/ 17 March 2020

Learning in the time of Covid-19

Computer literacy: In rural areas
Whereas some learners were fortunate enough to be able to access online learning platforms right from the start of the lockdown, others were dependent on government and private funders for smartphones, tablets or laptops and in some cases even free data.

It’s official. President Cyril Ramaphosa has used section 36 of the Constitution to declare Covid-19 a national disaster. Such a declaration — a prudent step — is also a clarion call for all of us to be activists and advocates in dealing with the challenge before us. 

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize calls this “hard combat” where each person becomes a soldier in the war before us. Needed are hard decisions with purposeful actions that cross-cut disciplines and spheres of life. This situation necessitates laying on the anvil of self-critique individual behaviours in such times. 

A number of universities have responded by suspending lectures and even graduation ceremonies. Here are five ways academics can, through using technology, deal with this pandemic.

Tip 1: Put recordings of lectures online. The brick-and-mortar lecturing experience is most affected during a time such as this. I am due to start teaching a second-year human resources management module with 130 students in the second term of this academic year. In this module, I must teach in a week six hours split into two contact sessions. Coupled with this, I also must meet students for consultations. Such a situation potentially creates a health hazard and increases the chance of exposure to the virus. 

We need to rethink how we teach and this must start by challenging methods rooted in tradition. There are a number of free online platforms that can be used to host learning content in audio and video format. These include YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitch and Audiomack. Some of these platforms also allow for recorded learning content to be downloaded online to a device and then played later by a user at no cost. This can fit well, especially in the era of exorbitant data costs.

Tip 2: Opt for virtual conferences. I am scheduled to present a paper at the end of March at an international conference on technical and vocational education in Pretoria. Attending such conferences offers opportunities for networking and collaboration with leading scholars locally and internationally. But exposure to the coronavirus can be increased, given the large number of people at a venue. An alternative is to host Web conferences, allowing multiple users in locations of convenience to meet in real time over the internet or intranet. This has also led to the popularity of Web seminars or Webinar.

Tip 3: Use Skype and WhatsApp video for meetings. The start of the academic year is usually the busiest. New postgraduate students seek direction on their research projects. Old students want your time so they can complete their research projects. Then there are meetings with colleagues and external stakeholders to be held. Such contact sessions heighten chances of exposure to the coronavirus. The use of online platforms such as Skype and WhatsApp video can assist. The necessity of a good internet connection is needed to enjoy such features.

Tip 4: Off-campus library access. A number of universities offer access to leading electronic resources such as journals and databases. Because of issues of licensing these resources, this privilege is usually for registered students and staff members. This is something I recommend to my colleagues and students, because it can minimise the use of a physical library.

Tip 5: Keep informed, watch out for misinformation. Information is critical at such a time. There is a need for individuals to be informed, but watch out for misinformation. Think and verify before posting anything, especially on social media. As much as personal hygiene is an important practice in containing the spread of Covid-19, cyber-personal hygiene is an equally important practice of care.

It’s all down to our individual behaviours of “hard combat”. We are under siege and we must rise.

Willie Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi is an associate professor at the University of Fort Hare and writes in his personal capacity