The increased demand from ‘techno savvy’ student population requires a change in approach to learning, thus driving blended learning. I started using blended learning techniques in a module on Environmental and Resource Economics for the Collaborative Masters Programme in Applied and Agricultural Economics (CMAAE)*, since 2017. I used Moodle to design the Learning Management System (LMS), upload the teaching material and other sources, as well as for online facilitation. In a class of four hours per week, f2f took half or more hours; online chats took one hour, while online forum discussions extended over 24-48 hours depending on the topic. Before commencing with class, I used a YouTube video to welcome the students and present the course overview and rules of engagement.
“I enjoyed the online platform as there was interaction among students from different countries.
I learned a lot from the platform. It is a fast way to learn new things. I suggest that CMAAE ensure all the requirements are in place before implementing it in different countries”.
The online facilitation involve the application of theories to case studies dealing with environmental problems and policies affecting different countries in Africa. The approach was effective in stimulating debates, which encouraged students to come prepared to class, share their country experiences and learn from each other through effective participation.
At the end of each academic year, a survey on the potential and effectiveness of blended learning as an LMS is conducted. In 2019, the class consisted of fourteen male and five female students, representing six African** countries and 95% of the class participated. Over 80% of the students ranked accessing digital versions of course materials and multimedia resources as the highest (score of 5), followed by interacting with guest lecturer and being freed from attending lectures.
Over 90% of students ranked access to internet connectivity as their main concern, especially for universities in Africa where access to broadband is limited and can affect learning. Furthermore, students indicated that they benefited from blended learning and they believe the system would be beneficial for their colleagues who were not able to attend the f2f session in Pretoria. Online facilitation was also beneficial to the module facilitators through the use on new teaching techniques. Therefore, we conclude that blended learning can be used to promote interactive learning among students and reduce f2f class costs. The use of blended learning prepared us better to transit to online learning during the 2020 covid-19 pandemic when all f2f contact classes had to stop.
The story first appeared in T&[email protected] Bulletin No. 5 — 2020.
* CMAAE is offered in seventeen African universities, coordinated by the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC). The University of Pretoria (UP) hosts the shared facility for electives every second semester of each year.
** Note that the participants’ countries of origin might be different from their host countries during their studies. For example, the six students at the University of Pretoria, three were from Zambia, two from Eswatini and one from South Africa.