We have just posted the first blog for our new project. Funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation it will run for the next year in the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. The OpeningScholarship
project, with myself as the Strategic Project Director and Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams as Research Manager, will explore the transformative potential of information and communication technologies in the context of the University of Cape Town, selected for this project as one of South Africa’s leading research universities.
Through a series of case studies at UCT, the project will explore the ways in which new and interactive information and communication technologies are impacting on communication patterns between researchers, lecturers and students and between the university and the community. The project aims to identify ways in which
these new technologies can expand research and learning in the institution beyond the narrow walls of the curriculum to engage the university community with important cross-cutting issues and the convergence of traditional disciplines.
Some of the research questions that we will be asking are:
How can an institution such as UCT best build collaboration for scholarly communications across the institution?
What could an ICT system such as that at UCT offer in terms of new and opened up communications in teaching, learning and research?
How can the ICT systems that are in place help deliver much greater intellectual capacity, allowing the university (and by extension, the country) to rely on its own intellectual capital rather than on imported content?
What lessons can be learned from those departments making effective use of ICTs and new approaches to research dissemination?
How can existing projects – both departmental initiatives and donor-funded projects – be coordinated to achieve an effective and collaborative institution-wide scholarly communication system?
What policies and practices would need to be encouraged if the university is to achieve the maximum impact for its scholarly communications for research, teaching and learning, and outreach?
The intervention will aim to explore the potential of the full range of formal and informal communication strategies available to UCT in the 21st century, from formal scholarly publications to repositories, blogs, wikis, mobile technology, podcasts and video streaming.
We look forward to lively discussion in this blog, in wikis, meetings, workshops and seminars, about the changing dynamics being brought about at UCT through the use of ICTs for communications between researchers, between lecturers and students, and between the university and the communities it serves. It is going to be a lively year!
A lot of interest was shown among my colleagues in a variety of organisations in the Frontiers of Knowledge Forum hosted by the University of Cape Town last November – another sign of the increased activity in African higher education and the particular interest in the role of ICT in African higher education. The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA), which sponsored the forum, has now put the Forum documentation online, so that there is a full record available of the proceedings, the papers delivered, and the recommendations of the Forum. The documents also include a commissioned paper by Dick Ng’ambi of the Centre for Educational Technology at UCT on ICT and economic development in Africa; the role of higher education institutions.
This was the inaugural meeting of the African University Leaders Forum at which Vice-Chancellors of fifteen African Universities met in Cape Town to discuss the role of higher education in promoting economic growth in Africa. They focused in particular – to quote the website – ‘on the immense potential of information and communication technologies to transform the teaching, learning, and research environments in African universities, and the capacity of those technologies to stimulate large changes in Africa’s growing economies.’
The Forum took an aggressive line on the need for connectivity and broadband access in African universities as a basic requirement for national advancement – rather than a luxury. There was general agreement on the need to grow the level of African research output and to disseminate it better. In the in the final recommendations, the recommendation for the management of African knowledge contains an implicit endorsement of communication technologies open access:
African higher education institutions can play a leadership role in developing new institutions and business models for knowledge dissemination at the African and global levels. Some of the existing North American and European institutions can act as barriers to realizing the potential of African knowledge, and are under severe pressure themselves from the advance of open source and open access approaches.
Another recommendation was that African universities should ‘also develop new ways to take advantage of the increasing availability and quality of open educational resources at the international level.’
These are the challenges identified by the vice-chancellors at the close of the Forum:
Africa’s greatest asset is its human talent
Harnessing this talent will require new and large investment at all levels of education
Information and knowledge are the greatest contemporary levers of sustainable development
This recognition underscores the cardinal role of higher education
fullest benefits of higher education will be in greater equitable
access, high quality teaching and research infrastructure, greater
institutional autonomy within a framework of public accountability
economic growth will occur in a more participative human environment
and in more deregulated economies which allow for greater social
A key historic feature of modern Africa is the emergent and increasingly vibrant African private sector
African higher education must engage closely with this emergent sector
with government, the private sector, and civil society, higher
education must press for a high intensity information and communication
technology environment across the African continent
Networked African universities must consolidate their role at the centre of a new and changing continent