The National Association of Distance Education and Open Learning in South Africa (NADEOSA) held its first virtual conference 11-13 May 2021 under the theme: Preparing for the Future: Shaping Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) in Post School Education and Training (PSET). This conference was attended by over 60 delegates, from South Africa and a number of other Southern African countries.
NADEOSA seeks to promote the quality of and access to distance education in South Africa. Amongst other things, it achieves this by providing a forum for public and private higher education providers to share ideas and good practice in distance education.
The conference was hosted by the Distance and E-Learning Campus at the University of Free State, with its principal, Dr Marinkie Madiope being one of two keynote speakers. Her presentation, was titled The futures of education: Learning to become initiative, Madiope posed five key questions which she encouraged all ODEL providers to consider planning future education initiatives:
- What lessons did we learn from the challenges that were posed to education systems during the COVID -19 pandemic?
- How can we leverage those lessons to shape the future of education?
- What priorities should ODeL providers focus on when developing post school education and training plans and programs for the future?
- What is Pedagogy 4.0?
- How do we ensure that the scenarios envisaged for the future of education are more inclusive and bridge educational and learning gaps?
The main message of the presentation was that equity in digital access and post-school education and training are critical elements that need to be addressed in ODeL in South Africa. Dr Madiope also underscored the importance of lowering costs of e-learning and provision of access to digital resources for all learners as conditions for success in ODeL.
The second keynote address by Professor Louie Fourie, an Adjunct Professor at Arkansas University in the USA, highlighted the need to transform post school education institutions to prepare students for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Professor Fourie, also an educational technology guru, highlighted that the confluence of many technologies is fundamentally impacting the way we live, how we work and relate to each other and the way we teach. He alluded to the dramatic shift brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the digital technology disruption of education. Although many education institutions were forced to move faster into greater use of digital tools, Prof Fourie argued that, overall, the education sector is still far from being ready for the 4IR.
His key message, included the warning that organisations like Kodak, that failed to adapt to the new digital demands would be doomed to extinction.
For this reason, it was imperative that education institutions focused on key competencies needed for the 4IR such as, sense-making, novel and adaptive thinking, social intelligence, computational thinking, promotion of a design mindset, cross-cultural competency and virtual collaboration.
In the panel discussion following the key notes, five panelists, (Nthabiseng Ogude, Francois Strydom, Mpine Makoe, Trudi Van Wyk, and Jenny Glennie) spoke to the theme of the conference. The panel presentations focused on how universities should act as anchor institutions that reach out to schools in their communities; examples of how universities responded to the closure of campuses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lessons derived therefrom; and the need to prepare for education systems that are open, digital, collaborative, personalised and inclusive.
The point was made by the panel, that there is a need to reconceptualise the definitions of, contact, distance and online modes of provision. The South African higher education system needs flexible hybrid teaching and learning modalities now more than ever before to cater for the diversity of learners and learning environments associated with remote learning. In addition to the technology and access to broadband connectivity, the sector needs a dedicated national educational network to support innovative teaching and learning initiatives for the post-school education and training sector.
The COVID-19 as a catalyst for moving learning online and the resultant challenges faced by universities -lecturers and students alike, were clearly dominant themes in this year’s NADEOSA conference. In particular, issues related to the digital divide and the need for equitable access to digital devices, connectivity and electricity, as well as the ongoing need for professional development and support to lecturers to implement quality online teaching, were issues that dominated presentations and discussions at the conference.
Positive feedback on the conference from delegates has encouraged the Nadeosa executive to plan for more such virtual sharing platforms, including conferences and workshops. Announcements regarding these activities will be disseminated soon. Look out for announcements on the Nadeosa website and in Saide Current Awareness circulations.