The Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency of the African Council for Distance Education (ACDE-QAAA) seeks to support member institutions to enhance the quality of ODL, including technology supported learning. With support from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the ACDE organized a train-the-trainers workshop on quality assurance for teacher training and professional development. This workshop was held in March 2019 and was hosted by the Open University of Tanzania (OUT). Ephraim Mhlanga facilitated the workshop
The objectives of the workshop were to:
- Acquaint participants with evidence-based quality assurance practice in teacher training and professional development in a digital age;
- Help participants appreciate the quality challenges of Higher Education generally and Distance Education provision in particular;
- Enhance capacity of participants to deliver high quality Open, Distance and eLearning (ODeL) programmes;
- Familiarize participants with the ACDE-QAAA Toolkit and how it can be used to enhance quality; and
- Lay foundations for the development of a robust quality assurance system for teacher education programmes in Africa.
The workshop was attended by 37 participants from six countries spanning Southern, West and East Africa. All institutions represented at the workshop offer ODL in various disciplines, including teacher training. Of particular note amongst participants was the Nigerian Teachers’ Institute, a dedicated teacher training institution. University of South Africa (UNISA) and University of Fort Hare also participated at the workshop. UNISA trains large numbers of teachers by distance and Fort Hare runs a teacher professional development initiative called Future Teachers. Fort Hare implements the Future Teachers initiative in the Eastern Cape Province in collaboration with COL and SchoolNet South Africa.
Sadly, the delegate from the Catholic University of Mozambique couldn’t be there due to the disaster that was caused by Cyclone Idai in Beira.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor of OUT responsible for Academic Affairs, Professor Deus Ngaruko officially opened the workshop. In his opening remarks, he acknowledged the role COL and the ACDE are playing to enhance the quality of education at OUT and other African higher education institutions. He underscored the importance of maintaining quality at OUT, which is the only open university in the East African region. This is in sharp contrast to Southern Africa where several countries have public OLD higher education institutions. The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Resources Management), Professor Cornelia Muganda, participated throughout the three days of the workshop which underlines the importance that OUT placed on the quality assurance workshop. Prof Muganda had a session where she talked about how the university is trying to bring all academics up to speed with teaching and learning technologies as a way of enhancing the quality of ODL delivery. Two representatives from the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) also participated in the workshop. As a new organisation that is still building up capacity and systems that can allow it to cope with regulating a large number of institutions in the country, the TCU was very keen to learn how a common set of quality standards can be used to enhance quality in a variety of institutions in the vast country.
Amongst other things, principles of Improvement Science were used in framing the workshop – understanding the problem(s) to be addressed and identifying an effective intervention to address the problem(s). These two principles informed the two key aspects around which workshop activities were centred, which are doing contextual analysis in order to identify main quality challenges that are faced in training teachers through distance, and discussing best ways of addressing the challenges using appropriately designed quality assurance tools.
Common challenges that came out of the contextual analysis were:
- Lack of effective strategies for ensuring that student teachers master desirable pedagogical skills that enable them to be innovative enough to deal with challenging environments. The challenges include shortage or complete absence of teaching and learning resources as well as working with demotivated learners;
- Use of OER in the development of teaching and learning materials are skills that are not taught in teacher training institutions;
- Poor uptake of technology that facilitates innovative and more engaging learning methods; and
- Culture of not sharing and learning from peers, at institutional as well as at individual level.
The identification of quality challenges was followed by an induction session on the ACDE Quality Assurance Toolkit, looking at the toolkit structure and standards. Working in groups, participants explored how the toolkit standards could be adapted to improve teacher education and teacher professional development at their institutions. They also conducted mock reviews of their institutions using the standards.
The workshop acknowledged that common practice in Africa is that it is only universities that are subjected to official quality reviews by national quality agencies, where the latter exist. Teacher training institutions are not subjected to such rigorous quality assurance processes. This compromises benchmarking of teacher training standards. It was therefore recommended that to improve the quality of such training and the teaching profession, communities of practice (CoP) consisting of teacher training institutions should be constituted. Such CoP can facilitate regular sharing of ideas and good practice, peer review processes, and benchmarking of norms and standards in the teaching profession. This would go a long way in collaboratively improving the quality of teacher education in Africa.
Workshop participants suggested that a follow up workshop should be held to check how institutions are using the Toolkit. Since the ACDE has limited resources to run more of these workshops, participants recommended that institutions could team up and co-sponsor similar training workshops on quality assurance at a regional level. A mechanism of checking if such workshops are having an impact in institutions in terms of embracing the toolkit and improving quality assurance practices should also be put in place.