Open Praxis vol. 10 issue 1
0 Editorial board Hemlata Chari, University of Mumbai, India Gangappa Kuruba, University of Botswana, Botswana Thomas P. Mackey, SUNY Empire State College , New York , United States Alan Tait , The Open University, United Kingdom Belinda Tynan, RMIT University , Melbourne, Australia Joel Warrican , University of the West Indies, Barbados Yang Zhijian, Open University of China (OUC) , China
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR OPEN AND DISTANCE EDUCATION
Open Praxis is a peer-reviewed open access scholarly journal focusing on research and innovation in open, distance and
flexible education. It is published by the International Council for Open and Distance Education—ICDE
The aim of Open Praxis is to provide a forum for global collaboration and discussion of issues in the practice of
distance and e-learning.
Open Praxis welcomes contributions which demonstrate creative and innovative research, and which highlight
challenges, lessons and achievements in the practice of distance and e-learning from all over the world.
Open Praxis provides immediate open access to content on the principle that making research freely available to the
public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge.
Inés Gil-Jaurena, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Spain
Beatriz Malik, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Spain
Publisher and contact information
ICDE—International Council for Open and Distance Education
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0281 Oslo, Norway
The ICDE Bulletin changed its name to Open Praxis in 1993. In 2003 became an electronic journal. In 2011 Open Praxis
is relaunched as an scholarly and peer-reviewed open access journal, hosted by Universidad Nacional de Educación a
Distancia (UNED) in its first period (2011–2019).
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
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under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that allows others to share the work with an
acknowledgement of the work’s authorship and initial publication in Open Praxis.
b. Authors also grant ICDE right to publish a printed compendium of Open Praxis published articles in an annual
c. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of
the journal’s published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository), with an acknowledgement
of its initial publication in Open Praxis.
Open Praxis does not necessarily agree with opinions and judgements maintained by authors
Student Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Formative Assessment in an
Online Learning Environment
Betty Obura Ogange, John Agak, Kevin Odhiambo Okelo, Peter Kiprotich
Implementation Factors and Faculty Perceptions of Electronic Textbooks on the iPad
Michelle Dawn Rogers-Estable
Acceptance and Usability of OER in India: An Investigation Using UTAUT Model
MOOCs for Teacher Professional Development: Reflections and Suggested Actions
Pradeep Kumar Misra
Innovative practice articles
Online educators’ recommendations for teaching online: Crowdsourcing in action
Joanna C. Dunlap, Patrick R. Lowenthal
Building public health capacity through online global learning
Rajan Madhok, Erica Frank, Richard Frederick Heller
Brief report on Open Praxis figures and data (2017)
Editor for Open Praxis. Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia - UNED (Spain)
In the first Open Praxis issue in 2018 we briefly report on some statistics and information about Open
Praxis development, as we did in past years (Gil-Jaurena, 2015, 2016, 2017). The report covers the
period January 2013 - December 2017, with a special focus in volume 9, published in 2017. Table 1
includes different journal statistics, such as number of submissions, number of published papers;
acceptance rates; number of authors and number of reviewers.
76 authors (excluding the editor) contributed to Open Praxis volume 9 with their research papers,
innovative practice papers or book reviews, a total of 34 published items. Considering the international
scope of the journal, contributions are geographically and institutionally balanced, coming from 22
different countries. The 66 reviewers also reflect a gender, geographical and institutional balance, as
shown in the list available in the Open Praxis website (http://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/
2013, volume 2014, volume 2015, volume 2016, volume 2017, volume
5 issues 1-4 6 issues 1-4 7 issues 1-4 8 issues 1-4 9 issues 1-4
Innovative practice papers
* Special papers: ICDE prizes 2013 and 2015, Open Education Consortium Global Conference selected
papers 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017)
Regarding visitors and readers, figure 1 shows their location. In 5 years (since publication of issue
5(1) in January 15th 2013 until January 15th 2018), the Open Praxis website has received visits from all
over the world, being the top ten countries the following (in descending order): United States (15,81%
of the visits), United Kingdom (7,30%), Spain (7,15%), India (5,49%), Canada (4,95%), South Africa
(4,73%), Palestine (4,20%), Australia (3,58%), Indonesia (2,63%) and Pakistan (2,12%).
