Have you considered an online university?

Desire Mbabaali (Adapted from The Daily Monitor)

05 October 2018

Learning within virtual spaces is one of the ways of leveraging on new technologies that have come up in education in this digital era.

In Uganda, the Virtual University of Uganda (VUU) is among some of the universities in Africa and around the world that is providing students all over the world the experience of virtual learning away from conventional way.

Daniel Adekera, a graduate from VUU, is for example a Nigerian currently working in South Sudan as head of public information with the United Nations. He attained his Master’s degree in International Development without any movement.

“As a UN staff working in a conflict-ridden environment, my presence is often required even during weekends. No matter how I want to pursue a course of my interest, my office demands would not easily permit me to do so. To discover that I could achieve my dreams through a virtual programme was the best option for me,” he says.

Adekera added that virtual education offers a unique opportunity for people who desire to further their education but are unfortunately trapped by many other obligations that engage their time in such a manner that they cannot go to a conventional university.

Similarly, Susan Ibale, a Master of Arts in International Development student at VUU, also chose to study virtually because of the nature of her job. “I wanted to upgrade but I was always in the field and could not keep up with a fulltime learning arrangement.

“I needed something that was part-time but also flexible,” she says noting that with Virtual University, she could access her lecturers by just connecting her devices to the internet wherever she was.

How classes work 
To access lectures, one first logs onto the university module, where they access their student information and are then given a link to log into the online classroom, Ibale explains.

“When you log in video mode, you see the lecturer, with every other student in your class, and they, too, can see you. You can even have your video option off and just stay on the audio until you are required to have it back on,” she says.

A week before classes start, students are given a timetable with the time and dates on which to have the classes and each time there is a class, the link is activated so that students can access it. “If you log onto the link days before or hours before, you will be informed that you are too early for the meeting,” Ibale says.

So how are students who study in a virtual space assessed? “There are assignments where one does their research and hands in. These are always open from the time a module starts so even if your assignment is due in six weeks, you can do it and hand it in online before then.

There are also quizzes which happen in about 15 minutes at every end of a lecture, where students get instant assessment from the lecturer,” she says. Additionally, there is always an online exam at the end of every module.

Like the case is with conventional learning, failing a module does not block you from studying the next one. However, there is an option of doing a supplementary exam and it is only when you fail the supplementary that you can then redo the module. But even then, student class attendance and the times one logs in to get information from the university is monitored.
Students who do not log in for a while get notifications from the university registrar as follow up, Ibale explains. As for tuition demands, students get reminders to pay because at the end of the day, one must have fully cleared their tuition to sit an exam.

What’s the catch?
While comparing virtual learning with conventional learning, Adekera notes that studying in virtual space breaks barriers of a classroom and creates flexibility of programmes. “It removes any elements of victimisation of students and integrates human intellect with technology to break barriers that have long made education and going to class such a big task for many,” he asserts.

He further adds that many students in conventional universities have had to study under very austere conditions such as dilapidated infrastructure, absence of hostel accommodation, classrooms, inadequate libraries, and good research, which lower the standards of education in most countries. “Virtual learning removes all these impediments since all resources are virtually available,” Adekera says.

“While pursuing my first degree, I used to commute. I had to wake up very early in the morning to beat traffic jam, spend about Shs7,000 in transport, and then at times, the lecturer would never show up. 
That would mean I had to hang around the university until the next lecture, which meant incurring lunch costs, then enduring traffic jam back home,” Brenda Natukunda, a business administration graduate who hopes to join VUU soon, recalls.

Adekera admits that some of our countries are yet to be capable of delivering quality services that can enhance technologically based learning.

“For instance, our internet service is still very epileptic and disrupts lectures, downloading of learning materials and transfer of data electronically, not to mention the cost of owning some forms of technology. The good thing is that an android mobile phone can come in handy to fill the gap,” he says.

Internet connection is usually a challenge, Ibale admits. “Sometimes you get into class and some people are having trouble with internet connection so it might take a while for all of us to settle in class. The good thing is that we can extend the lecture time. Plus, in case you fail to connect, there is always an audio lecture that you can download,” she says.

While speaking at the university stakeholder’s event at Serena Hotel last week, Patrick Mangeni, the chairman board of governors VUU, shared that though the university targets people who are able to do self-based learning, although this seems hard to some students and parents.

“I remember a parent coming to me and saying, “my child came and said you do not keep students at school and yet I want my son to be in class. I want him to stay there.’ So, I told the parent that here, you stay home and access education, so, that reach and distance feels very strange to some people, but that has started to change,” he said. 
Mangeni has no doubt that virtual learning is going to change the way of learning and the way education is packaged and delivered.

Courses offered 
The university offers entirely online post graduate courses that run for 2 years and six months given to students to do their dissertation. Among these are; Master / post graduate diploma in Public Health, Master / Post graduate diploma in International Development, Master/ Post graduate diploma in ICT for Development, Postgraduate diploma/ Executive Master of Business Administration, Post graduate diploma Business Administration/ Executive MBA in Oil and Gas. 

Currently, they have students from 15 countries in Africa, Europe and Asia studying with them. Their staff as well contains academics recruited both locally in Uganda, regionally and internationally.


To view original story in The Daily Monitor, view here.