Mitigating the Implications of Covid‑19 on the Academic Project at Walter Sisulu University in South Africa: A Proposed Framework for Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning
Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in South Africa, like other universities worldwide, is faced with the challenges associated with the outbreak of the Covid‑19 pandemic. The challenge has changed our day-to-day lives, including the way we interact and conduct business. In the midst of this, WSU has had to change the way learning and teaching occurs. Traditional face-to-face tuition had to be adapted by moving to the online mode of teaching and learning to both minimise the time lost in the academic project and protect staff and students from the devastating effects of the virus. This article reflects the actions taken by the University and describes its pilot-project approach to online learning and those processes it has put in place to ensure its effective implementation. While it is accepted that switching to an online mode of teaching and learning can facilitate
flexibility in space and time, the reality is that the majority of students at WSU – mainly due to their geographical and socio-economic environments – experience daily challenges ranging from poor network coverage, lack of internet connectivity, lack of electricity and other socio-economic impediments that make online learning stressful or beyond their reach. In this article, we present a model that could be used by higher education institutions (HEIs) to respond to Covid‑19 in the short term. The proposed model is underpinned by a framework that caters for students who are readily able to access online learning, students with intermittent access to online facilities and finally, students who cannot access online education. First, we provide a brief description of online learning, highlighting the challenges presented to teaching and learning by this approach. We argue that our context and education policies present additional problems that militate against the adoption of online strategies by most HEIs. In the final instance, we present a framework that is better suited to our context and can be used during and after the lockdown. Data were collected using online questionnaires with both structured and openended questions from both lecturers and students to determine their experiences with the testing project. Lastly, we draw conclusions based on the findings of the study.
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