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It goes beyond video calls: the role of technology in enhanced education


Johannesburg, 05 Aug 2021
Read time 3min 30sec

Cloud platforms and tools such as data analytics will become increasingly important in the new normal of education, said panellists this week at a webinar on Cloud Technologies Facilitating Online Learning, hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and ITWeb.

Education technology firm Blackboard, a key participant in the panel, was represented by Oleg Figlin, EMEA Vice-President, who said: “Recent research indicates that education is not going back to the way things were before. Instead, we need to find the sweet spot between an online and hybrid approach. There is also the pace of innovation to consider: whether we are face-to-face or online, student demands are changing very fast, and we need to innovate continuously. The cloud is critical because you can deploy innovations weekly or even daily to keep up with changing needs.”

Dolf Jordaan, Deputy Director of E-learning at the University of Pretoria, said the cloud offered scalability that had allowed the university to quickly move to a remote model when the pandemic struck. “Without AWS and Blackboard, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did. On the AWS cloud, we have enjoyed a good user experience, stability and scalability – since that first lockdown, we have scaled from 12 nodes to 32 nodes, with no impact on the user experience.”

Elaborating, Linda Siso, Head of Education at AWS, added: “The beauty of cloud is that institutions can create a customised cloud infrastructure that is secure, available, efficient and flexible. You can simply scale it up when usage peaks, such as during enrolment, graduation or during a pandemic.”

Siso noted that data and analytics were also increasingly important tools. “There is more to digitise learning than the learning management system itself: data and analytics need to be adopted across institutions,” she said.

A poll of the webinar’s participants revealed 86% felt South African institutions are not using data to its full potential to make strategic decisions.

Figlin noted that data needed to be better used and integrated into decision-making to ensure that education was delivering as it should: “We must retain students and ensure they don’t drop out, and using data to ensure students are engaging and getting the right information at the right time is critical to this.”

Kgwaridi Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, also participated in the discussion, noting: “Our success in embracing the cloud will enable us to empower young people, enabling more productive citizens and opportunities for economic development.”

Prof Eunice Ndeto Ivala, Director: Centre for Innovative Educational Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said moving to the AWS Cloud had enabled her institution to focus on supporting faculty and students, instead of having to worry about infrastructure during the lockdowns. It was also supporting the roll-out of other digital tools to enhance teaching and learning: “Higher education has not used data enough for decision-making,” she said. “During the pandemic, we have been using data analytics to enhance pedagogy and assessment tools, and to understand student challenges and help them overcome these.”

Prof Ivala also pointed out that a number of other digital tools were proving invaluable in supporting hybrid teaching and learning. “Within learning management systems, there are numerous tools to enhance student engagement, including groups, discussion forums and peer learning tools,” she said. “In future, we will also have to harness tools to address the risk of cheating on online exams, and encourage academics to look at more innovative ways to manage assignments and assessments.”

AWS is helping to transform education in South Africa, making teaching delivery more effective, education management and research more collaborative, and skills development opportunities more accessible. Join the next webinar in the AWS Cloud technology as a driver for growth and innovation series, here.

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