Students of Makerere University have aired out deficiencies in the tools, methods and activities of blended teaching and learning, and proposed some remedies.
The students’ concerns were disclosed by Arthur Mugisha at a study research dissemination workshop held at the Cedat auditorium, Makerere University on September 29, 2022.
Mugisha is the principal investigator of the Comprehensive Evaluation of Blended Learning Uptake at Makerere (CEBL) Project, a joint undertaking of Makerere University, Busitema University, National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). The study project is funded by Makerere University Research and Innovation Fund (Mak RIF), a government of Uganda fund.
The study team also included Prof Paul Birevu Muyinda, Dr Joshua Bateeze (KCCA), Dr Robert Ayine (NCHE), Prof Jessica Norah Aguti (Busitema University), Dr Harriet Najjemba and Rose Akanya (project admin).
Mugisha said the study, carried out in all the 10 colleges of Makerere, from December 2021 to July 2022, aimed to pick and aggregate the concerns of learners; an earlier study had gathered the concerns of lecturers. He was optimistic that findings from both studies would help improve blended learning not only at Makerere but throughout the country.
The workshop was the first phase of gathering broad stakeholder ideas and opinions which will be incorporated into or utilised to improve the final research report. So, more phases are to come.
Mugisha said blended learning combines technology and digital media with traditional face-to-face classroom activities, adding that it has advantages of giving students more flexibility to tailor their learning experiences to their needs.
Though Makerere University’s department of Open and Distance Learning had instituted this mode of teaching and learning in 1991, turning Makerere into a ‘dual-mode university, it did not spread to majority of the university’s units until the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. With the lockdown which involved the closure of educational institutions, Makerere was forced to adopt emergency Online and Distance e-Learning (ODeL) across all units. But this rush development came with many challenges, to learners, teachers and the institution.
Mugisha’s team sought to know how much learners came to know the existence of blended learning, how they understood the pedagogy of blended learning, how they used blended learning, how convenient or inconvenient they found it, the impact of peers regarding usage of blended learning and how to improve it in future.
Prof Anthony Mugagga, principal of College of Education and External Studies, said the study posed many queries, such as: did ample teaching take place; did actual learning take place; did worthy assessment/examination take place; and how can the situation be improved?
Prof Paul Birevu Muyinda, the director of ODeL and member of the study team, said the findings of both studies will be disseminated to other institutions of higher learning and the ministry of Education and Sports. He was pleased that Makerere had helped a number of universities to implement blended learning.
He, however, noted that the journey to perfection is still long.
“How can our staff use multimedia and videos, for example? And how can we create our own platforms rather than relying on YouTube and others?” he asked rhetorically.
One interesting finding was that many students praised the blended learning system because it permitted cheating exams and passing without much effort!
Glitches mentioned by learners included non-harmonized timetabling, non-punctual and absentee lecturers, lack of internet network in some places, high cost of data, ignorance of computers and digital functions, and failure to choose the many technologies available, among others.
There was high dissatisfaction with lecturers, with 91 per cent of respondents saying they did not get support from lecturers. This led to only 51 per cent of respondents saying they would support continuation of blended learning. Respondents criticized the existing e-learning infrastructure at the university. For example, the Makerere University E-Learning Environment (MUELE) gets extremely slow when many people log onto it.
Some participants at the workshop pointed out that Moodle platform which is being used by Makerere has many challenges. They said Canvas LMS would be a far better platform but it is very expensive because it is commercial, and therefore the university would not afford in on mass scale.
Workshop participants recommended that the university purchases plagiarism-tracking software and proclaims a specific maximum of acceptable plagiarism levels. “It’s better a student first checks themselves for plagiarism content and reduces it to prescribed levels,” one participant said.