According to ClustrMaps.com (https://clustrmaps.com/site/x7ne), Open Praxis had an average of
approx. 8000 page views per month in 2017.
About the academic impact, citations to Open Praxis in scientific publications (journals,
conference proceedings, books and other specialized works) have progressively increased since
the relaunching of the journal in 2013 (figure 2). Open Praxis h-index is 21 (source: Google Scholar,
January 15th 2018).
After this brief report, what follows is an introduction to the first Open Praxis issue in
volume 10, which includes six articles in the research papers section and two innovative practice
In the first article (Using Future Research Methods in Analysing Policies Relating to Open Distance
Education in Africa), Mpine Makoe, from UNISA (South Africa), presents an analytical lens to various
policy documents in Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia that state the vision and aspirations of these regions
in their way towards becoming middle-income countries. She explores policy documents related to
open and distance education and to the use of ICT in education. The use of interpretive forecasting
techniques leads her to characterize the case in each country and to recognize the failures in the
process of implementing the policies, particularly in widening access to higher education through
open and distance learning.
In the second paper (Space as a tool for analysis: Examining digital learning spaces), Michelle
Harrison, from Thompson Rivers University in Canada, explores the concept of spatiality from different
perspectives, and reflects about what space means in a connected and networked world and which
are the implications in digital education and learning. She proposes a spatial lens to analyze the
transformation of digital spaces into learning spaces. This framework is meant to support researchers
in asking relevant questions incorporating space as a key and under-considered concept.
The next three papers present survey-based studies covering different topics of interest in
e-learning: assessment in the first case, and educational resources in the last two cases.
The first study (Student Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Formative Assessment in an Online
Learning Environment), by Betty Obura Ogange, Kevin Odhiambo Okelo, John Agak and Peter
Kiprotich from Kenya, documents a survey-based research undertaken in the Maseno University
virtual campus to collect students’ perceptions about a key issue in the teaching-learning process:
formative assessment. Questioning about a variety of online assessment tools and feedback, the
study shows students’ preferences, which are a valuable input in the design of future assessment
and feedback methods in online courses.
The second survey-based study (Implementation Factors and Faculty Perceptions of Electronic
Textbooks on the iPad), presented by Michelle Dawn Rogers-Estable from the USA, was developed
in 17 campuses in the United Arab Emirates where eTexts were introduced simultaneously using
various digital platforms. The study considers the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) and collects
faculty perceptions about the experience and identifies barriers to the use of eTexts, including
access, interactivity and other technical issues. As a result, only 30% report that using eTexts is an
improvement comparing to paper texts. The findings are of interest for faculty and eText producers.
The last survey-based study (Acceptance and Usability of OER in India: An Investigation Using
UTAUT Model), by Nayantara Padhi from IGNOU (India), also collects faculty perceptions and uses
the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) model. It is focused on open
educational resources in 22 universities in India, and among the findings it is worth to mention that
faculty are aware of OER but don’t use them so much, despite there is a will to do so. The paper
identifies a set of barriers to the use of OER, as well, which is of interest for establishing strategies
to increase the use of OER.
In the last paper in this section (MOOCs for Teacher Professional Development: Reflections and
Suggested Actions), Pradeep Kumar Misra from India compiles different views and inter-relations
between two current issues: teacher professional development and MOOCs. He explores different
initiatives and advocates for using MOOCs for teacher professional development, addressing actions
at different levels: policies, technical and operational issues, MOOC initiatives, language and cost
barriers, “MOOC culture”, and research.
The innovative practice papers section opens with Online educators’ recommendations for teaching
online: Crowdsourcing in action, by Joanna C. Dunlap and Patrick R. Lowenthal from the USA. They
relate an ample set of recommendations, collected among practitioners of online education in a
participatory way. Organized into four themes that arose from the data –student support, content
structure, presence and preparation-, the recommendations align with the Community of Inquiry (CoI)
model. The use of crowdsourcing appears as an innovative research methodology to be considered.
