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UKZN's new pedagogy facilitated through online learning

It is June 2020, and since South Africa's national lockdown, major transformation in the way we teach and learn at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been triggered and fast-tracked by COVID-19.

We have noticed how online learning is catalysing a pedagogical shift in how we teach and learn. There is a shift away from top-down lecturing and passive students to a more interactive, collaborative approach in which students and instructor co-create the learning process.

UKZN's online initiative began almost a decade ago with staggered buy-in by staff and students. Notwithstanding the staggered buy-in, staff and students acclimatised to the open source learning platform - Moodle - among other intermittent forms of digital platforms.

UKZN's digital or online teaching and learning philosophy was premised on its teaching and learning policy (implemented in 2009) that focuses on learner centredness.

Over the last three months, the global and national higher education sector has reinvented itself. All for a good cause. Students are at last co-creators of knowledge. There is greater transparency and accountability on all stakeholders. Students are at the forefront of debating, analysing and critically assessing what they are taught, how they are taught and what their own teaching and learning responsibilities are.

In preparation for the exciting journey but conscious of a degree of staff and student trepidation, staff are reskilling via a host of high-level training opportunities offered on online platforms. University academic and support staff are instinctively showing an appetite for the training, evidenced by large numbers of participants. Students have participated in dry runs to ascertain where challenges exist, with the university responding accordingly to alleviate challenges.

Simultaneous with staff training, mandatory decisions on revised teaching and learning models, implementation dates, modes of assessment, student access and other practical matters have occurred.

UKZN patiently waits to harvest the fruit of online teaching as staff and students become more familiar with digital technologies for teaching and learning. Undoubtedly for staff, unrivalled pedagogical responses and strategies are emerging.

Online opportunities are great. Initially some students may experience some discontent and trepidation. But if we go back to the invention of Braille in 1824 by Louis Braille, we realise how more citizens could access learning. In a similar vein, online teaching will give more South Africans higher education opportunities. The bigger picture is we will close the gap between the haves and have nots. Online teaching will materialise the philosophy of Ubuntu.

The 1790 education system developed to prepare citizens to work in factories. The fourth and fifth industrial revolutions require us to prepare and be prepared for requisite skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical thinking, etc. These skills are predisposed to make us relevant for the workplace.

Let us be the Apollo 17 that was successful during a time of crisis with minimum resources. In the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa: "We shall prevail." Technology makes this possible. Let us not be left behind.