Africas e-Learning Program in ICT Policy and Regulation
The Network for Capacity Building and Knowledge Exchange (NetTel@Africa) has created a truly unique on-line learning program that is changing the way policymakers think about ICT policy reform. NetTel is an African Network created for capacity building and knowledge exchange in ICT (information and telecommunications technology) policy, regulation and applications. NetTel is a successful example of an USAID Global Development Alliance program, where partners from Africa and the U.S. work toward establishing sustainable processes that allow the Network to grow beyond U.S. partnerships and funding.
NetTels goal is to make the provision of ICT services more accessible and more affordable in African countries. This goal cannot be achieved without improved policy and regulation and increased private sector investment. The Network successfully brings together key stakeholders from the government, university, and business communities and public interest groups with an interest in the ICT sectors among and within African countries. Network members, through a governance structure, actively shape how the network operates, the knowledge it generates, and how this knowledge and information is shared and accessed on the Internet.
NetTel is USAIDs response to a request by the Telecommunications Regulators Association of Southern Africa (TRASA) to increase knowledge of successful African examples for policy makers, regulators, consumer advocates, and academic institutions, to stimulate policy change in the ICT sector and, from this knowledge base, build a curriculum for the next generation. While best practices for Telecommunications and Internet related policy are more accessible than ever, the country specific context and experience from other African countries was missing. NetTel responded to TRASAs request by creating a comprehensive on-line learning program directed at several levels to both students and regulators.
Initial USAID funding was provided through a sub grant to the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, Washington State University from the USAID-funded dot-GOV Leader with Associates Cooperative Agreement implemented by Internews Network, Inc. Subsequent funding was provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation (SIDA).
With diverse funding sources and multiple players, NetTel required multiple coordinators: TRASA to kick-start the Network development process, Washington State University to provide overall project implementation, Internews financial oversight and USAID reporting, the University of Dar es Salaam as academic coordinator, and Makerere University as expansion (and peering) coordinator and currently overall coordinator as of July 2005.
e-LEARNING FOR INCREASING ACCESS TO EDUCATION
As part of NetTels capacity building mandate, African universities were mobilized to address the acute shortage of qualified African telecommunication professionals through the development of a unique on-line e-learning program.
The Africa based eLearning Program in ICT Policy and Regulation includes: development of ten courses at the introductory level for a post-graduate diploma and ten courses at an advanced level for a masters degree at African universities; and creation of an Executive Development Program for regulators and private sector participants.
As defined by NetTel@Africa, e-Learning builds on the notion of Gilbert's connected education and will contribute to e-quality, where "e-Learning is the effective teaching and learning process created by combining e-digital content with local community and tutor support along with global community engagement."
SPECIFIC e-LEARNING ASSISTANCE TO AFRICAN ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS
NetTel participating African academic and training institutions required assistance in three areas: content development, pedagogy of teaching and learning with ICTs, and hands-on experience with an online learning management system.
NetTel partner universities have developed web-based teaching and training materials on telecommunications and policy regulation that are accessible through each regulatory body and participating universities. These modules and courses were developed on a collaborative basis between African and four U.S. universities, with a rigorous peer review process. This experience helped cement the bonds between institutions an build the Network. Ten courses at the post- graduate diploma level and ten courses at the Masters level are now available.
The first year of the Post-Graduate Diploma (PGD) program delivered via e-Learning was completed in 2004 and the Masters pilot semester commenced in July 2005 and will be completed in January of 2006. All courses will be continually offered with some being scheduled as first semester and second semester courses. Further, to enroll in the masters degree courses students must have completed the post graduate diploma courses. By the end of 2006 the goal is to have a self- sustaining PGD/Masters degree program run exclusively by the various African partners of NetTel.
Pedagogy of teaching and learning
Evolving institutional changes have started occurring in African universities. Collaboration rather than competition among the university partners has become the priority. Partner universities have become co-developers of content rather than mere users of content developed elsewhere (old syllabi have been replaced and new material developed with links to digital resources). Delivery and development of these materials are occurring across national borders and time zones. Instead of knowledge being hoarded, it is shared, and the paradigm shift from a traditional to a restructured educational setting is starting to manifest itself.
Further, several partners are currently working on implementing existing research from the educational and psychological literature into the learning management system. This will align NetTel with the most effective teaching practices and apply them in an online setting.
Other examples of improved pedagogy of teaching and learning are illustrated by the ICT Applications component of NetTel that demonstrates the relationship between telecommunications policy and regulation and key sectors critical to the economic development process, particularly education. The objective was to demonstrate the synergies between ICT/telecommunications policy and other sectors and the implications of ICT/telecommunications policy and regulation on universal access particularly in rural areas.
- Knowledge Exchange and Learning Partnerships (KELP) -- to stimulate active sharing of information, skills, and experience. Five South African universities developed innovative applications of ICTs to improve the quality of their teaching and learning.
- Kenya Education Network (KENET) -- a collaborative of 40-plus colleges, universities, and schools in Kenya to improve the quality of teaching and learning through ICTs. The pedagogical approaches implemented by NetTel have been applied in KENET through several training programs. Several KENET institutions have joined NetTel. Go to http://www.kenet.org.
