The use of ICT technologies in a distance learning based
By: Omer Elsheikh Hago
Open University of Sudan
The paper will provide a brief history of teacher training in Sudan and how the Open University blended learning programme began to be used as a national training programme for school teachers and in particular as a way of reaching those teachers in more remote parts of the country. It will explain how the materials in the programme are produced and delivered, focusing on those connected with English language teaching. The paper will then describe how the university is using ICT technologies in its programme, particularly its use of radio & TV broadcasts and regional IT centres. It will reflect on how the programme has developed and on its successes and on the areas that require further development. It will then conclude by discussing how the OUS is planning to continue and expand its training programme particularly with a view to making use of the rapid expansion of mobile telecommunications technology in Sudan.
English language was introduced in Sudan by the British to the country in 1889. At that time the British government was not enthusiastic about the spread of English in Sudan for the fear that it might cause political problems. This is why teacher training was not considered as an important issue in its policies. (Ahmed Gasm 2009).
Then the British thought of training a small group of Sudanese to help them run the affairs of the country. Sir James Currie opened primary schools. English was taught by Egyptian teachers; Then by a group of Sudan Gordon Memorial college graduates.
The need for English teacher training was first began in 1929 in response to the report of the commission of inspectors who examined English at primary level and criticized the methods by which the syllabus was taught as well as the teaching of English at the college. The commission accused the Sudanese Staff members for being the cause of deterioration.
The Government responded positively to that report. In 1930 an in-service teacher training course for all intermediate schools teachers of English was organized by Mr. Griffith. Later, in 1937 De la ware commission recommended sending Sudanese teachers of English to England for short training courses.
In 1948 the Intermediate Teacher Training College (I.T.T.C) was opened as a training section at Bakhat Er-Ruda Institute of Education.
Later, in 1959 the Girls intermediate Teacher Training Institute (G.I.T.T.I) was opened in Omdurman. Then, in 1970s an additional training college was opened in Omdurman for training men teachers to meet the need for more trained teachers which stemmed from the expansion of education. The training programmes “were more or less similar, based on the direct method and Audio Lingual”.
In 1972 the In- service Education Training Institute (I.S.E.T.I) was established with a support from the (UNICEF). The training system was described by Gareeb Alla 2000: 17 “It was something like a “distance training” where trainees were to come on a day release to meet their supervisors for feed-back.
Then in1979 a one year English teacher training for intermediate stage was started as a substitution for the Diploma in TEFL which was formerly taught at Leeds in UK. During this course the focus in on the practical skills which the teacher will need in language awareness. But only a selective small group of teachers will luckily enjoy having this course. This is because it required certain good standard level at English.
At the secondary stage there was no training institution corresponding to the (I.T.T.I). Those teachers were only university graduates from various colleges which have nothing to do with the profession of teaching.
In 1962 the Higher Teacher Training Institute (H.T.T.I) was set up for secondary school teachers. It offered a 4 year diploma in science and Arts. However, that institute was affiliated in 1974 to the University of Khartoum and promoted to a faculty status offering a degree of Bachelor in Education. Thus this affiliation to university robbed the Ministry of Education of a reliable source of steady flow of well trained teachers.
The same programme was followed by the newly established faculties of education. All the above mentioned training institutes have been closed gradually, and their mission automatically shifted to faculties of education. Teachers should have a university degree. Looking at the number of untrained teachers, one will discover that there were 132, 000 untrained teachers. The myth was during the first decade of teachers training at universities only 10000 teachers have been trained out of 1320000. How long does it take to train that great number of teachers? There should a miracle of teacher training in Sudan. That miracle is clearly seen in Open and distance education (ODL).
As observed (Butcher 2003) ‘The need for Open and Distance learning in Africa was to meet national priorities and provide access to multitudes of aspiring learners’. Distance education is therefore providing the alternative route in which Africa hopes to provide the much needed skills for development and meet the demand for higher education.
What is distance education?