Finally, an international team composed by Rajan Madhok, Erica Frank and Richard Frederick
Heller from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia respectively, present Building public health
capacity through online global learning. Departing from a need to implement new models for training
public health workforce, they suggest online and collaborative learning as an innovative approach.
They illustrate it with two examples and reach a conceptual model for global learning, which can be
useful for other educators willing to go beyond boundaries and making good use of digital tools.
We hope these contributions will invite to reflection and innovation in open, distance and flexible
Special thanks from Open Praxis to the authors and reviewers who have contributed to this issue.
Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Using Future Research Methods in Analysing Policies Relating
to Open Distance Education in Africa
Mpine Elizabeth Makoe
University of South Africa (South Africa)
Many African countries have developed policies to reform their education system in order to widen participation
in higher education. To achieve this, open, online and distance education based models have been advocated
as the most viable delivery tools in expanding access to higher education. However, the policy analysis of Kenya,
Rwanda and Zambia revealed that the integration of open, online and distance education in these countries’
education systems is inadequate. The purpose of this study is to analyse policies in order to determine why
policy goals are not achieved and how the present reality and the past knowledge impacts on the desired
outcome. The future research methods of forecasting is used because it looks at policy interventions with
the aim of assisting us to understand probable development in education that may have led to the weak
implementation of the policies.
National education policies play a critical role in advancing educational goals of the country because
they emphasize the importance of anticipating the future. They are developed to provide a vision
of what the education system should look like in future (Kozma, 2005; Pavlova, 2013). National
education policies are strategic in nature because they provide a planetary vision of where the
country wants to be or might be (Pavlova, 2013). Hence, they are considered desirable by the state
because they tend to focus on the national social development goals and economic needs of the
country (OECD, 2003). Without national policies, the education sector will not be able to determine
what to prioritize in the face of many national priorities (Kozma, 2005). Therefore, education policies,
unlike many other government policies are drawn up to support economic growth; promote social
development; and advance educational reform (Kozma, 2005; Nasruddini, Bustemi & Inayatullah,
2012; OECD, 2003).
The nature of education is future-oriented because its role is to equip students with knowledge,
skills, and attitude that it is hoped will be useful in future. Most education policy goals, therefore, tend
to focus on the human resources development needs. The future of economic development depends
on people who are equipped with competencies and skills that are needed for the knowledge economy
(OECD, 2003; Rwamatwara, 2012). In an effort to facilitate the implementation of an education system
that has the potential of increasing the much needed high level skills and capacity, national policies
were developed to position education and training at the center of social economic development
goals of the country (Kozma, 2005; OECD, 2003). To ensure the sustainability of economic growth,
higher education institutions are expected to open up opportunities and provide education to large
numbers of people (Altbach, Reisberg & Rumbley, 2009; GEM, 2016). The rationale for providing
education at this scale is more critical in African countries where there is a huge need for skilled and
trained workforce to enhance economic growth and global competitiveness (Rwamatwara, 2012).
If skills shortages are not addressed, many African countries will not realise the 2030 Sustainable
Development Goal towards an inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.
To reach this goal, distance and online education based models are considered the most efficient in
expanding access to education.
Many countries in Africa are now considering this model as the feasible option to widen participation
in higher education. The findings on education policies in developing countries points towards the
use of technology enhanced distance education as important drivers in enabling access to higher
education (Haddad & Demsky, 1995; UNESCO, 2013, 2016). High participation rates in higher
education leads to sustainable economic development (Altbach et al., 2009; OECD, 2003; GEM,
2016). Hence, national education policies are developed to guide and respond to the national economic
needs and social development goals of a country. Without national policies and frameworks, it is
unlikely that resources will be made available to ensure the sustainability of education.
Educational institutions play a critical role in laying a foundation for economic productivity through
providing training and development for high quality work-force (OECD, 2003). Most developed
countries have benefited from high skilled workers. This shows that there is correlation between
highlevel skills and high economic development. Hence, policy makers draw from the social and economic
needs to provide a set of goals, and a vision of how the education system might look like. Mannermaa,
(1986) argues that a policy “that does not have any direct or indirect impact on the development of
the society is totally useless” (p. 662). Current policies, and those that were developed in the 1960s
after independence of many of the African countries, have alluded to the need for higher education
to produce students with appropriate skills and capabilities to match national priorities (GEM, 2016).
