Digital education here to stay, and institutions must adapt

By Tracy Burrows, ITWeb contributor.
Johannesburg, 22 Jul 2021
Dr Stanley Mpofu, CIO of Wits University.
Dr Stanley Mpofu, CIO of Wits University.

The pace of digital progress waits for nobody, and the education sector cannot allow itself to fall back on its old ways post-pandemic, said Dr Stanley Mpofu, CIO of Wits University.

Speaking during a webinar on the future of education, hosted by Logitech in partnership with ITWeb, Dr Mpofu said the pandemic had forced education institutions to adapt quickly to enable remote and hybrid learning, and that they should continue to embrace this change post-COVID.

“People were almost forced into the digital state and they may still want to fall back into their old methods. But technology and digitalisation isn’t going to wait for anyone. We already had Wits University on a digital journey when the pandemic struck, and we have continued to drive these programmes, hiring a digital officer, automating processes and deploying AI, robotics and advanced analytics. We have reduced printing and there are no longer huge files of documents being brought into management meetings. Everything is moving into the cloud, and decisions are made on dashboards. You literally have to change the model of your organisation.”

Dr Mpofu said when enabling remote and hybrid learning at the university, he learnt that the students had to be the prime consideration. “The most important stakeholders at the university are the students – you have to understand their needs to make remote and hybrid education relevant and beneficial for them.”

He said the university had been preparing to roll out remote learning since 2018, and had found that the students needed access to materials and lectures at all hours of the day and night. It had also been determined that many could not afford devices and data, and some were not computer literate. To make remote and hybrid learning successful when COVID-19 struck, the university had negotiated data rates with MNOs and couriered devices to students.

“The health status of students is critical too,” he said. “A lot goes on in their minds – fear of failure, security, inadequate access to technology. Therefore, in addition to lectures, we need to put an ecosystem in place to enable engagement and counselling so that students can function optimally. If the technology doesn’t serve all the interests of students and lecturers, its relevance will be tested.”

Molly Schmidt, education marketing expert – Education at Logitech, said Logitech had focused heavily on partnership and enablement since the start of the pandemic, to help education institutions adapt to digitally enabled learning. “Logitech is ready to step in as a partner on educational equity. We know technology isn’t new, but the speed with which we were forced to incorporate that became an issue for schools across the globe,” she said.

Schmidt noted that Logitech partners with Zoom, Microsoft and Google to put together pieces of the ideal smart classroom, which delivers captivating, motivating and dynamic experiences for learners and students, whether in a classroom or at home. She said Logitech has addressed specific challenges educators have – such as difficulty using AV systems and managing cameras while also writing on a board – with its solutions for education. These include webcams, headsets and the Rally Bar camera – which uses AI to automatically follow the educator – as well as Scribe, the company's new virtual whiteboard camera.