At the proverbial fork in the road

On the morning of 14 October 2020, the UNESCO Chair of Open Distance Learning at Unisa held its eighth virtual research seminar, featuring Dr Rita Kizito, Director: Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development (CLTD) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

A total of 70 UNESCO Chair research seminar patrons were logged in on the Microsoft Teams portal and in attendance. In unpacking the issues from the title of her presentation, "Moving from challenges to opportunities: what will become our 'new normal' for teaching and learning in an open distance learning (ODL) framework", Kizito prefaced her talk with the metaphor of the proverbial fork in the road, suggesting that this is where the world is post Covid-19. She challenged everyone to think critically and self-reflectively about the future of ODL in the post-Covid-19 era, and posed the following questions:

  • Do we return to the "perceived normal" (safe and well-known past?)
  • Is it even permissible to return to our perceived past that has been torn asunder by the outbreak of Covid-19?
  • Shouldn’t we be concerned with crafting "new learning experiences" that enable us (distance education practitioners) to reach out to new students in effective and impactful ways?
  • Can we find the middle path that draws on the two alternatives in a more strategically meaningful and impactful way?

Kizito flagged the challenges and opportunities of the post-Covid-19 era as follows:

  • Adapting to new ways of functioning for students and staff
  • Connectivity and access to the internet, digital devices and data
  • Decisively dealing with issues of educational and digital inequalities and thinking proactively and in partnership with major cellular providers in order to offer better and impactful future solutions
  • Being strategic about the imperative to harness educational resources such as open educational resources (OERs) and massive open online courses (MOOCs) to help alleviate the challenge of exorbitant cost of books, especially for the poorest of the poor

Critically, Kizito appealed for the embracing of indigenous African epistemologies, ontologies and pedagogies as an alternative way of enhancing the motivation and concomitant success of students, especially the majority whose roots remain in the peripheral and marginalised rural communities. Her thesis is that it is in the rural communities where the "ethic of care" remains a key indicator for "humanised pedagogy".

In the November research webinar session, the UNESCO Chair on ODL will host Prof Jako Olivier, the incumbent of the UNESCO Chair on Multimodal Learning, North West University. Do not miss out!

* By Moeketsi Letseka, incumbent of the UNESCO Chair on ODL at Unisa & Dineo Horner, Acting Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Education

Teaser image by Richard Croft / A fork in the road / CC BY-SA 2.0

Publish date: 2020/10/19