The role of policies in this regard is to respond to national economic needs and social development
goals of a country (Kozma, 2005).
In this study, policies were considered for analysis because they are made up of predictive
statements of desired outcomes, which provide a vision for how the education system should look
like (Pavlova, 2013). The aim is to determine how the present reality and the past knowledge impact
on the implementation of policies. In the absence of national open and distance learning policies
in Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia, national education policies and other government documents that
referred to open and distance learning and ICT in education were selected as units of analysis. Since
the success of policies depends on its content and its implementation, according to Jallade, Radi
and Cuenin (2001), this study will analyse the content of the policies in order to identify factors that
may inhibit the successful implementation of the policies. This will be done through using futures
research methods because it channels the thinking to new possibilities and gives organizations an
opportunity to deal with perceived changes effectively (Malhotra, Das & Chariar, 2014). The objective
of futures research “is not to know the future but to make better decisions today” for the future we
hope for (Glenn, 1994, p. 4). Therefore, according to Mannermaa (1986) futures research “is not
the study about the ‘future’ per se, but it is about the “present reality and the historical knowledge
of the past” (p. 658). Knowledge about the future takes into account long-term trends, development,
and dynamics of the social, economic and political settings of the country (Nasruddini et al., 2012;
Anheier & Katz, 2009; Pavlova, 2013). This research was conducted to consider desirable features
that are worth strengthening, threats that need to be eliminated and probable lines of development
that are worth noting (Mannermaa, 1986).
Futures methods analysis
Although there are a variety of futures research methodologies that may be used, this study will use
forecasting techniques because “it is concerned with approaches to determining what the future
holds” (Anheier & Katz, 2009, p. 238). This will be used to examine policy interventions on what the
education landscape should look like in the future; what are the existing themes that are already
forecasted into the future; and what information is needed to be gathered about the past and the
current situation to make a prognosis of the future (Anheier & Katz, 2009; Dator, 2009). Forecasting
assumes that the patterns that existed in the past are likely to continue into the future, hence this
study will look at how past policies affected the current policy environment and how the present
impacts the future (Anheier & Katz, 2009). Table 1 shows the list of policy and strategic documents
that referred to open distance education and the use of technology in education. The selected
documents in Table 1 are available on the public domain.
To analyse these documents, forecasting techniques were utilized as a framework for making
sense of the contents of the policies. Forecasting is based on the assumption that more timely
information is necessary for policy makers to make better policy decisions (Anheier & Katz, 2009).
The idea was to identify detailed overarching policy statements that made reference to open and
distance learning and ICT in education. These documents were read and analysed according to the
context of the country concerning the vision, the history, the present reality and the future it aspires
to. Forecasting techniques seek to understand the complete social, economic, cultural, technological
and political factors that may impact in the future of the country (Anheier & Katz, 2009; Dator,
2009). It looks at past patterns of the information and data and attempt to predict the future based
on those patterns (Anheier & Katz, 2009; Malhotra et al., 2014). This type of analysis informs the
thinking that occurs before strategic decisions are made. To identify patterns of meaning across the
different documents, thematic analysis was used through a rigorous process of data familiarisation
and theme development.
The basis of the analysis was an extensive review of relevant documents and research papers which
were accessible online. Below are concise summaries for each country presented in a narrative form.
Vision 2030: “Transform Kenya into a newly industrializing middle-income country providing
a high-quality life to all its citizens in a safe and secure environment” (GoK 2007).
At the heart of this vision is the transformation of the education system that supported the agrarian
industrial based economic system to a knowledge-based economic system. The idea is to shift the
emphasis from knowledge reproduction to knowledge production (MoE, 2012; Nyangau, 2014). The
goal is to develop a repertoire of skills and competencies necessary to achieve the objectives and
goals embodied in the Constitution 2010 and Kenya Vision 2030 (GoK, 2007). In this vision, there
is a clear link between education and labour market (MoE, 2012). To address this issue, the policy
proposes the use of distance education and ICT to promote teaching, learning, and research in
education and training (MoE, 2012). The challenge facing the Government of Kenya is to increase
the number of students in higher education; to harness the skills and competencies that are presently
being lost and to provide an education system, which meets the aspirations of Vision 2030 (Nyangau,
2014; Odhiambo, 2011).
