooms.
Technology is a pain
Sometimes lecturers avoid using technology in their classes because of technophobia. Understandably so, most of the online learning platforms recommended in Zimbabwe like Moodle and Google Classroom are an eyesore plus they have a steep learning curve. In my classes, I used Canvas and Blackboard because they are intuitive and have a cute user interface.
Technology is expensive
Most people think incorporating technology into the classroom means buying new laptops, projectors, smart TVs, eBeam and all other fancy gadgets.
When a student walks into a classroom they probably have the most sophisticated technological gadget in their pocket – a mobile phone. I developed online classes on Canvas for my chemistry students. All they needed to access lecture notes, slides, handouts, quizzes or even submit an assignment was a mobile app.
Technology disconnects people
The reason why social networks are engaging is because they provide real time interactions and feedback (likes and comments on Facebook). Using Canvas, I managed to do exactly that. I posted a question and asked my students to discuss among themselves. The discussion garnered 97 comments and 11 questions; a successful discussion in class rarely results in 20 comments. This exercise was so impressive I even published the results here in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
Technology encourages unethical practices
Some people think it’s hard to police against cheating online. For example, when I gave my students an online quiz, I am sure that some of them tried to look for answers using Google.
Sadly, that search was probably fruitless because of the type of questions I gave them – they required higher order thinking rather than recalling. In one assignment, I had some students who plagiarized. Fortunately, Blackboard flagged their assignment because it has a plagiarism checker.
Technology makes it hard to monitor students
It is not surprising that well meaning lecturers are afraid that technology might make student monitoring difficult. After all, a lecturer should have good classroom management skills. Canvas takes learning analytics to a whole new level. I could tell the amount of time each of my students spent on course materials. Sometimes, I locked some study materials until the students complete a specific task.
I am currently studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education with Falmouth University. It is 100% on Canvas. I have submitted assignments, took part in discussions, read books, listened to a podcast, watched a lecture, submitted micro-teach video lecturers for peer evaluation – everything online. Developing such courses doesn’t need much; just a DLSR camera, Blue Yeti microphone, a laptop, and a lecturer dedicated to creating study materials (publishers offer eTextbooks for free to lecturers and most publishers have open access textbooks too). Let’s revolutionize education in Zimbabwe.
Edmond Sanganyado (PhD, University of California) is a postdoc in China. His research focuses on sustainable development, environmental pollution, and quality education. Some of Edmond’s work has been published in Science and Water Research. He writes on his nameless blog using a OnePlus 5.