Elearning training at new ICE Addis

Elearning participants

This afternoon Jaime and I finished delivering our updated Certificate in Online Education to over 25 elearning team staff from 7 universities across Ethiopia, who had all gathered at the new ICT and Technology innovation hub (ICE Addis) at the Ethiopian Institute for Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC).

We’d been invited by the on.e elearning team (part of ECBP), who have been setting up eCompetence Centres at many Ethiopian Universities. So was a really good chance for us to work with staff from other elearning teams.

We were really pleased how well the training went, all the participants seemed to enjoy the course. We arrived in Addis last weekend, but have been quite flat out with the training and meetings, so haven’t had much chance to blog. Heading up to Mekelle tomorrow afternoon, so for now will just post up a photo of all the participants – will post some more details in the coming days.

Creative Commons COE: download now available

As I mentioned in my previous posting, we’ve been spending some time recently developing a Creative Commons Certificate in Online Education specifically tailored to those teachers new to using online and blended learning. We’ve just released the first version of the course and made it available for download.

You can view the course on our Moodle installation at: http://moodle.alexlittle.net/course/view.php?id=13 (use the ‘login as guest’ option).

You can also download the course in Moodle (1.9) backup format from: http://alexlittle.net/blog/download.php?file=coe.zip so you can install it on your own server to edit/remix/reuse or deliver as-is within your organisation.

The course is still under development, there are many aspects that we’d like to improve, a priority will be to try and reduce the download size, currently it’s around 36Mb, which is likely to be too big for anyone to download on a dial-up speed connection. Any feedback on the course is very welcome and if you use the course materials in your organisation I’d be really interested in hearing about it.

Although this is the first release, we have delivered the content to several groups of teachers over the past 18 months in Mekelle, so it is a product of our experiences running these training courses.

So far, we’ve been delivering the course in blended mode: face to face workshops at the start and end with an online period inbetween. We’re also like to run the course purely online, so we hope to start a facilitated/tutored presentation of the course in the coming months. If you’re interested in participating in this then please contact me.

Development of Creative Commons Certificate in Online Education


Our original plan for delivering the elearning training in Mekelle was to develop our own Moodle training content, maybe not all from scratch, but at least the general structure and depth, reusing existing videos and open content wherever possible. Given the time constraints we had before starting the first training sessions, we were unable to complete writing our own content. Instead we licensed the MoodleBites for Teachers and Course Designers courses so we were able to upload this onto the servers in Mekelle. We did reorganise the content slightly to fit in with what we were trying to achieve, but this was far less effort that writing our own.

Using the MoodleBites content gave us good quality and well structured content and activities and has worked very well for us over the training we’ve been giving for the last 18 months. They’ve also been very helpful in providing a facilitator (Anna) for us to help give some alternative approaches and other perspectives on delivering course online for our course participants. They’ve also generously allowed us to use the content for limited groups outside our original license, without any extra payment.

However in the longer term, as we’re looking to provide elearning training and support to other universities in Ethiopia and further afield, it’s unsustainable for us (or the organisations we’d like to work with) to license the content at each new organisation. So we’ve returned to the idea of developing our own content, specifically, writing a Certificate in Online Education (COE) distributed under a creative commons license.

As with most other open content, the real value comes from the facilitation, tutoring and mentoring along with the actual certificate, rather than the content itself. We’re hoping to use our new content for the training we’ll give in the coming few weeks and takes into account the environmental factors (such as limited bandwidth, initial tutor skills/training) which are different when delivering elearning training in European or US organisations.

Our aim with the Certification in Online Education is not to produce a technical training course in Moodle alone, nor to provide solely elearning/pedagogy theory, but a balance between the two. The MoodleBites training, as it’s name suggests, is focused mainly on Moodle, leading to develop the Moodle skills necessary to complete the Moodle Certification. Our COE isn’t designed as preparation for Moodle Certification, but to provide teachers who have probably never written or used online courses a way in which they can begin to see what’s possible to provide effective (blended) elearning courses by using free software tools and Open Educational Resources.

I’ll post again once we have the course published and available for download.

Computer lab break-in

Last week we received the unfortunate news that one of the computer labs we helped set up in Mekelle in Nov 2009 was broken into. Just over 20 computer terminals were taken, but fortunately none of the (LCD) monitors were also taken. Given that the terminals are relatively small, so easily portable, we had thought there was a risk of one or two going astray, especially given that thefts of portable electronic devices (laptops etc) happen at all universities and all organisations around the world.

