Open Distance and eLearning Conference

Message from the Vice Principal Professor Meyiwa

Professor Thenjiwe Meyiwa  Vice Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation

Professor Thenjiwe Meyiwa

Vice Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation

Host: 2023 Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) Hybrid Conference 

Theme: ODeL in the Global South:Opportunities in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)

In these tempestuous times, consistency and relevance are highly prized qualities. On behalf of Unisa, I am proud to say that our annual ODeL Conference has shown itself to be a scholarly event that exemplifies these qualities.

Five years ago, in August 2019, we hosted the first such conference, the theme of which was “Stimulating open and distance learning research at Unisa”.

The following year, unfortunately, universities across the country were still under partial lockdowns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, preventing what would have been the second annual ODeL Conference from going ahead.

We made up for lost time in August 2021, though, when our second annual ODeL Conference, was indeed held. The theme of that year’s conference reflected the pandemic turbulence with which the world was still grappling – “Mediating ODeL in the advent of global crises”.

At that virtual event, ODeL scholars from across Africa and further afield debated the opportunities and challenges confronting ODeL in times of crisis, and explored practical and sustainable solutions to ODeL teaching-learning and research. The conference highlighted the role of research, in particular, in equipping ODeL institutions to meet the needs of students despite and amid societal upheaval.

We built on that experience for the 2022 conference, where the theme, “All things research in ODeL”, immersed participants in the latest trends, topics, theories, frameworks and models in the domain of ODeL research.

The work done at the 2022 conference, the third in the series, sensitised Unisa researchers to the importance of conducting research that is both contextually relevant from an African perspective and perceived as relevant to the international community. It also drew attention to the vast swathes of unexplored ground that ODeL research has yet to cover, especially in Africa and other developing regions.

Taking the next step

Now, in 2023, Unisa has taken what was learnt and discovered at the two previous conferences and used these learnings to inform our fourth annual ODeL Conference on 15 to 17 August.

The result is the theme, “ODeL in the Global South: Opportunities in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA)”.

It is a theme that is sure to resonate with higher education scholars and researchers throughout Africa, as well as globally, given the sheer pace and unpredictability of institutional and societal change.

Now is the time for scholars and researchers to come together to devise ways to harness ODeL for the good of the Global South – and the Global North, for that matter. And what better platform for this than the 2023 Unisa ODeL Hybrid Conference?

Taking place virtually and in-person at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, Gauteng, the conference will of course take cognisance of current and emerging challenges in ODeL but, this time, what is of the greatest interest are the opportunities that lie ahead.

To mention just a few, there are opportunities to address the digital divide; opportunities to explore how 4IR can be harnessed; opportunities to discover the datafication of teaching, learning and student support; and opportunities to look at new learning technologies and reaffirm our commitment to academic integrity in the ODeL context.

Warming up for the conference

Some intelligent and lively debate is expected and, in anticipation of this, the UNESCO Chair in ODL at Unisa has taken the initiative to “warm up Unisa and our collaborators” ahead of the conference by launching an ODL research seminar series.

The series commenced on 15 February 2023 with a discussion on the transition from ODL to ODeL to CODeL – Comprehensive Open Distance eLearning. This intriguing topic was debated by a truly excellent cross-border panel comprising higher education specialists from Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The first seminar was a wonderful curtain-raiser for the big event in August, leaving speakers and audience alike eager to continue engaging.

Please take this opportunity to join us at the fourth Unisa ODeL Hybrid Conference. See you there.