Distance education is a learning process in which learners are separated in time and space from those conducting the learning. Open learning offers flexibility which is crucial for the distance learner who is constrained by various issues from engaging in regular study. ‘In open learning, the constraints on study are minimized in terms of access, of time and place, pace, method of study or any combination of these’ (Rahman 2003).
Nature of ODL Approaches
When discussing the approaches in ODL, the hot issue to think about is the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and learning and teaching, particularly in distance education contexts. We argue that environmental changes (societal, educational, and technological) make it necessary to adapt systems and practices that are no longer appropriate. The need to adapt, however, can be perceived as being technology-led and primarily concerned with requiring academic staff to develop their skills in using ICT.
Open and distance learning covers education approaches that reach learners in their environment. These approaches are expected to be compatible with adult and independent learning designed to reduce the isolation of these learners. ‘Besides providing access to learning materials like study guides, text books and CDs or other portable or mass media, distance learning requires that some kind of support mechanism be made available to students to help them overcome their learning difficulties, get supplementary information, evaluate their own progress and exchange ideas with teachers, tutors and fellow students’ (Holmberg 2000; Keegan 1993). Unlike classroom-based teaching, open and distance learning systems aim to provide education to large numbers of learners and, at the same time be flexible enough to cater for the various needs of the learners. Any exclusively distance learning institution requires do everything possible to ensure that all learning materials reach the learners timeously and that all relevant information is accessible to the learners (Trindade et al. 2000).
Information Communication Technology (ICT)
ICT refers to forms of technology that are used to transmit, store, create, display, share or exchange information by electronic means. Technologies of ICT: radio, television, video, DVD, telephone, satellite systems, computer and network hardware and software; as well as the equipment, videoconferencing, ebeam, and e-mail and blogs.
The Importance of ICT
L. G. Kmamnja (2007: 719) states that ' Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have for long been celebrated as the solution to access in education. New innovations like the internet and mobile technologies provide a great opportunity for mass delivery of education information especially in Africa where governments and institutions are struggling to equip the people with much needed skills for development.'
Use of ICT has been credited with among others, ‘contextual learning, active learning, social learning and reflective learning’. (Barak 2006).
Use of ICTs are also credited with enhancing the following important elements that are crucial to an effective open and distance learning situation:
• Active engagement of learners with the learning process and the content.
• Instructional design that helps learners learn to reflect on and use existing structures of knowledge to guide and further their learning.
• Learners interacting in communities of learning where knowledge and information is shared openly in an environment that values participation and interaction between learners, teachers, and sources of knowledge. (Miranda 2004).
ICT & English language
When teaching and learning English language ICT is highly needed:
· To create a positive environment for English teachers, researchers, and students.
· To explore English language learning and pioneer new ways of teaching and learning, in Second Life, and real life.
· To develop a community where we can collaborate and help each other in our pioneering efforts!
· To have fun, and expand the ESL community!
· To help people learn English!
· Students learning a new language need a great deal of language support. Those who teach students learning English as their second language know that any language support is crucial for students’ language acquisition.
· English Language (EL) students need a variety of language experiences. They need opportunities to hear, write, speak, and read English.
· Technology, especially computers, can play an integral part in providing EL students with valuable language experiences as they learn a new language.
· Adds motivation and often offers a way to present a new topic in an exciting way.
ICT & Curricula
Concerning ICT & Curricula, one can say curricula are well supported and encouraged by emerging instructional technologies (Stephenson, 2001). Such curricula tend to require:
· access to a variety of information sources;
· access to a variety of information forms and types;
· student-centred learning settings based on information access and inquiry;
· learning environments centred on problem-centred and inquiry-based activities;
· authentic settings and examples; and
· teachers as coaches and mentors rather than content experts.