Since Kenya’s independence, many policies were drawn to transform the education system to
include more vocational courses with the aim of orientating youth towards self-employment (Wanjohi,
2011). However, the demand for higher education continues to grow; public funded universities are
overcrowded, the curriculum remained unresponsive to present day and future needs of the labour
market (Nyangau, 2014; Wanjohi, 2011). Most public higher education institutions in Kenya produce
graduates who are ill equipped to compete effectively in the global economy (Odhiambo, 2011;
Simiyu, 2001; Wanjohi, 2011).
Kenya is acutely aware that if they continue to use the existing traditional face-to-face education
system, they may not be able to fulfill the promise of education for all (MoE, 2012). It was in search
for alternative implementation strategies that Open and Distance Learning (ODL) models were
explored. This form of delivery is not new in Kenya. In fact, it was used shortly after independence
(Wanjohi, 2011), especially for in-service teacher education. In 2006, Kenya also adopted the ICT
Strategy for Education and Training, which recognizes “ICT literate workforce as a foundation on
which Kenya can acquire the status of a knowledge economy by 2030” (MoE, 2006). The analysis of
these documents brought to the fore the need for mainstreaming ODL into the education sector. To
achieve this, the 2005 education policy referred to the need to establish the National Open University
(Nyerere, Gravenir & Mse, 2012). The policy framework further recommended the fast tracking of
this process (MoE, 2012). To this day, there is still no open university in Kenya. Nyerere et al. (2012)
indicate that unless there are concerted efforts and resources made available to develop the ODL
sector, Kenya may not realize its Vision 2030. To reach the 2030 goal, Nyangau (2014) argues that
“fundamental reforms are needed for the system to play a catalytic role in transitioning Kenya from a
subsistence economy to a knowledge economy” (p. 12-13).
Vision 2020: To transform Rwanda’s economy into a middle-income country – (RoR, 2012).
Prior to 1994, very few students in Rwanda were able to access higher education (MINEDUC, 2010).
To address this challenge, the government developed two strategic documents, the Vision 2020
and the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy aimed at creating an educated
workforce with technological skills (MINECOFIN, 2013). In Vision 2020, higher education is expected
to meet the needs of the nation, which suits well with the “fit for purpose” notion of quality, which in
the case of Rwanda is linked with employability of graduates (Mbabazi, 2013; MINEDUC, 2010).
Many graduates lack the competence and lifelong learning skills that fit the knowledge economy
employers’ needs (Mbabazi, 2013).
The education system in Rwanda, as a former colony of Belgium was also affected by the colonial
rule that provided formal education until its independence in 1962 (Hilker, 2011; Mbabazi, 2013).
However, the continuation of imported education practices of poor teacher training, marginalization
of national culture and the strict selection system acted as further barriers to education (Hilker,
2011). In the 1970s, the government instituted a policy reform to encourage young people in rural
areas to access educational and employment opportunities through the introduction of vocational
courses (Mbabazi, 2013). These efforts came to a naught when the school system was damaged
by the civil war and the genocide that left scores of people dead, wounded both emotionally and
physically and displaced (Hilker, 2011; Mbabazi, 2013). Following the cessation of the civil war, the
government of Rwanda was faced with a mammoth task of rebuilding the nation and developing the
In rebuilding the country, the government of Rwanda recognizes “ODL and ICT as a technology that
will enable fast tracking capacity development of Rwandan citizens into skilled human capital who, in
turn, can accelerate the socio-economic development of the country” (Mukama, 2016). To fast track
this process, Rwanda launched an ICT for Education policy in 2016 (MINEDUC, 2016). The use of
ICTs and distance education are meant to enable programs that are aimed at providing on-the-job
training and in-service training to as many students as possible. Despite the need to accelerate skills
development, the provision of technology-enhanced teaching and learning in Rwanda has not made
a meaningful impact (Mukama, 2016). Part of the reason may be that there is no serious investment
in Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) despite the government targets of offering at least 50% of
courses using ODeL by 2017 (Mukama, 2016). To effect the sustainable implementation of ODeL,
Mukama (2016) suggest that there is a need to establish a national open university devoted to
providing ODeL programs. Real practices that open up higher education in this setting have been
lacking, and existing policies seem not to have been developed to encourage ODL practices.
