The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted businesses globally, with some sectors virtually grinding to a halt. In Kenya, the education sector was one of the hardest hit after President Kenyatta ordered all schools shut. All learning institutions were closed, but for some, that was not the end of learning business. At Pan Africa Christian University (PAC University), learning has continued with minimal interruptions, thanks to the digital learning platform they had acquired some years back.
In the wake of Coronavirus pandemic, the need to observe social distancing the world over has seen learning take place away from the physical classrooms. Even the esteemed Ivy League universities are now offering online classes only. On the other end, many learning institutions have been caught off-guard as they had not prepared for this. Some universities have resorted to what has now come to be termed as Emergency Remote Teaching.
This is a term used to refer to courses offered online in response to a crisis or disaster. They are mainly teacher and knowledge-centered, and are to be distinguished from the well-planned online learning experiences which are student-centered, with the teacher as a facilitator who engages learners at multiple points through different strategies. Sadly, in our region, most lecturers who have resorted to Emergency Remote Teaching have taken short-cuts such as sending notes on emails. Other universities have decided to halt learning completely until normalcy returns.
PAC University’s engagement with online learning goes back many years to a strategic partnership it has had with Trinity Western University (Canada). Today, the University is well known for well-designed online learning with several accredited online programs. In 2018, PAC University strategically invested in the acclaimed Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS) platform that integrates a myriad of features which enable dynamic online engagement between a lecturer and his/her students. It is arguably one of the best platforms for online learning used by leading universities in the world. Through it, the University has been successfully teaching programs such as the Master of Arts in Leadership, and the PhD in Organizational Leadership, fully online. In the recent past, all learning Departments have been gradually insisting on all their students acquainting themselves with online learning with the hope that many of them would choose to take advantage of the many benefits online learning offers.
This experience has made it easy for the University to cope with the sudden change of events and migrate fully online without breaking a sweat. The faculty, which is comprised of 85 fulltime staff and adjuncts, are well trained and have the requisite capacity to teach online. Recently, the University was able to successfully hold a defense for one of its Masters student, with all the panelists participating remotely. This set the ball rolling for the scheduled Postgraduate defenses which shall now be held as earlier scheduled, online. Consequently, supervision of Postgraduate students will be continued virtually through the University’s Integrated Online Graduate Mentoring and Supervision System (i-OGMSS).
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With university staff and students across Kenya operating from home, distance is most certainly creating a sense of insecurity among many students who had hoped to graduate soon. To inspire confidence, constant communication to students is key during this period. In her second communique to the University’s staff and students, PAC University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Margaret J. Muthwii, reiterated that teaching for the May-August 2020 Trimester shall proceed as previously scheduled, with all courses being taught online through the Blackboard LMS platform.
This, according to her, is a big win for the students because their academic journey will proceed uninterrupted, and they shall graduate as per their plan. According to Prof. Muthwii, “it is important that we take care of our students by ensuring that the Academic Calendar is not interrupted at all.”
For the new students who will be joining during the May 2020 intake, it will be a new experience for many of them as they shall immediately delve in to online learning. Preparations are already underway as this will be the first time the University will be fully online for almost all the courses.
“The Timetable for the May-August 2020 courses is almost ready, and will soon be available to all students”, said the DVC-Academic Affairs, Prof. Kiambi. On the question of students who are not fully conversant with online learning, Prof. Kiambi said that the University’s ICT Department has been training both faculty and students on online teaching and learning. Further training for both faculty and students who may need additional capacity has already commenced.
Going forward, the Coronavirus pandemic may have changed the way many universities operate, and it is likely that we shall have a number of agile/dynamic universities migrating fully to online learning, which education experts have hailed as the future of higher education sector. For PAC University, this is a space that they understand so well, and have embraced with open arms for several years, and are grateful to God for guiding them into contemporary ways of doing quality education.