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e-Learning: the Future

With increasing numbers using e-learning to support their teaching practice, the Durban University of Technology is making excellent progress toward its aim of becoming a digital University. Prof Graham Stewart is the co-ordinator of the project and he recently shared his views.

Professor Graham Stewart, e-Learning Project Co-ordinator, shares some of the achievements to date and looks to the future with the LINK.

As e-Learning Project Co-ordinator, what does your role entail?

Prof Stewart: My role is to advance e-learning as a teaching and learning approach at DUT. Four vital institutional elements needed to come together in order to achieve this are the individual good practice that exists within faculties, training and support for staff members using the Blackboard Learning Management System, the technical infrastructure (such as our network) and overarching business processes such as student registration and marks. My role has been to encourage people to work together in ways they may possibly not have done before and facilitate not only the joining up of people, but also of systems and technology.

Can you sum up the progress to date?

Prof Stewart: The metrics show that adoption has increased. The number of qualifications with an online component (that is, at least one module in any programme which is supported by the Blackboard LMS) has steadily increased from 19% in January 2014 to 33% in July and I fully expect to see us meet our target of 50% when this is next measured. The increased adoption can be attributed to the sponsorship of the Vice-Chancellor, the Deans of the faculties and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic’s prioritisation of e-learning, the Centre for Quality Promotion and Assurance’s emphasis on e-learning as a measure of quality and the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching’s creation of customised training to equip technical staff and accommodate the greater numbers going online. These are primarily lecturers who have for some time successfully engaged with e-learning to advantage their students and those new to the system who have readily adopted technologies in support of their own teaching and learning strategies. For these lecturers, it is both the natural and the obvious choice.

The project has also contributed to staff development in the area of e-learning with the result that we now have a group of staff members who are more knowledgeable and better connected both locally and internationally to respond to the needs of the future.

What are we going in see in 2015?

Prof Stewart: In 2015, e-learning will be embedded as a core practice at DUT, with responsibilities joined up across our faculties and service departments. We will continue to see growth in the use of our learning management system that will enable us to use its capabilities for student tracking and associated support. A huge investment is being made by DUT in the infrastructure of digital provision. An entire refresh of our IT infrastructure is underway – that is of our servers, wireless, bandwidth and networking capabilities. All this will further facilitate the use of online teaching and learning.

How do you see the future of e-learning at DUT?

Prof Stewart: The e-learning project will end, but the e-learning momentum will continue to grow. The central importance of e-learning is a change in perspective that all universities around the world have had to face in the last two years. My ideal would be to see online classrooms used comprehensively, student support structures integrated through the Blackboard interface, infrastructure and business processes providing seamless support and the Blackboard Learning Management System’s capacities for benign monitoring and tracking of students used to the full.

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