Vision 2030: A prosperous middle-income nation (RoZ, 2006).
By 2030, Zambia aspires to be a nation that has an economy that is competitive, self-sustaining,
dynamic and peaceful and is free from donor dependence (RoZ, 2006). In light of Zambia’s
development context and vision, the expansion of higher education and Technical and Vocational
Education and training (TEVET) systems is a rational policy choice both from economic and equity
points of view (MESVTEE, 2014; RoZ, 2006). Zambia’s strong commitment to alleviating poverty,
achieving sustained economic growth, and creating employment through educational development,
is clear and its dedication to ensuring that international trends, such as the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) and currently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are reflected in their
strategic education plans and in their policies (RoZ, 2006; UNESCO, 2016).
Since Zambia’s independence in 1964, there has been a proliferation of education policy reforms
to mitigate against years of colonial neglect (Mukwena, 2001). The post-colonial government policies
committed to providing free education for all up to tertiary level (UNESCO, 2016). To achieve this,
early policies recognized the need to provide education to a large number of people using distance
education methods (Beyani, 2013; Mukwena, 2001; Siaciwena & Lubinda, 2008). In fact, the history
of distance education in Zambia dates back to the colonial era where few people who could afford
studied through private correspondence colleges that had links to Britain, their colonial masters
(Mukwena, 2001). To address the acute shortage of educated and trained people post-independence,
distance education was seen as a vehicle that has a potential to enable access to higher education to
those students who could not study full-time (Siaciwena & Lubinda, 2008). Even when the University
of Zambia was established in 1966, distance education formed part of the development of higher
education in the country. It was their hope at the time that the university will reach many people with
little additional resources (Beyani, 2013; Mukwena, 2001). However, this did not happen as planned.
In 1996, Zambia developed another National Policy on Educating Our Future that recognized the role
of distance education and the policy went as far as suggesting the establishment of a Directorate
of Open and Distance Education (DODE) within the Ministry of Education (Siaciwena & Lubinda,
2008). This department was strategically positioned to promote open and distance learning practices
in Zambia (Siaciwena & Lubinda, 2008). Zambia is one of the few countries in the continent that has
a privately owned open university.
Despite the recognition as espoused in the Vision 2030 and the 1996 policies, Zambia has yet to
reach educational standards that might be seen to lead to sustainable development (Beyani, 2013).
The challenges that were identified in the current policies are similar to those that were outlined in
earlier policies. The problem of low participation rates in higher education, the curriculum that is not
responsive to national and global needs, increasing pressure on education infrastructure, inadequate
funding and high levels of brain drain of skilled workers remains (Beyani, 2013; RoZ, 2006). Despite
these limitations, the country still needs to intensify the development of human resources for the
Discussion on the Findings
The desired outcomes in this study are clearly stipulated in the vision 2030 for Kenya and Zambia
and 2020 for Rwanda. They all aspire to be “middle-income countries” that are prosperous and
peaceful. The desire to develop the country by growing the economy and improving the social
conditions of its citizens is often used to justify the investment in education reforms (Kozma, 2005).
In the policy statements of all three countries, there is an urgent need to develop high level skills and
competencies that will catapult these countries forward (Rwamatwara, 2012). Academic and skills
training has great importance and relevance in developing countries of Africa where there is a huge
need for skilled and trained workforce to enhance productivity and remain competitive in the global
economy (OECD, 2013). To achieve this goal, there is a need to transform education systems in
order to support the vision of these countries. A vision statement is meant to give a sense of what
might be achievable (Freestone, 2012). Kozma (2005) found that policies that had a clear vision on
“how the availability of new technologies could increase productivity, improve the quality of life and
enrich culture” were more successful than those that did not have a clear goal (p.149). But this was
not the case with the three countries. Their vision of what they want the education system to look like
in 2030 is clear, however, they have not been successful in achieving their goals because they did
not consider factors that were found to inhibit the implementation of the policy. These factors may
include human and financial resources needed for the implementation, the measurable goals and the
monitoring and evaluation plans (Freestone, 2012).
