Field Stories

How eLearning saved a university in crisis

Mass meeting on Jammie Plaza, University of Cape Town Upper Campus on 22 October 2015. Image credit: Tony Carr, Creative Commons license

Making eLearning accessible to all isn’t just about boosting class performance; in some cases, it can actually mean the difference between an institution shutting down or staying open.

In October 2015, student uprisings, organised around the hashtag #feesmustfall, interrupted business as usual at campuses across South Africa. The protests were initially organised in response to a 10.5% increase in fees at the University of Witwatersrand campus.

The protests, which rapidly spread to other campuses across the county, are estimated to have cost universities 150 million rand in the form of damages to public property and security costs. Even last week, several universities suspended registration after disruptions by students who wanted free registration for all.

But the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, South Africa, refused to let the student-led protest movement disturb teaching. Instead, eLearning tools were skilfully deployed in order to keep the university running amidst the uprisings.

Dr. Johannes Cronje, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Informatics and Design, was already in the process of scaling up the use of eLearning in various guises, “ranging from formal LMS style interaction to informal Facebook interaction,” as well as using technologies like Skype, LinkedIn and SharePoint, but the protests served as a catalyst for more widespread adoption.

Because students weren’t able to communicate face to face with professors during the protests, many relied on Facebook and WhatsApp. Sit-down examinations were replaced with online take-home exams; and students were allowed to submit electronic copies of their work, accompanied by an audio explanation, in order to facilitate assessments entirely online.

“Ironically this interruption by the students has led to a renewed interest by university staff in blended learning, in an attempt to create an uninterruptable learning environment that is independent of space and time,” Cronje said.

There was a “90% completion rate” for examinations that were once at threat of being cancelled. In one instance, instead of having a live fashion show on campus, a class recorded its own and uploaded it on YouTube.

Cronje believes other institutions can also thrive during crisis situations and disruptions, as long as they keep “a creative mindset,” and are “willing to take risks.”

As for the #feesmustfall campaign, it seems the protestors will get their wish: South African President Jacob Zuma announced there would be no fee increases in 2016.

You can hear more from Dr. Johannes Cronje at eLearning Africa 2016, which is taking place in Cairo, Egypt, on May 24 – 26.

One Comment

  1. This is is a wonderful approach which every institution of higher learning must adopt. We have lost a lot of resources in terms of time consisting of several semesters because of students strikes. Most students end up with retakes because of poor content coverage in addition to bringing out half baked graduates. We are lucky because there are Web 2.0 technologies ranging from podcasts to social media. Institutions therefore need to build capacity among the teaching staff to benefit from the power of technology.

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