Contemporary ICTs are able to provide strong support for all these requirements and there are now many outstanding examples of world class settings for competency and performance-based curricula that make sound use of the affordances of these technologies (Oliver, 2000). For many years, teachers wishing to adopt such curricula have been limited by their resources and tools but with the proliferation and widespread availability of contemporary ICTs, many restrictions and impediments of the past have been removed. And new technologies will continue to drive these forms of learning further. As students and teachers gain access to higher bandwidths, more direct forms of communication and access to sharable resources, the capability to support these quality learning settings will continue to grow. We argue that basically ICT offers just tools; the means by which important educational outcomes can be achieved. The significance of those tools can be considerable, in that they can enable learners to engage in forms of education that were previously impossible at a distance. Adrian Kirkwood and Linda Price (2006:2). As well there many clear changes as indicated by Calvert (2005). She has identified some consequential changes that have occurred in the distance education environment over the last 25 years. These include:
· More distance education players, with the greater involvement of ‘conventional’ universities and commercial enterprises;
· Institutions are seeking transnational markets for students;
· Collaboration on courses between institutions in different countries.
Successful adaptation and change involving the use of ICT necessitates more than simply replicating or supplementing existing teaching practices: everything governing those practices must be reconsidered and reflected upon. This requires a holistic view of the institution’s policies, practices, and professional development activities. Adrian Kirkwood and Linda Price (2006:10). To conclude this point when ICT is pedagogically integrated into the course design and adapted for the current environment, it can enable and support enhanced forms of learning (Kirkwood, 2006).
OUS Establishment & foundation
Open University of Sudan (OUS) is a governmental university that provides bachelor and postgraduate courses through open & distance education. OUS approved by the Council of Ministers' decree no. (164) in April 2002. This decree was followed by the act of the university by the National assembly April 28, 2004 AD.
OUS is the largest open & distance learning institution in Sudan, recruiting 7,000-10,000 students every semester. The OUS basic philosophies of distance learning and their consequences for development of a learning environment supporting distance learners. Most OUS courses are not designed to function as online interactive e-Learning programmes, although some parts of the courses may imply such interaction with multi-media materials, tests, and assignments. OUS courses normally designed for self-learning study involve intensive study, mainly of text-based materials and include self-assessment questions, exercises, activities, problem solving, writing essays, submitting assignments, and communicating with tutors by email – in the eastern Sudan. This means that most of the time the students will be offline when studying, and often download content for course-books and the assignments.
Head quarters: Obeid Khatim St. 65 Sq. Arkawit. Khartoum, Sudan
Regional Branches: Khartoum, Umduman, Bahri, Gazira, North Kurdufan, Gadaref, Sinnar, Damazine, Red Sea, Whike Nile, River Nile, Northern State, Southern Kurdufan, Westren Kurdufan, Northern Darfor, Southern Darfor, Westren Darfor, and Kassala.
OUS Administrative Structure
(A) Directorates and secretariats
1. Directorate of academic programmes
2. Directorate of centers and student support coordination
3. Directorate of research, planning and development
4. Directorate of Post Graduate Studies
5. Secretariat of the Scientific Affairs
6. Secretariat of the libraries
7. Directorate of Information Technology and Communications
1. Centre of Arabic as a foreign language
2. Human Resources Development Center
3. Training center for self-employment
4. Education Development Center (EDC)
5. English Language Center
1. Continuous Education project
2. E-learning project
3. Technical Education project
(d) Learning facilities
1.OUS Radio and TV
1.OUS Radio and TV
3. Learning Systems Analysis & Design
4. OUS Press
1. Education (humanities & science)
2. Business Administration
3. Computer science
- Vastness of Sudan
- Harsh environmental conditions
- Cultural and ethnic diversity
- Increasing number of school leavers
- Limited number of universities’ enrolment
- Pressing need to community and continuous learning
- Removing constraints:
Ø time and place constraints
Ø social and economic constraints
Ø rigid universities admission requirements
- Complimentary to residential universities
OUS Quality Learning Material Development
Curriculum is developed by committees from most of Sudanese
Best Academic Scholars to write the text material
Self-Learning instructional Design
Quality Production ( Different Formats)
OUS Quality Mode of Delivery (Multimode approach)
- Printed material (especially designed for ODL)
- Radio ( National Radio Broadcasting)
- Recorded Cassettes
- TV ( States TVs) The Open University of Sudan Learning Channel, or OUSLC, was officially inaugurated on Satellite Badr 5 (ARABST) “The launch of the channel is part of the state’s continued efforts to boost higher education,” Faisal Abdullah Al Haj, the university's vice-chancellor, was quoted as saying by independent daily newspaper Sudan Vision.