Inayatullah (2008) argues that “the vision must link to day to day realities; our day-to-day measures
must reflect the vision” (p. 6). Many visions fail because there is no alignment between the vision, the
strategy, the day-to-day life and the alternative futures (Inayatullah, 2008). Many of the developing
countries tend to follow visions and development strategies of other countries. Strategies that worked
in other contexts may lead to unattainable goals as is the case of “many African countries who
believed that once decolonization was complete, peace and plenty were sure to follow” (Glenn, 1994,
p. 2). Haddad & Demsky (1995) argue that these policies may have failed because the “external
influence can be a means in which international communities impose their fads and fashions upon
less developed countries,” (p. 80). The weak policy implementation in all these countries, did not
only compromise the vision of the countries, but it also affected the policy implementation at both
strategic and operational level (UNESCO, 2016). Therefore, there is a need for policy makers in
Africa to clearly articulate what will contribute to the successful implementation of the policy. The
futures studies allow policy makers to examine social systems to derive implementation strategies
(Malhotra et al., 2014).
Since the purpose of the futures research is to identify likely issues that may influence the
implementation of the policy, it is important that the environment be scanned in relation to the
current education landscape. The education sector in these three countries is faced with challenges
of responding to the increased demand of higher education; insufficient public funding, lack of
infrastructure (poorly equipped laboratories and libraries); rigid management structures and curricula
that is not responsive to present day needs of the labour market (Beyani, 2013; Nyangau, 2014;
Odhiambo, 2011). Most public higher education institutions from these countries produce graduates
who are ill-equipped to compete effectively in the global economy because they do not have the
necessary knowledge, skills and capacity to perform in the knowledge economy (Odhiambo, 2011;
UNESCO, 2016). All governments agree that quality higher education is a critical driver to economic
growth (Nyangau, 2014).
That is why the national education policy goals of these countries recognized open and distance
education models as a feasible way of increasing the number of people studying in higher education
sector. Although many countries have not used this delivery method optimally, distance education
is not new in Africa. In fact, one of the oldest and the largest distance institution in the world, the
University of South Africa (UNISA), has been successful in providing much needed high-level skills
and knowledge to those who could not access full-time education. Following on this model, four
other countries in Africa -Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Sudan- have established publicly funded
open universities. For those countries that are lagging behind, it seems there is a general lack of
understanding about the fundamental roles of open and distance education systems at political
level (Beyane, 2013; Mukama, 2016; Nyangau, 2014). As a result, open and distance education
systems have not been embraced as systems of education. Castaño, Redecker, Vuorikari and
Punie (2013) argue that policy-makers need to develop an educational framework rooted in open
education principles of flexibility, accessibility and cost effectiveness so that people have a better
understanding of this education system. Furthermore, technology enhanced distance education
can only be sustainable if providers take advantage of an abundance of open education resources
(OER); move easily from one educational setting to another based on their interests and needs; and
enable student centeredness that is a strong personalisation of the learning processes (Castaño
et al., 2013). These are the critical ingredients for opening up higher education.
Although these three countries have recognised the benefits of ICT in education in enabling access
to the marginalised communities, they have not been successful in implementing these systems of
education. Part of the reason may be that many of the ICT for education policies and frameworks that
were developed to guide the implementation focused mainly on the infrastructure and the technical
aspects. In the process, they neglected the pedagogical and the educational purpose of using ICTs.
This finding corroborates with Kozma’s (2005) study, which found that ICT based education policies
do not achieve what they are set out to do because they do not have a clear vision on how new
technologies could increase access to higher education. Another major hindrance is that many of the
African countries do not have infrastructure to support these systems (UNESCO, 2016). High costs of
connectivity and lack of electricity in other parts of the continent continue to be a challenge (GEM, 2016).