- Business for Information Technology (BIT) -- BIT provides learning experiences for students to develop computer technology and business skills. BIT is an Applied Technology curriculum that empowers students with highly marketable skills and facilitates on-the-job training. What started out as a 4H activity in rural Washington is now being shared at the national level in Rwanda.
Knowledge-Based Environment for Web-based Learning (KEWL)
KEWL is a web-based eLearning platform for facilitating course development and completion. The University of Western Cape led the development of this learning management system. The first version was called Knowledge Environment for Web-based Learning (KEWL). Because of the differences in bandwidth and mode of Internet access, it was really critical to understand how KEWL actually worked for the Network universities and participating regulatory associations. An extensive survey of users of KEWL was undertaken with some surprising results that demonstrate the power and adaptability of the KEWL eLearning platform within the African context.
Instructors feedback on KEWL
Instructors reported that they were able to effectively upload, edit and update course material on the KEWL site (80% of respondents answered with some level of agreement). A large majority of instructors found the site easy to navigate (84%) and none of the respondents indicated that it is difficult to become comfortable with KEWL. Instructors indicated that they were able to effectively use ICTs (KEWL, offline CDs) to deliver the course(s). All instructors responded that KEWL was at least somewhat effective for delivering courses. In terms of expertise with ICTs, instructors used internet browsing and email most frequently and report themselves as being a mid level user with regard to KEWL.
Students feedback on KEWL During the NetTel Scholars Symposium held in July 2004, students were engaged in several forums in which they could provide verbal and written feedback. Below is a summary of their responses.
- The opportunity to work simultaneously while going to school is valuable.
- The mix between working and learning simultaneously is a great opportunity.
- The content is well designed for student needs.
- Recognition by the regulatory community of students participating in the NetTel Post Graduate Diploma (PDG) is appreciated.
- NetTels PGD program has greatly broadened the students knowledge base.
- Students have greatly expanded their understanding of the role of the regulator.
- KEWL enables the students to share learning experiences with students from other countries, which they otherwise would not have been able to do.
Written Feedback from the Students
- Relevant information to actual regulatory decisions. KEWL is excellent because we do not have to attend formal lectures - this would be extremely difficult if you are employed full time.
- I like it because the materials are relevant to the current global development agenda on ICT policy and regulation.
- The in-depth explanation about ICT-based services and programs and the applications are useful.
- The discussion forum, the courses are very informative.
- It is the course designed in the practical environment/situation (it relates to regulators/operators/users).
- Discussion board application of the use of participants statistics feature. Chatting facility though it has not been used very effectively. It has to be improved further.
- Ability to get information at the click of a button.
- The interaction with other Students from different countries is good so that we really understand, not only what is done in South Africa, but in other African countries.
Based on this feedback from NetTel partners KEWL was revised in 2005 to KEWLNextGen. Examples of new features include: Active dynamic mirroring of server functions aimed at minimizing the effects of Africas low bandwidth environment and a Language selector that currently supports common African languages such as Xhosa, Zulu, Venda, Kiswahili, and Arabic. The current instructional ICT platform was found to be effective to upload, edit and update course material. Improving online interaction, low-bandwidth scenario activities, and detecting academic fraud were flagged as issues to tackle.
On-line Learning and the Process of Policy Change
NetTel has been operating for almost three years. In this time, the project was able to provide the missing resources needed to a robust Network based on willing partners who did not have the means to do it themselves. The speed at which the Network came together, and built a governance structure to mitigate conflicts is remarkable, when one considers that African university students are able cross register for the NetTel on-line courses with course credit accepted at their home universities. The engagement of the ICT and telecommunications regulators, on a regional basis through the major regional associations with the local universities is a major accomplishment, where the regulators are now looking to the universities as sources of innovation for key ICT policy issues. Involvement of the business sector and public interest civil society groups was also crucial to keeping the course development relevant to African realities.
Using e-learning as a lever, a more localized push for policy reform was created. Policy makers see the value in fostering a market environment for low-priced, multiple platform access to telecommunications and Internet access was created by regulators and policymakers. That NetTel is a sustainable evolving Network that is the go-to resource for ICT policy is a huge achievement, but the real legacy is that African students now have on-line courses, degrees and knowledge on ICTs that help them become the sources of innovation in the use of ICTs in economic, social and political development processes.
Lastly, the book produced by NetTel, AfricaDotEDU (2003), is a very visible outcome of the NetTel Collaborative Research Program, facilitated during the development phase of the on-line courses. This unprecedented compilation of scholarly essays provides comprehensive statistics, analysis and roadmaps for the future of the Internet in African education. Topics covered in the 24 chapters range from digital libraries and country case studies to national IT policies and e- learning. More details about AfricaDotEDU are available at: http://www.africadotedu.org.
For more information about this article:
Maria Beebe, Ph.D.; Global Network Director
Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, Washington State University
F. F. Tusuhira, Ph.D.; Overall NetTel Coordinator
Hashim Twaakyando, Ph.D.; NetTel Academic Coordinator
University of Dar es Salaam