“The channel will support the Education for All project and will provide greater opportunities for learning for all society sections…it will solve [the problem of] about six million school drop-outs in Sudan.” (University World News)
- Face-2-Face Education
- Recorded Cassettes and Video tapes
OUS Important statistics
Here are some important numbers of statistics at OUS:
- Learning Center is: 160 centers
- Students’ Advisor: 270
- tutors: 2500
- Published self learning books ≈ 400
OUS International Collaboration
OUS has developed a good international sort of collaboration on the academic side with the following institutions:
Open University – UK
Cambridge University – UK
UNISA – University of South Africa
Quds Open Univ. - Palastine.
Jilin University – China
Council for British Teachers CfBT – UK
WBI (World Bank Institute)
IEC – UK
AVU (African Virtual University)
Ministry of Higher Education of the Republic of Comoros
Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)
Teacher Education at Maximum Scale (TEAMS)
ICT USE AT OUS
It is important for all Distance Education institutions to reflect on their educational models and determine whether they are appropriate for their current circumstances. In order to adopt a double loop approach in relation to the educational use of ICT, there is a need to determine which underlying assumptions are still applicable and which need to be adapted. This should result in a principled approach to developing appropriate policies and practices. Adrian Kirkwood and Linda Price (2006:4). So, where is OUS?
OUS uses various ICTs to create a blended mode of delivery and ensure greater access by the learners, enhance interactivity between learners with their peers and also with their tutors. The learners expect to receive their study package through one or more mediums, attend tutorial sessions at the study centres, hand in continuous assessments and receive feedback on improvement of their work before they can sit for their final examination.
OUS’s regional centres are fully equipped with computers and internet for training in IT skills and which could also be used to administer tests in special cases.
Institutions working in the ODL environment always take cognizance of the fact that ODL methodologies inherently foster autonomous learning and the learner must of necessity develop efficient learning skills which encourage and foster learner independence.
Here are ICTs that available at OUS for delivery of learning materials and other educational interactions; video conference, internet and email, the student portal, online learning, computer-based learning, telephone, SMSs, DVDs, CDs, audio cassettes, videos and print based study materials like study guides, tutorial letters, course and programme brochures, and brochures for learner support services. Though distance learners are self regulating, it is important that they interact with the learning materials through more than one form of technology to aid them in their study and successful completion of their programme.
OUS possible services
There are numerous possibilities for the use of SMS/ MMS services suitable for supporting online distance learners. OUS practices flexible pacing and free start-up times, and has developed advanced support systems to follow-up with students and teachers alike.
The following services might be developed and implemented for mobile technologies during the present project (Russell, 2005):
• Password retrieval for students who have forgotten their password
• Welcome message to students, which includes their user name and password. Included in the 'welcome' could include tips on 'how-to' log on to course web-pages. Messages should be stored on mobile phones, and provide links to other services available from mobile devices. The message may also include a question for permission to communicate to the student via mobile phone
• The introductory course Learning how to Learn will be designed specifically for delivery to mobile devices, preparing news students on what to expect as an OUS student.
• Reminders to students who fall behind their studies
• Reminders to students to register and enroll for exams via mobile phones
• Delivery of interactive quizzes
• Delivery of notification to teachers, indicating that a student has submitted an assignment and possibly automated follow-ups if the teacher is late in responding
• Delivery of notifications related to assignments and grade posted
• Development of a Web interface that allows teachers and administrators to send SMS messages to students, and allows students to send messages to other students
• Allow students to upload pictures and text to their presentation
• Allow students to upload pictures and text to their blog
Mobile Phones at OUS
The use of mobile phones in education in OUS has increased in the last few years. Whattananarong (2005:2) states that “the term ‘m-learning’ has gained serious currency in describing wireless-enabled learning strategies and processes across the entire gamut of instructional delivery”.
