The Centre For Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town
Social justice, excellence in research, teaching and learning and a focus on building a truly African nation drives the work of the University of Cape Town. Within the University, the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) is tasked with using innovations in technology-enabled blended learning and online learning to enable the University’s social justice agenda: changing society through learning and research.
CHED has a lot to do, from supporting learners who struggle with access and use of technology, to enabling faculty to develop the skills of quality blended learning. The Centre’s staff of over forty academics, instructional designers and education support staff are passionate in their commitment to make change and development happen.
Some of CHED’s innovations just make life easier for instructors and students alike. For example, the “one button studio” enables staff with no technical knowledge or skills to just press a button to record a short video to share with students.
Other developments, like their partnership with FutureLearn and Coursera to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs), on topics like adapting to climate change in Africa or medicine and the arts from an African perspective are intended to connect the work of the University to social change. The MOOCs attracted over 230,000 students from around the world, who now see a variety of topics through the lens of African scholars.
The Centre’s main work, like that of many centres for teaching and learning or instructional design, is helping faculty think through what blended and online learning looks like in a country where smartphone use is high but so are the costs of using them. Smartphones are the primary way students access the Internet in sub-Saharan Africa. The digital divide is very real and innovative solutions are needed in response, especially given that many students need help and support in the effective use of technology for learning.
This is why CHED supports learners directly through its Academic Development Program, which helps all students achieve success in their learning and feel socially supported through mentoring, coaching and social engagement. CHED also has a world-class careers service, which recently was recognized as best in class at the 2019 South African Graduate Employers Awards (SAGEA), winning awards in three categories. For the last ten years, this team was recognized as the Best Career Service in the country.
In the last several years, with the help of funding from Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries, CHED worked on these projects:
The Goal: To investigate the current open textbook ecosystem and provide implementation support in open textbook publishing activity. It also supports policy-makers and other stakeholders in the development of institutional and national policy frameworks that govern open textbook publishing activity and address long-term sustainability mechanisms. Funded by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.
The Goal: To promote open learning and education in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)n with the implicit goal of extending social justice.
The Goal: To understand and offer critical analysis of the emerging business models in higher education, especially those seeking to disaggregate academic work and the work of learners. Project ended in 2018-2019.
The Goal: To identify how open educational resources can improve access, enhance quality and reduce the cost of education in the Global South. The project engaged a total of 103 researchers in 18 sub-projects across 21countries from South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Project funded by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and ended 2018).
The Goal: To create and sustain a content directory of the open education resources created within the University of Cape Town.
The Goal: To better understand how access to PMD enables greater flexibility and effectiveness of teaching and learning in the higher education sector, both in and outside the classroom. Project ended in 2017.
The Goal: To put a laptop in the hands of every student, implement an effective set of support services, and create an enabling environment for the innovative use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning.
CHED also helped to build a network of colleagues across 54 African nations working on online and distance education. Known as e/merge Africa, the goal is to offer professional development supports for educational technology researchers and professionals across Africa.
CHED is a powerhouse, both within the University and the nation, and is having a growing impact across Africa. It is at the forefront of the University’s response to COVID-19 and the development of remote teaching responses including ensuring students who need laptops for study get them, negotiating zero cost use of the Internet for students linking to University sites and the learning platform and distributing course materials on thumb drives to learners who cannot access the Internet from home.
This rapid response is made possible because of the in-depth knowledge of the CHED team of the challenge’s students face and their direct contact with faculty through their role as instructional designers and enablers. They know digital apartheid exists and are trying to do something about it by developing a new sense of digital democracy.