Open Distance and eLearning Virtual Conference

A Warm Welcome

Professor Moeketsi Letseka

Project Leader: 2021 Open Distance and eLearning Virtual Conference
Professor Moeketsi Letseka
UNESCO Chair on Open Distance Learning (ODL)
College of Education

The nature of scholarship is to engage in critical discussion and yet it is at times such as these that the necessity to engage in critical discussion becomes even more pressing. The 2021 Unisa Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) Conference seeks to harness critical discussion to understand the potentially significant role of ODeL in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

Such discussion cannot be an insular exercise conducted within a silo. On the contrary, it must be conducted through engagement with key global ODeL role-players and change agents. The example was set in previous years, such as in 2019 when Unisa hosted a week-long event titled “ODeL in the Global South: Documenting the African Experience”, which neatly captured this broader view of Unisa’s regional, national, continental and international role in the ODeL space. To achieve the objective of documenting the African ODeL experience, the event featured a rich mix of key African and international ODeL role-players, namely Professor Terry Anderson, Canada Research Chair in Distance Education at Athabasca University; Professor Olaf Zawacki-Richter, Director of the Centre for Open Education Research at Oldenburg University, Germany; and Professor Christine Ofulue, Director of Research Administration and Advancement at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).

Reflecting the disruption wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for adaptability, the theme of the 2021 Unisa ODeL Conference is “Mediating Open, Distance and eLearning in the Advent of Global Crises”. To be held from 4 to 6 August 2021, the e-conference, seeks to “encourage debate on contemporary and new opportunities, challenges and models facing Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) in a globally connected digital era”. The e-conference will endeavour to assemble a rich, yet balanced, team of critical ODeL thinkers and role-players from within Unisa, regionally, nationally, continentally and internationally. It aims to be a mediation on ODeL, premised on a candid attitude towards the role of ODeL in the midst of a public health crisis that continues to paralyse communities, leaving deep sorrow in its wake.

The e-conference organising committee recognises the immense challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It therefore challenges the e-conference delegates not to be paralysed by the pandemic’s devastating repercussions but, instead, to be forward-looking and goal-oriented in their exploration of opportunities and possibilities that could be harnessed to mediate ODeL in times of global crises.