Virtual learning and online courses are on the rise.

We are entering a very exciting era, with new technology used in teaching at the University of Pretoria.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

But will this have a detrimental impact on the personal relationship between student and lecturer?

Pretoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe says it is not completely virtual, but rather hybrid or blended teaching.

Online learning is integrated with student interaction.

It is no longer a top-down style of learning.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

Professors Tawana Kupe and Willem Fourie discuss the power of digital learning and how it enhances the face-to-face teaching sessions in the podcast below:

Podcasts have become a useful tool in the learning arena, says Kupe.

The best is the dialogue lead by the person teaching. It doesn’t just impart knowledge but also stimulates and helps create critical thinkers.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

Professor Willem Fourie hails from the University of Pretoria’s Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership and is the coordinator of the South African Sustainable Development Goals.

He emphasises the interactive use of technology in the learning environment and says the university is improving and increasing the impact of face-to-face learning.

Contact sessions are expensive and online both enables students to work at their own pace, and use the interactive sessions to enhance learning.

— Professor Willem Fourie, Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership and is the coordinator of the SA’s SDG – University of Pretoria

He does not see digital technology as a threat, but rather an enhancement to enable and integrate learning.

Neither professor believes these new tech advancements will impact negatively on human interaction.

We are not replacing the teacher with technology. Teachers will still do certain tasks. That’s why it is called hybrid learning. Contact does not go away.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

The route chosen is a carefully thought out blend, he explains.

The failure rate of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been high and research showed that what was lost was the contact, acknowledges Professor Kupe.

So the university has transformed spaces into integrated and places of study to encourage interaction, with the understanding that technology is a part of the new generation.

Young students are digital natives and have grown up with it, so it would be strange for them not to use those like the old days.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

This is an era where students bring significant knowledge to the classroom, bringing a richer process to learning.

It is a democratisation of the teaching space.

— Professor Willem Fourie, Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership and is the coordinator of the SA’s SDG – University of Pretoria

Fourie says certain skills are needed to operate many of the devices and this can present a challenge..

in addition, investments need to be made in these devices.

If you compare these investments to that of building more and bigger classrooms, my suspicion is it is not that significant, and it is making things more accessible.

— Professor Willem Fourie, Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership and is the coordinator of the SA’s SDG – University of Pretoria

The new technological thrust is also integrating the university increasingly into the international arena, says Professor Kune.

Customised and flexible learning is more available in this model.

Learning will always be a human process not a technological process

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

Technology is not really the issue and the mistake is to often place the technology at the forefront, he explains.

The technology is an enabler. It is a platform.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria

Screenshot 2019 10 24 at 11.29.16
Screenshot 2019 10 24 at 11.29.26

What is the ‘cloud’?

Prof Fourie explains the cloud delivers computing services.

It provides flexible time-saving, cost-saving capabilities delivered over the internet.

— Professor Willem Fourie, Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership and is the coordinator of the SA’s SDG – University of Pretoria

So with all this virtual learning power, and given South Africa’s current socio-economic challenges, what is the relevance of universities going forward?

Tawana says much of the population already have devices in their hands, so the priority is to bring data costs down.

The university plans to increase access by growing the number of online students.

Kupe says this will make universities less elitist and more democratic.

We will be able to come to you rather than you coming to us, through all these virtual technologies.

— Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor – University of Pretoria