Brenda Mallinson with OUT Team in April 2014




Innovative Digital Fluency Course for Academic Staff at the Open University of Tanzania (OUT)

Many academic staff at higher education institutions are experiencing pressure to engage with using ICTs to support and enhance their teaching and learning, research and academic administration. OUT has recognized that the skills necessary for academics to engage meaningfully with ICTs requires more than general digital literacy training. Supported by Saide's OER Africa Initiative they are developing a Digital Fluency Course to be offered as an open educational resource (OER) and made available for ODeL provision. Brenda Mallinson reports.

Building on a relationship that commenced in 2008, Saide's OER Africa representatives Brenda Mallinson and Catherine Ngugi undertook a site visit to OUT in August 2013 in order to collaboratively take stock of progress and identify current institutional needs.

The two organisations agreed to focus on addressing three particular needs over the next few years:
  • Review and update a variety of OUT institutional policies.
  • Further enhance the OUT Digital Library Portal.
  • Develop a new open course for Academic Staff on Digital Fluency.

In consultation with the OUT management team  and in collaboration with the OUT Institute of Educational and Management Technologies (IEMT),  Saide through its OER Africa Initiative will support processes to meet the needs expressed above. Deepening the understanding of how OER practices can support transformation of teaching and learning at OUT and the wider African academic community will involve close collaboration with OUT departments and services beyond IEMT. These include the Quality Assurance Bureau, the Library Electronic Portal staff, and champions within the OUT academic staff community.

In particular, the proposed Digital Fluency Course is mooted to be designed, developed and delivered as an institutional priority. The initial module topics were crafted by eliciting requirements from OUT senior management and academic staff, in consultation with the IEMT. The course comprises 5 modules: 

  • Digital Literacy Fundamentals,
  • Academic Integrity,
  • Storage and Access of Digital Resources,
  • Working with OERs, and
  • Learning Design and Development for Online Delivery.

It should also be noted that the African Council for Distance Education (ACDE) (of which OUT is a core member) is already aware of the proposed Digital Fluency Course for Academics and has expressed support for propagating its delivery across several higher education institutions on the African Continent.

Digital Fluency Course Design and Development
A decision was taken to model shared educational beliefs in conceptualizing, designing, developing, piloting, and implementing the course. This was evidenced by an inception workshop ‘Learning Design in the Open’ using the University of Leicester’s (2012) 7Cs OER Toolkit, facilitated by Brenda at OUT in October 2013. The objectives in mind were threefold:

  • firstly to explore the suitability of the methodology for the purpose of the Digital Fluency course design;
  • secondly to workshop two draft modules (Storage and Access of Digital Resources; Digital Literacy Fundamentals) as examples in order to expand their concept and design; and
  • thirdly to form the basis of a further draft module (Learning Design and Development) by contextualizing and adapting the methodology on the Moodle platform for propagation as an internal professional development workshop at OUT.

With the shared vision of designing the course for wider access, further related activities include taking into account accessibility for hearing and visually impaired learners, scalability, and exploring the use of open digital badges for providing modular credentials.

The inception workshop was well received and inspired the local OUT team to adopt the Leicester 7Cs methodology for further institutional learning design. All three objectives were achieved and the activity provided a foundation from which to engage further with the remaining design and development of the Digital Fluency course.

In April 2014, Brenda again visited OUT in order to support the IEMT in further planning for the new course. At the end of this visit, a project plan was approved by Senior Management, who also indicated support by facilitating a week-long course development retreat for the IEMT five module development teams in May. This resulted in considerable progress being made on developing course materials, which were then submitted to the regular OUT committees for the institutional review process.

Once approved, the modules will undergo further revision and when finalized, the next step is to mount the modules on the local OUT Moodle server for blended/online delivery. The intention is to pilot the course modules in association with other regional institutions in late 2014 and elicit feedback in order to further improve the modules before releasing the whole course as an openly-licensed resource in 2015 in order to propagate wider dissemination.