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Reported by Kibwana Zamani

CEMEREM represented by Prof. Jan C. Bongaerts (CEMEREM Project Leader, TUBAF), Prof. Kiptanui Too (CEMEREM Project Coordinator, TTU), Dr. Nicholas Muthama (CEMEREM Project Manager, TTU) and Mr. Kibwana Zamani (ICT Manager, TTU) from CEMEREM Center attended the DIGITAL INITIATIVE FOR AFRICAN CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE (DIGI-FACE) kickoff meeting at Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth in South Africa from 3rd to 6th March 2020.

DIGI-FACE aims to strengthen the African Excellence Network via the development of appropriate and user-friendly electronic and blended learning modules and digital tools, so that geographically separated participants become part of a community of learners and practitioners for interactive digital learning progress and reflexive research supervision.

At the meeting, participants who came from all the DAAD Centres of African Excellence, were taken through the aims, concepts, challenges, activities and role players of the project. Objectives of the project are: Development and implementation of open, interdisciplinary, digital teaching and learning tools and modules for students, graduates and teaching staff of the Centres of Excellence; Capacity building measures and intense training  of trainers for the African partners in the conception, implementation, use and further development of digital measures; and Development of a digital teaching and learning platform that enables various digital support for students, researchers and alumni, and the sharing of innovative ideas and teaching and learning documents as well as digitally supported documentation, reflection and collaboration activities.

Centers through their representatives had opportunities to give their presentations and reflections on their motivation for attending the meeting; Get DAAD perspectives on digitalisation at the Centres of Excellence; Learn current developments in the Centres of African Excellence Programme; Receive insights and perspectives on online learning from an online focused universities; and get understanding and shared experiences of digital learning and teaching beginning with mind-setting and setting long-term learning goals.

The meeting received well researched and rich presentations from prominent academicians, e-learning practitioners and DIGI-FACE project core team members within the Africa-German Centers circles including Prof Ewald Eisenberg, Prof Paul Webb, Prof Bernd Siebenhuener, Prof Michael Samuel, Prof Cheryl Foxcroft, Alexander Knoth, Dr Dorothee Weyler, Prof Johan van Niekerk, Mike Swanepoel, Florian Rampelt, Junes Arfaoui and Nilly Chingaté Castaño.

Participants were taken through some computer lab technical sessions of creating learning materials and using Moodle’s interactive media tools to deliver the same and to do a simple quiz. The DIGI-FACE project pledged to give more support in terms of training and equipment to the Centers for developing learning materials, deploying and delivering course through e-learning.

The DIFI-FACE project is coming at a crucial time in the strategic journey of CEMEREM and Taita Taveta University as a whole. At the close of its Strategic Plan 2013-2018 period, TTU recognized the need to start making its academic programmes available through e-learning in order to reach a wider students’ audience, offer flexible and personalized learning experiences as well as cut down on teaching expenses at time when government funding is dwindling by the day. The University therefore adopted one strategic objective dedicated to e-learning in its Strategic Plan 2018-2023. A first step towards adopting e-learning was taken where academic staff were given induction training on using the Moodle Learning Management System in 2018 and one unit in Geoinformatics was identified to do a pilot on e-learning.

With training and equipment support on the way by the DIGI-FACE project, strategic direction provided by the University’s highest organ through the University’s Strategic Plan 2018-2023, academic staff induction on e-learning, CEMEREM will now embark on developing a roll-out plan, take a lead in having the necessary policy formulated and marshal the necessary resources and building capacity to implement e-learning in full swing.

As the country and the entire world is facing a possible lockdown occasioned by the need to combat the spread of COVID-19, e-learning will provide a long-term solution to universities’ teaching, learning, research, supervision and collaboration.

For CEMEREM, the following were the “take home”;

  1. The digitalization project DIGI-FACE started up by DAAD will have direct implications for CEMEREM. There will have to be changes in current didactical practice. It is expected that CEMEREM makes a draft of its objectives and activities of digitalization within the DIGI-FACE project. A first training of the technical experts is planned for later in the year in Nairobi. We point out the peculiarities of teaching sciences and engineering to the project managers.
  2. Training of ICT manager(s)/e-learning implementers (One or More than one) from TTU on the use of technical equipment, such as video recorders, sound equipment, recording machines, storage of data and information carriers (lecture notes, assignments, documents from literature, Thesis reports, Seminar papers, practicals reports, CEMEREM documents, personal data of CEMEREM project persons, calendars, lists of students and teachers etc) — in that context: training about tools to give access to users depending on their categories and access rights and on management of all those users — the issue of intellectual property rights not being taken into account by the project team, this should be explored further.
  3. Recognition of the specifics on education in mathematics and statistics, natural sciences and engineering technologies (STEM). The aim is to transfer knowledge with highest possible accuracy in terms of understanding by students — That is a precondition for the achievement of high frequencies of “PASS” of examinations.
  4. Specifics on academic training in laboratory practicals, both for laboratory technicians and students — a combination of the “virtual lab” and the “real lab”. (Example: videos on lab experiments as inputs for “real” lab practices by students)
  5. Organization of oral examinations, thesis defense and similar (final) tests with (partial) online participation of supervisors — this includes handling of virtual examination reports, grades sheets, issuance of certificates (the virtual Student Office).
  6. Organization of online education and training packages for Outreach (example: Artisanal Miners, based on mobile telephones as their main technical equipment).
  7. Operationalization of e-learning in CEMEREM as a tool for delivery  of teaching and learning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

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