Training sessions and workshops tend to be about group discussions, networking and relationship-building. With many campuses still closed, how can we generate this energy and intimacy online?
In this article, Tabitha Buchner and Josie Dryden share how the TESCEA partnership is moving highly participatory face-to-face training workshops for East African teaching staff to an online setting.
The Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) partnership aims to help higher education professionals in East Africa redesign courses to support students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
The impact of TESCEA depends on “multipliers” - members of teaching staff at the four universities involved in TESCEA (University of Dodoma and Mzumbe University in Tanzania and Gulu University and Uganda Martyrs in Uganda). These multipliers have been trained in course redesign or gender-responsive pedagogy as part of the TESCEA partnership and are now committed to cascading this to their colleagues.
Last year, TESCEA held an introductory face-to-face training workshop for the multipliers. A follow-on workshop was planned for this year, but face-to-face delivery was not possible due to Covid-19. In response, AFELT and INASP from the TESCEA partnership planned an online alternative, which is now in full swing.
How it works
In developing an online alternative, we needed to consider the key challenges that participants might face with learning together online – issues around connectivity, time, uncertainty and the need for interaction, which we discussed in this post. We also drew on expertise within INASP of using online approaches for teaching and learning over the past decade to develop something that was tailored to an online environment and to the specific learning needs and priorities of the participants.
We decided to adapt our workshop to be an online training over six weeks and to focus on the key priorities identified by multipliers, rather than cover everything we might have done in an intensive face-to-face workshop.
The resulting online training includes around 40 people from the four TESCEA universities. It is largely based on the open-source, e-learning platform Moodle. Although many in East Africa are familiar with Moodle, there is a range of experience amongst the participants and we have not assumed familiarity. The first week of the workshop was therefore designed to ease participants into using Moodle, with a forum for questions, and with Josie available to help participants with technological issues.
Like a face-to-face course or workshop, we have aimed for a balance between content to listen to or read, activities for participants to do on Moodle by themselves, and group discussion. In lieu of the energisers that would see workshop participants moving around a room networking or playing an ice-breaker game, we had warm-up exercises where participants went into the discussion forum to introduce themselves and talk about how Covid-19 has affected their teaching. To emulate group discussions, we have created sub-forums that work throughout the six weeks of the online course.
The main focus of the workshop is improving lesson planning, so paying attention to each individual participant is important. We have seven facilitators from AFELT and INASP to help with these discussions and to mentor smaller groups. We also have a forum for plenary discussion.
Sharing expertise on online delivery
In developing the workshop, we asked experts across all the TESCEA partners if they would be willing to be share their expertise on online higher education delivery. Some recorded videos while others have made themselves available for discussions in Moodle or to hold weekly clinics via WhatsApp or Zoom. The course also points to further resources on how to use Moodle. These are not core parts of the multiplier workshop but are optional extras that give teaching staff valuable ideas and support.
Catering to different workloads and timings
Around the time that the multiplier workshop began, the Tanzanian government announced that universities could reopen and that the university term would not be extended. As a result, Tanzanian teaching staff are very busy fitting extra teaching into a compressed timescale, often doing the same lectures and tutorials several times to cater for the reduced numbers allowed into classrooms at any time to preserve social distancing. In Uganda, in contrast, universities remain closed and staff are primarily teaching online.
Accordingly, we see differences between the two countries in terms of how and when participants can engage with the workshop. We have therefore designed the workshop to be largely asynchronous, to cater for staff availability and connectivity challenges. We do however have some synchronous activities in the form of Zoom-based question and answer sessions; we upload recorded sessions so that those who cannot join at the time can view them later.
Adapting a highly participatory face-to-face workshop to an online setting and piloting it during a pandemic was never going to be easy. Across the TESCEA partnership we are learning about what works and what doesn’t. We are pleased to see the ongoing engagement of many participants, particularly when faced with so many other pressures on their time.
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The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and is managed on behalf of FCDO by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International.