Outdated university technology is harming learning and research

As the government focuses all its attention on providing laptops to primary schools, similar attention and effort should be spared to address ICT gaps in our public universities.

Every five years, the Kenya Education Network (KENET) undertakes regular e-Readiness surveys of Kenyan public and private universities. Their most recent 2013 e-Readiness report shows that our universities have a long way to go in terms of embracing ICTs in their administration, teaching, learning and research.

It is unacceptable that in this day and age, lecturers are still using the ‘chalk and talk’ approach in their teaching.

It is also unbelievable that they are still submitting their student marks on foolscaps and therefore increasing, rather than reducing, incidents of lost or missing marks.

Finally, it is tragic that lecturers continue to undertake research without leveraging the numerous digital research tools and capabilities that have become mainstream in modern universities.

SHARED BLAME

Without leveraging collaborative technologies, it is no surprise that our national research has remained an insignificant proportion of global output.

However, the blame is not entirely on the lecturers. University administrations have, time and again, failed to facilitate digital transformation in our institutions of higher learning.

Even if lecturers went out of their way and equipped themselves with personal laptops and projectors, they would discover that the lecture rooms are not e-ready.

Basic infrastructure like power supply and whiteboards, among other tools, is lacking, making it impossible to leverage digital delivery methods.

On the other hand, even if students were to go out of their way and secure personal laptops, they might discover that their lecturer is not yet e-ready. Many lecturers still rely on the infamous hand-written “yellow-notes” that were initially developed 10-15years ago as teaching guidelines.

For most local universities, the concept of e-learning remains a distant and remote abstract to be realised in Vision 2030. Yet e-learning has been around for the last 15 years.

DATED PRACTICES AND THINKING

In fact, a few progressive local universities have instituted e-learning, where students are able to upload assignments and have them reviewed and assessed electronically.

Libraries have not upgraded their practices and thinking either. They remain focused on acquiring more and more physical books and journals, while making no effort to get digital books and journals.

Students at the few libraries that have subscribed to digital resources are often frustrated by the lack of computing and networking infrastructure — making access to the digital resources impossible.

Students should be able to access library resources from the comfort of their hostels, courtesy of advanced wired and wireless infrastructure.

In some universities abroad, students do not have to be physically present in the lecture hall — they can join via videoconferencing and interact with the lecturer as if they were actually in the lecture room.

QUESTION OF POWER

Power supply is another headache at Kenyan universities. Even if the university administrators went out of their way and spared funding for computing and networked infrastructure, they would still have to contend with Kenya Power, which is notorious for supplying more darkness than lighting.

Lack of clean commercial power means that embracing ICTs in teaching will remain a big challenge. Imagine having all your teaching and learning resources online yet you are not too sure power will be available throughout your session.

The lecturer with the “yellow-notes” is likely better off than the digital one in such an environment.

All these challenges have been, time and again, neatly summarized by KENET as critical issues and challenges. But true to the behaviour of the authorities concerned, nobody cares nor listens to evidence-based research.