We’re not sure if the thief (or thieves) realise that without being connected to a server to boot up from, the devices are pretty much useless and there’s going to be an extremely limited market for reselling such stolen devices in Ethiopia. So it’s a small consolation that the thief/thieves are unlikely to profit from the robbery.

It’s far more disappointing they have taken the opportunity for the students to fully use the lab, now being down to half the original number of terminals. However, most students are in the run up to their exams over the coming weeks, followed by the semester break, so they won’t be accessing the lab as much as during the rest of the semester.

This gives a few weeks to get the lab back up and running fully before the start of the next semester (probably in first weeks of March) and we very quickly managed to put plans together for how we can replace the missing terminals. We’re hoping to (at least temporarily) replace some of the missing terminals with refurbished PCs, we’d already been testing this over the past few months, so just means that we will deploy them sooner than expected. We’re also checking the costs of having some (SunRay) terminals we had in the US shipped over as replacements for those which have gone missing.

So, despite the setback, the lab should be back up and running within a couple of weeks.

Rapid developments in Mekelle

We’re still in the process of planning out our training programme for our next visit to Ethiopia in a few weeks time. At only 3 weeks it’s going to be my shortest visit to Ethiopia, so sure it will be a very busy time, given what we’re hoping to get done in the time there. For a week in Addis, we’ll be starting our basic certification course for elearning teams from some of the other universities in Ethiopia, we’re just waiting to get confirmation of how many are going to attend. Then we’ll have 2 weeks in Mekelle, for the final face to face workshops for the certification we started in October plus starting a new cohort for the advanced training.

There’s still some way to go before Mekelle University is ready to start delivering the course by themselves. Although they’re keen on expanding the training to include other colleges, it’s not sustainable for Jaime and I to continue to deliver the training over and over.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had lots of good news from the Technology Institute. Florida, one of the lecturers from the Computer Science department, has taken over as head of ICT and elearning. They’ve managed to take on another team member for the elearning team, plus lab attendants are due to start work this week for maintaining the computer labs. They’re in the process of getting a new computer lab (of almost 70 refurbished PCs network booting from the OpenSolaris server) up and running, so will be great to see this up and running, although we have a few concerns as to whether the server will have the power/capacity to deliver sessions to this many extra terminals.

Health Sciences College have also been busy, installing network connected PCs and projectors in almost 20 lecture rooms.

With all these changes, I’m looking forward to getting back to Mekelle, if only for a very short time. At just less than 4 months, this is also the longest break I’ve had away from Mekelle since I started working there back in September 2008.

Building University eLearning Capacity

Elearning team officeIn early 2009 Digital Campus started working with Mekelle University to help develop their elearning capacity. At the time, a few teachers from the Business College and Computer Science department had received training in how to create online course content and activities, but few students were really using online activities as a day to day part of their course. Given the rapid expansion of the university, the ability to deliver some course content and activities through blended learning, reducing the dependence on face to face lectures and improving the teaching quality, is a priority for the university.

Developing elearning skills

Key Facts

The Digital Campus team began a project to deliver the Certificate in Online Education to groups of teachers from the Engineering and Health Sciences Colleges, with a key aim being to create a team of elearning experts able to deliver the certification to their colleagues. The project focused on integrating blended learning activities into courses, rather than creating content for distance education, given that students generally have little internet access outside the university. The elearning training was given in parallel with a project to improve student computer access, after all, what use is putting courses online if students have no means to access them.

Initial training

The first group of tutors were trained between November 2009 and June 2010 with 20 tutors completing the first level of the certification. The training consisted of 3 face to face workshops in November, February and May, with tutors studying online between the face to face sessions to develop their courses. Tutors delivered their courses online during the second semester of 2009/10, an important aspect of the certification is that tutors are actively involved in giving online activities and content. In our experience, training is too often given in a theoretical atmosphere, subsequently, skills learned aren’t put into practice.

Elearning training participantsThe tutors on the programme were all willing volunteers, receiving no extra payment or other incentives, apart from the recognition of being awarded the certification. Our experience from the first presentation of the course reinforced our belief that although the training could, in theory, be given wholly online, a blended approach works far better. During the online periods there was a noticeable lower level of activity in the training. Entirely understandable, given the other workloads and priorities of the tutors.

Current Status

The second presentation of the first level began in October 2010 running until March 2011, with face to face workshops in October 2010 and March 2011. Concurrently we began the first presentation of an advanced certification, for those who had completed the first level, with participants expected to be more self supporting (although the course still has face to face workshops and is facilitated for the online parts).

The next step is to continue to work with the elearning support staff, increasing their range of elearning skills and supporting their development of the University’s elearning programme, working towards the goal of the elearning team directly delivering the certification.

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