Globally, higher education institutions are facing unprecedented challenges resulting from physical distancing practices owing to Covid-19.
The University of Pretoria (UP), particularly its faculty of engineering, built environment and information technology (EBIT), is not immune to these challenges, but sees this as an opportunity to embrace best practices associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
UP EBIT dean Professor Sunil Maharaj, and teaching and learning deputy dean Professor Alta van der Merwe highlight that the university is doing everything in its power to ensure that the academic programme continues despite the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Maharaj and Van der Merwe advance that UP is regarded as a leader in the integration of educational technologies to support teaching and learning, as well as in student success strategies, owing to the level of experience it has gained by applying a hybrid approach to teaching and learning for more than two decades.
They tell Engineering News that, for several years, the university has been working on implementing a system-wide hybrid approach to teaching and learning at the university. The aim is for each undergraduate module to include up to 30% of teaching and learning engagements online.
Currently, almost 95% of all undergraduate modules have an active online presence. Data from the learning management system also demonstrated that the most engaged students online outperformed the least engaged by 15% – a good argument in favour of the hybrid learning approach.
The professors note that online learning also helps prepare UP students for the world beyond university, as a new world order has developed – because of Covid-19 – that governs the way in which we live, work, educate and socialise.
Consequently, the university’s Education Innovation Department has been working hard to support staff and faculties to ensure that teaching and learning progress without a hitch.
One of the ways in which the work has been done amid the Covid-19 pandemic is through the UP Connect platform, which enables students and staff to access university-related websites such as clickUP, library services and their emails without incurring data costs.
While teaching, learning and coursework programmes will remain online for this semester, the university has developed a plan that will be used in consultation with the Student Representative Council, organised labour at the institution and all the stakeholders to allow for the phased return of some students and staff in keeping with government regulations.
Further, the university, as the leading adopter in the late 1990s of online teaching and learning management platforms, has always supported faculties to engage in online activities to ensure a blended approach for teaching and learning.
Therefore, Maharaj and Van der Merwe believe that after lockdown regulations have been lifted, UP will return to contact classes, although its staff will also engage in best practices learned from the lockdown period.