Former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and Distinguished Professor of Science and Computer Education, Peter Okebukola, has explained the reasons why most conventional universities in Nigerian are finding it difficult to switch to online learning, particularly at this critical time of COVID-19.
“This is because they are conventional, meaning they are set up to deliver face-to-face instruction and not online learning in the real sense. It is like asking a soldier in the infantry who is trained in jungle warfare to fight on the high seas like naval personnel. To make the soldier effective on the high seas, you have to retrain him in naval warfare. You see, we have three major types of delivery systems. One is face-to-face, as the name implies, the teacher and his or her students are collocated, and the lecture is delivered in a class, auditorium or any physical location. This is typical, if you like, the most common delivery system that predominated the global higher education firmament since the early days of universities. The second is open and distance learning (ODL), a delivery system where teacher and students are not collocated, are separated in time and space and only connected virtually via some form of technology. This is what is commonly referred to as online learning, or more technically phrased as e-learning. This mode is fast gaining ground, its pace now accelerated by COVID-19 since the new coronavirus has forced the teacher and the students to be separated.
“The third mode is a combination of the two as if a blender has swirled them together hence it is called blended learning. Here, you have face to face and ODL being implemented together. The mix is determined by the institution.
“We needed this background to enable me to contextualise my answer to your question as to why conventional universities in Nigeria are finding it difficult to switch to online learning. I made allusion to a military example in the early part of my answer. I will continue with that analogy. To switch from an infantryman to naval personnel, you need at least two things- equipment and environment for training naval officers and rigorous training to convert the army man to a navy man. Likewise, to switch from face-to-face to online delivery, you need to equip and retool our universities for online delivery including the technology and courseware. Secondly, you need to train all personnel that will be involved in delivering the online courses such as the lecturers (now facilitators) and other support personnel such as course tutors, instructional designers and learner support services. If these two major planks are not in place, we will be on course for shabby delivery of university education, a recipe to further depress the quality of our graduates.
“I need to stress that we are in an emergency, a war situation. Going back to my military analogy, if, in peacetime, it takes the conversion of the infantryman about three months to be naval personnel, in wartime, we do not have the luxury of time, the situation is no longer ideal and we may have to contract the training to about two weeks. The converted naval man will keep learning on the job until the war is over after which the full dose of training can be organised for him.
“So, in our case, the minister of education, Adamu Adamu has requested all universities to engage students through online delivery. What many universities are doing is to activate emergency procedures, use whatever technology platform that is available to most students including Whatsapp and Zoom and gets the work going. This is clearly a sensible alternative than to raise our hands in surrender and say that since we do not have all the technologies for delivering the ideal online system, we should all sit at home and throw missiles at the government. It is reassuring that after the “COVID-19 war situation” the national revitalisation plan that the executive secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) Prof Abubakar Rasheed, has put in place will roar into action, and strengthen the ODL capabilities of our universities as a major thrust.
“Perhaps I should boast that in Lagos State University (LASU), we are far ahead of the pack. The LASU African Centre of Excellence (ACE) in Innovative and Transformative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education has taken a lead in delivering quality online education since COVID-19 struck. The Association of African Universities (AAU) has been making regional reference to our model. I invite you to participate in some of our ongoing online courses as an observer to see things for yourself.”