As the world’s leading English-language publisher of management research, Emerald is always working on new ways to distribute and collect management and engineering knowledge efficiently. At eLearning Africa 2008, the publisher will present the open web space and hosting service Emerald InTouch in its effort to enhance African community building, look for authors and encourage African researchers to publish their findings. eLA newsletter author Nina Wittrock spoke to Eric Broug, Emerald Business Manager for Africa.
eLA: Could you please tell us about Emerald InTouch and the services you offer?
Eric Broug: Emerald InTouch is a new platform, serving as a personal web space that supports learning, networking and collaboration. With the Emerald InTouch platform, users have a wide range of Web 2.0 devices such as wikis, blogs RSS and communities for project work
Emerald is using its InTouch platform to encourage conversation around content. Some of our clients use customised versions of the InTouch service to support elearning and distance learning programmes.
eLA: When did Emerald start its African department?
Eric Broug: We started last year because we recognised that it is a good opportunity to really learn about the different needs on the Continent. We wanted to see what people want to have access to and what issues we can help them with. In a broader sense, we wanted to achieve two things in Africa: We wanted to increase access to our content, but we also wanted to encourage more African researchers to publish in our journals. That is definitely important because these things go hand in hand, and that is why we set up our African department.
eLA: Where do you see the main needs in Africa? Is there, from your point of view, a diverse picture or do you identify particular needs there?
Eric Broug: What always strikes me when I go to Africa is the desire and enthusiasm to learn, and that is part of the excellent thing about working in that part of the world. However, in many African countries, there is not really an infrastructure to offer our content in the way that we do in many other parts of the world. Most of our customers in Europe and the US are subscribers to electronic collections, but most of our African customers do not subscribe to electronic collections; they subscribe to print journals if they subscribe at all.
eLA: Could you depict your projects in Africa in more detail?
Eric Broug: There is a range of things we can mention here. What we want to promote at eLearning Africa, for example, is our research awards. At the Conference, we want to define Africa as an area from where we want more contributions from authors. In order to encourage that, we have set up two research awards – one for engineering research and the other for public sector management. They are worth £2,500 each per year, and we hope they will generate interest and more ideas from African researchers. That is one thing that we seek: to encourage African researchers in authorship.
Quite recently, we did a project in Nigeria, where we have very good contacts with the national library association. They now have access to our electronic content, which they host on their own website.
Acting globally, we also stay in contact with many universities, for example in Europe or the US, that have very big collections of print journals. When they change to electronic versions, they do not know what to do with their print, so they quite often throw them away. This, of course, is a terrible thing. We think it would be much better if they donated them to a university in Africa. That is a project we are working on as well: trying to help get print archives from Europe and the US to Africa institutions.
eLA: Where does eLearning come into play here?
Eric Broug: The InTouch platform offers a particular type of elearning experience. People can talk to each other: they converse, they have communities of practice, use the wikis for group work or capture ideas using a community blog. This can be used by students, lecturers and professors. The eLearning that takes place here is a self-directed model of learning and reflection. At Emerald we always encourage conversations around our content but with the InTouch platform, the dynamic changes. Suddenly content is just the starting point for learning and conversation. What should be triggered is more discussion, more debate, then more research: And hopefully that comes back and enhances the debate and the community building all over again.
When we look at an eLearning model, a sustainable eLearning model, something that can be part of a blended learning strategy, many things are still questionable. The blended learning strategy appears to be a model that most universities are trying to adopt, but it does not really work with a set of slides that we simply consume constantly. When you can engage in debate and conversation with fellow students, with other researchers, and with academics in your own country, in your own university and beyond, real learning takes place. That is more measurable, more sustainable and far more effective than the old style – characterised by PowerPoint sessions – which we encountered a few years ago.
eLA: What should users do to implement your platform?
Eric Broug: We have a public site http://intouch.emeraldinsight.com that is free for anybody to register with – nothing more than a name and an e-mail address is required – and that is completely free to use. Anybody can sign up and start to construct communities, blogs, wikis, etc. Anybody in the world can use it. It is probably worth mentioning, though, that it does require a little bit of active involvement.
We help you deploy it within your institution, and we can help you understand what it means pedagogically and how you can integrate it into your teaching and learning models. We explain what your institution or your university has to do to include a blog or a wiki for project work or use the internet for a learning process, for example. It keeps students in touch wherever they are. They do not have to log into a desktop computer; they can also use their mobile devices, which we think is quite relevant in a geographically dispersed continent.
We have added quite a strong mobile element to the platform – specifically for Africa. We sought to understand the infrastructure requirements, and we came to see that mobile is the way to go. With the help of your mobile device, you can also put content into the site. We built a mobile dimension for collaboration, for conversation and dialogue and that will help people learn.
eLA: What do you expect to gain from the eLearning Africa conference?
Eric Broug: We expect a lot from eLearning Africa. It is exactly the right time for us to be there and to learn from the people in Africa. We realise that to adapt things – especially for the African market – it implies that we have to be creative and to recognise the needs of the market; not to think we know what they are beforehand. That has to do with content but also with how we deliver the content.
The challenge for us is to take advantage of the Conference – to meet our current and future clients to see what we can learn from them and how we can offer our content in a way that suits their needs. For us is it mostly a fact-finding destination. We hope to find a lot of interest in our products, obviously, but we also hope to have many interesting discussions with African people in eLearning to see what will work and what will not work.
eLA: Many thanks for your time.
Business Manager – Africa
Emerald Group Publishing Ltd
Mob: +44 (0) 7875 249006
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