Billy Graham once pointed out that, via television, he could preach to more people in an hour than those Apostle Paul preached to in his entire life. Today one university lecture can be transmitted to more students than are enrolled at any one university in the world at the same time.
A student in Kigali today can ‘attend’ a lecture taught in America in real time. You ask how? Well its just one of the miracles of technology. With the emergence of distant learning, students are no longer restricted to study within their countries.
Today they have the options of studying in universities abroad from the comfort of their homes. The U. S. Office of Technology Assessment defines distance learning as the “linking of a teacher and students in several geographic locations via technology that allows for interaction.”
Distance learning allows a professor to teach thousands of students in various locations, at the same time, in a cost-effective manner. It is already being applied in many universities in the world.
This method applies a mixture of technologies which include videotaped and live lectures delivered by one-way video, 2-way audio digital satellite broadcast and email interaction between students and their instructors.
Normally for such a lecture to happen the students will be in one or more classrooms and a professor will be in another location. The professor talks to the students through a clip-on microphone.
The microphone signal is sent by a phone line or satellite to the classrooms. Their loudspeakers play the professor’s voice to the students. The students can see the professor over a projector.
In the classroom students are given microphones. They can switch on their microphone when they want to ask the teacher a question. The microphone signals are sent by phone lines or satellite to the teacher. The teacher and student can talk back and forth, almost as if they were in the same room.
Amy Tang is the Country Director of OpenMRS (medical record system) training programme at Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA). The programme is currently using a web based distant learning application.
According to Tang, the programme aims at training students on how to develop and use the medical data a field named as Bioinformatrics. This is a speciality area that requires a lot of input from skilled professors who are not in the country.
These lecturers are taught from the United States and South Africa hence the need for a virtual solution.
Tang says, “We have connections to several professors of medical data informatics and computer programmeming in the United States and South Africa. Once or twice a week, we schedule lectures – in the afternoon in Rwanda and in the early morning in the USA. Before the lecture time, the professor emails the PowerPoint slide lectures for us to upload in the Rwanda. Then we project the PowerPoint slides in the classroom using a projector. We connect to the professor using SKYPE and broadcast his/her voice using speakers. Then the professor lectures about one hour on a topic. Afterwards, we spend 30 minutes in question and answer session, where the students ask to the professor question and the professor responds.”
She adds that, “so far, it has been effective in teaching bioinformatics information, since this is a specialty area. This information is important for our E-Health: Software development and implementation course, which is training computer programmemers to know how to develop software for OpenMRS (medical record system) and using the medical data to do analysis.”
Thanks to technology today a group of software developing students can be taught by the world’s leading professor in the field without incurring the expenses of travel and accommodation to foreign countries.Distant learning has ensured quality education to students without ‘denting’ their pockets.
The African Virtual University
The African Virtual University is a first attempt to apply technology in higher institutions of learning as a way of providing education across many nations in Africa. The university was initially a project by the World Bank but has now been transformed into an intergovernmental institution.
African Virtual University has around thirty learning centres in 15 African countries via the internet to universities in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Headquarters of the programme is situated in Nairobi, Kenya.
The initial aim of the project was to bring world class instruction - mainly in Engineering, Computer Science, Information Technology, Business Studies, and Health - from institutions around the world to learning institutions in Africa, through the use of satellite and e-mail, fax and phone lines.
The integration of satellite and computer technologies allows for cost-effective and quality transmission of video and data resources to support student learning. Live and videotaped instructions are provided by programme affiliate institutions in the U.S. and Europe.
Local institutions and other organisations in Africa provide administrative, academic, and technical staff to support operations of the university.
The mission of the partnering universities is to use the modern information technology to increase access to educational resources throughout Sub Saharan Africa.
The university has the largest network of Open Distance and e-Learning institutions in Africa.
This university maybe the first of its kind but definitely not the last and as technology advances in Africa it is hoped that more efficient applications will emerge to support education and to give students better quality educational options.