Varsities now told to ensure online classes are credible

To safeguard quality and standards in online lessons in universities, CUE has now released a self-assessment tool for all institutions of higher learning.

Universities have been asked to ensure online teaching programmes are more credible and secure from cheats.

The Commission for University Education (CUE) said on Friday there is concern that academic papers tabled by some graduates may be questioned for failing to meet standards for online teaching and examinations.

Part of the urgent requirements for online lessons is a robust infrastructure that ensures access to learning materials, processing, storage and access to student information and also facilitates student and faculty support.

To safeguard quality and standards in online lessons in universities, CUE has now released a self-assessment tool for all institutions of higher learning to check the level of compliance with the set benchmarks.

The details are contained in a document titled  ‘Open, distance and e-learning (ODeL) programmes and institutions in Kenya.’

CUE Chief Executive Officer Mwendwa Ntarangwi said the kit is a self-audit arrangement that must be used by universities to ensure programmes mooted meet the set quality standards.

“We are keen to ensure universities provide ODeL education that is credible and available to a wide group of students who are off or on-campus,” said Ntarangwi. Universities will be required to generate self-assessment reports based on the document that will be used to evaluate their suitability to offer online courses.

Speaking during a meeting on State of University Education in Kenya, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha challenged university managers to come up with ways of transforming their teaching practices in response to the unprecedented corona times and anticipate the future through creative use of technology.

“It is incumbent upon universities as the leaders in knowledge creation, research undertaking and innovation to find solutions to the myriad challenges in our society,” said Magoha.

Ntarangwi said the pandemic has thrown both public and private universities into uncertain waters since each is forced to move lessons online; a development that he said has also greatly impacted the institutions financially.

During the meeting, vice chancellors agreed that education will not be business as usual and technology alone cannot close the quality gap.

The managers heard that efforts must be made, both to advance learning now and to be better prepared to return to classrooms when school closures end.

In addition to managing complex universities budgets, VCs were told to also develop ability to manage reductions in staffing, programmes and space.

CUE chairperson Chacha Nyaigoti-Chacha said Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on the delivery of education globally, but noted that universities must step up to offer quality education.

“The university sub-sector has had to adjust and embrace digital learning platforms to ensure continuity of teaching and learning. It is now about time to fix quality,” said Chacha.

The critical areas that CUE wants serious improvement touch on examinations, assessments, students’ support, faculty and staff development, physical as well as technology infrastructure.

On examinations, CUE guidelines require universities to describe how tests are administered for ODeL programmes and also outline the tools/methods in use for student authentication during examinations.

Universities must also demonstrate how they ensure students adhere to examination protocols, including invigilation and checking academic dishonesty.

CUE also wants universities to ensure issues around security of examinations are in pace.

Under this requirement, universities must institute mechanisms in place for ODeL examinations during setting, handling, packaging, execution and marking.

A documented procedure for quality assurance of ODeL examinations will also be required by CUE as part of the major requirements for quality audit.

How assessments are conducted, how student assessment reports are generated, analysed and archived are also areas that should be exhibited by universities in the audit.

“They have to demonstrate how feedback on assessment is communicated to the students; and ?how they are integrated to review of the curriculum,” said Ntarangwi.

The audit also requires details of the IT infrastructure put in place by the universities.

The university must also demonstrate they have set up software to detect academic dishonesty including deception, plagiarism, theft and fraud.

“There must be a system in place for archiving past examination questions and results for ease of retrieval,” reads the document.

A recent report by Universities Fund revealed that most of the universities were unprepared to offer online classes.

The report revealed that those that already had online programmes did not have the capacity to handle a large number of students.

“As universities hurriedly started to offer online classes, they were not able to put systems in place that could accommodate all students regardless of their geographical location,” states the report.

This is because most universities started offering online classes after the directive of President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 15 to shut all learning institutions.

Among the platforms used by universities to roll out online teaching include Moodle Learning Managing Systems, emails, zoom, Google classroom/meet, Microsoft Teams, Kenet systems, WhatsApp, internally developed systems, Hangouts and Big Blue Button.

The survey indicates that the systems and platforms put in place by universities only favoured students with access to electricity, the internet, smart phones and laptops, and those conversant with how the electronic gadgets work. 

Speaking during the conference, Magoha told the university managers that government support has been limited as universities said they need more funding to stabilise.

“The government has been hard pressed to provide immediate interventions to enable learning to resume. But as you will appreciate, the challenge has been overwhelming and calls for more minds to think through to get a clear roadmap,” said Magoha.