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Unisa online - The future of online teaching and learning

Leaders in online teaching and learning methods, from left: Dr Pal Edirisingha (Lecturer in e-learning, University of Leicester), Terese Bird (Learning Technologist, University of Leicester), Prof Gráinne Conole (Director, Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester) and Dr Paul Prinsloo (Acting Head of the Institute for Open and Distance Learning, Unisa)

The Institute for Open and Distance Learning invited three accomplished academics to an interactive three-day seminar on 11 June 2012, to discuss Trends and Challenges in researching online teaching and learning. The unique element of this discussion was that it was being video streamed live to Unisa’s Florida Campus and updated via social networks.

Prof Gráinne Conole, Director: Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester, delivered the keynote address with an interactive session entitled, “Going open and digital: implications for teaching, learning and research”. Having previously worked at an open distance learning (ODL) institute, she was well equipped to discuss current and future trends regarding the subject.

Prof Conole (Director: Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester), is interested in how e-learning will develop and how ODL will eventually be introduced.

Her presentation dealt with several issues around the evolution of Online Teaching and Learning (OTL), including the mediums eventual transformation to Open Educational Resources (OER), the development of teachers and learners, changes in delivery of teaching, and the implications for research. “In the United Kingdom we’ve had discussions and it’s not viable for us to build more brick and mortar universities with more students every year. E-learning needs to become a greater focus.”

Prof Conole added that e-learning could be used as an effective marketing tool by higher learning institutions to draw more students. But, she pointed out that while universities can effectively roll out projects like OER, a number of free resources from social networks, to online modules and augmented reality, are also available. “The internet today, allows for an unprecedented spreading of ideas. What does that mean for formal, higher education?”

In addition, she also discussed the rapid changes in technologies and how mobile learning through tablets and mobile phones could assist the poor. Prof Conole provided a note of warning though, pointing out that matters of privacy, personal safety and ethical issues could be potential stumbling blocks for e-learning and OER. However, she’s adamant that the potential for these 21st century pursuits are limitless.

The turnout for the seminar was impressive, not forgetting that there was a live stream of the presentation to the Florida Campus and the University of Leicester.

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