In relation to SMS design, Whattananarong (2005:18) indicated the need for short, clear and concise data entry; and Ring (2001), as cited in Thornton and Houser (2004), advanced the idea that “Web-based course material should be decomposed into small pages that can be easily read on small mobile screens”. When English vocabulary lessons were set-up using the email and SMS functions of mobile phones, the students’ response was overwhelmingly positive. Thornton and Houser concluded that 71 per cent of students liked receiving lessons on their mobile phones better than on the PC; 93 per cent found mobile phones to be valuable for teaching; and 89 per cent wanted to continue using their mobile for educational purposes. Learning results were positive also, with an average of 6.5 English words learned using the SMS method, compared with only 3 words learned using a PC.
On the other hand, Learning content to be downloaded to the mobile device could be studied offline, if the student so desires. Downloaded content included all course materials, such as:
• Content page
• All study units
• Resources (articles on the web, references to other resource materials)
• Online access to the discussion forum, with capacity that allows students quick access to readings in the forum, and writing and responding to contributions made in the forum.
• Email with capacity that allows students to communicate with tutors and fellow students, and for submitting assignments either as text-based emails or as word or text attachments.
It was generally satisfactory for students (and tutors) to have the course content available to study on the PocketPC. In addition, when mobile, students must be able to:
• Access the course forum to read archived messages (if necessary). Messages on the forum were also emailed to participants
• Access their course forum to submit their contributions to the course discussions
• Send email to fellow students, their teacher, and to administration (i.e., study advisor)
• Receive email from fellow students, their tutor, or from administration
• Submit their assignments by email, including attachments
• Receive assignments back from their tutor, corrected and commented on, as attachments. Torstein Rekkedal and Aleksander Dye ( 2007:7).To conclude this point, one could say:' Open and distance learning has already proven its effectiveness for training teachers in many countries.' Daniel. J. (2005: 5).
Challenges in ICT
The challenge of an ODL system is to develop an instructional process that incorporates good teaching and learning strategies, and also provides learners in remote places with quality of learning which is as good as that one provided to those attending face to face learning.
The ICTs used today are no longer the mass media technologies of radio and television which could reach just about everyone. The technologies of today are more personalized and tend to cater for interactivity between users and their materials, among themselves and also with their lecturers. While this is viewed as a positive development in the education field, we recognize that it comes with its inherent constraints which pose challenges to learners especially in the African continent. Accessibility to these technologies can not be guaranteed to all students in an ODL environment by the institution providing education and some of the students in remote areas that have no electricity would have to rely on only printed materials as a learning resource. We also know that ‘institutions need to ensure that the ICTs being used are widely accessible, are of good quality and are cost effective’ (Daniel 2005).
Even today majority of the challenges have to be met by the developing world and these would get compounded over the next twenty years. As majority of the world's population would be residing in the developing countries.
The greatest challenge would be for the providers of education whether it is the university or other players who have already entered the education sector. We can envision an enriched educational environment, wherein several alternatives would be available to learners based on the new ICT.
The learning community will move beyond the classroom walls and will not be dictated by the classroom schedule. It will no longer be age based or time based. All boundaries will disappear related to distance, time, location of study, age, language, culture. Individuals/groups who would constitute the learning communities will be able interact with each other across the globe.
Instruction will be more customized, individualized and life long. Learners would frame their own learning agendas. They would be constructing their own knowledge through interactions with knowledge resources and with their surrounding environments. The students will be in a position of taking a degree and courses from any institution globally, which need not necessarily be a university or an educational institution. It could be a business/corporate institution, a religious/cultural institution, a public library/museum etc. which would have the degree granting status.
Learning would be lifelong, increasingly part-time and more concerned with enhancing work skills or business performance than with gaining formal qualifications. The demand is for modularized, up-to-date and contexnalised programmes, preferably delivered in the workplace. 'The divide we have to bridge is to equip existing teacher training institutions and individual teacher educators to deploy new methods and to network themselves into professional communities.' Daniel. J. (2005: 5).
At the end, what is the most important lesson learned?
Re-employment of scarce facilities ..
In a developing country ..
To establish a Mega University ..
With international standards.
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