e/merge Africa Looking To Technology, Online Learning For Gains

By enhancing access to knowledge and creating borderless education, massive open online courses could potentially change African education for the best, and a network for educational technology practitioners and researchers, e/merge Africa, recently won accolades for their efforts.

The e/merge Africa peer network recently won a Dewey Winburne Community Service Award. The network's convener is an educational technologist in the University of Cape Town's Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, Tony Carr.

e/merge Africa consists of 900 members interested in applying education technology to their work and functions as a new network for educational technology practitioners and researchers across African higher education institutions. To support the capabilities needed for effective e-learning and e-learning research in African higher education, the network offered professional development activities to its members and shared practices and knowledge about educational technology innovation.

As Nicola Jenvey of University World News reports, Carr said in an interview that hundreds of institutions were involved in blended or online learning and there was growing demand for effective educational technologists as practitioners and researchers.

The award, Carr said, was "a meaningful and quite unexpected form of public validation for this work".

"In a year when the e/merge Africa network moves from extensive consultation and planning to developing and offering regular online professional development events, I feel even more motivated to work with colleagues across Africa and the world to support the powerful contribution of education technologists to the success of African higher education," he said.

With the aim of sharing expertise, insight and practices with African and global colleagues, the Centre is currently calling for proposals for online e/merge Africa events in 2014.

"There are so many forms of expertise and rich professional experience across diverse contexts within e/merge Africa and our events should reflect this depth, richness and diversity," he said.

Regarding MOOCs, Carr acknowledged they were still "so new we are trying to work out what to do with them". Nevertheless, with only a small minority of MOOC participants globally being African, the take up is poor, typically limited to relatively well-educated and technologically-savvy early adopters. Additionally, Carr cited the findings of a recent University of Pennsylvania analysis of a 35,000-strong survey of Coursera MOOC which show that the education levels of MOOC students to be significantly higher than their countries' averages. Almost 80% of MOOC students came from the wealthiest and most-educated 6% of the population among the BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

"MOOCs are not addressing our societies' underlying capacity gaps and a survey of MOOCs literature reinforces this in asserting that learner experience of MOOCs is affected by digital literacy, English language proficiency and the critical literacies to effectively evaluate large quantities of information," Carr said.

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