“In times of trouble the wise built a bridge and the fool a dam” a Nigerian proverb.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects became real in South Africa with lock down at the end of March 2020.

No one, not the most prepared, respected or skilled lecturer, could have prepared for what was to come. 

Initially, we higher education lecturers, waited patiently for the government and Minister of Higher Education to guide us. 

Initially staff development programs at South African universities tried to prepare academics for the huge shift from classrooms to E-learning. 

I attended, like a life-long learner, these attempts to guide us to the new, virtual world.  After three workshops I realized these are a little bit like sending a letter to an agony aunt.  You have something to say, but expect to get someone else’s advice.  And can they talk in these workshops!

The next wave hit. 

Our students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds and rural areas, did not have the equipment or access to the internet to make e-learning work.

In Africa, there is a local clothing store, which provides cheap, colorful clothes at reasonable price to people.  The local clothing store became the distribution point in all rural areas for students who have no access to technology and data, and have to do paper based assessment.

As for me, I am skilled with technology, but often, it is not the knowledge that you transfer, but the questions you ask. I made a prompt decision to keep my online classes formal and well balanced. The basic instructions remain the same, despite the resources or technology used.  Be blunt, to the point. Tell the students what to do, and how to do it.  Be precise, say what you want from them and give guided instructions to get to the point.  Remain accessible, but keep to mutual respect and formal academic language.  It is as plain as you can, contact me, whenever you want, by sending an email.  Ensure to include documentation you are referring to and evidence of your attempts to master the outcomes.  Plan well ahead and submit in time.        

In Africa we built a bridge, one way or another, via a clothing store, and stay away from the water and the dam.

Dr Irene Muller, Lecturer, North West University, Vanderbijlpark Campus, South Africa


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