However, this should not stop African countries to use other technologies such as mobile phones that
are readily available and accessible to the majority of people. Mobile phones have been successfully
used in other sectors such as agriculture, health and banking. However, the education sector has not
optimised the potential of mobile learning in delivering education to a large number of people.
Following the independence of Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia in the 1960s, these countries developed
policies specifically to address the backlog of social and economic development. Hence, the first
generation of post-colonial policies focused mainly on addressing the problem of an irrelevant and
low-quality education system that did not address the needs of the newly independent countries
(Simiyu. 2001). The vision of the policies then was to promote national unity (Kenya); provide free
education to all citizens (Zambia); provide access to educational opportunities to all (Rwanda). The
aim was to build economically independent countries free from the colonial ties. However, none
of the early policies or strategies were able to provide a direction on what a relevant education
system should entail. As a result, many of these policies were criticized for encouraging elitism and
individualistic attitudes amongst learners, something that was considered incompatible to the African
socialist milieu (Simiyu, 2001).
The second problem with early policies is that they prioritized Universal primary education at the
expense of other education systems (OECD, 2003). Although this investment in primary education
was seen as an important policy goal of increasing the number of children entering the schooling
systems, it placed severe limitation on other educational systems such as secondary, vocational and
higher education (Rwamatwara, 2012; UNESCO 2016). At the moment, most developing countries
in Africa are faced with the challenge of providing quality education in these sectors. The 2016
UNESCO study found that the status of vocational training in the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) region is inadequate. What is apparent for almost all SADC countries is that
what they committed to do in their policy documents has not been translated into effective higher
education systems that are relevant to the labour market (OECD, 2003; UNESCO, 2016).
The failure of the past policies may be attributed to poor accountability mechanisms, inadequate
funding and weak institutional capacity to monitor and evaluate the implementation process (Mukwena,
2001; UNESCO, 2016). When the outcome is not what is expected, policy makers need to engage
stakeholders such as the academics, researchers, industry, prospective employers, the government,
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and students, to avoid these types of occurrences in
future. It is therefore incumbent on policy makers of these countries to develop policies based on
home-grown solutions. Futures research would have been useful in identifying some of the problems
that impacted on the implementation of these policies. Forecasting is also useful for planning and
aiding “the process of policy making for the future”
(Malhotra et al., 2014, p. 126)
Drawing on the images of the future, it is important to look at the past and the present realities. The
futures research methodology enabled us to see the present concerning the decision made in the
past to make input and improve future planning. By so doing, we were able to consider features of
education that need strengthening and inhibiting factors that need eliminating (Mannermaa, 1986).
“Any institution (country) that takes care of the present while planning for the future is more resilient
to meet the needs of the society, both in present and the future”
(Malhotra et al., 2014, p. 121)
These policies recognized the need for ICT in education and open and distance learning in
enabling access into higher education. However, they did not adequately provide for the integration
of these systems into the national education system of the countries. Unless this model of delivery
is integrated into the education system, these countries may not be able to attain their goal for
sustainable development and economic growth. The implementation of the national education policy
in education is critical to enhancing the country’s social economic development through supporting
education that is relevant to the country’s needs. To attain this, policies should consider the resources
needed to support the cultural, economic and developmental aspirations of the country.
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Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Open Praxis, vol. 10 issue 1, January–March 2018, pp. 17–28 (ISSN 2304-070X)
Space as a tool for analysis: Examining digital
Thompson Rivers University (Canada)
Over the past decade we have seen a rise in the adoption and proliferation of social technologies, and along
with these a move to build on the capacity to embrace new pedagogies and practices that can open our
boundaries for both teaching and learning. How do we determine what we mean by space specifically in online
environments and how can we examine whether our intentions for learning in them are effective? How can
these spaces be enacted as learning spaces and how do we design for them? We will need to develop new
methods and frameworks for analysis which takes into consideration how we conceive, perceive and enact our
digital spaces and how this impacts on our practices and approaches to teaching and learning within these
spaces. This paper will explore how we envision space, how a spatial perspective might be used to help assess
and design these spaces, and will provide an analytical framework to examine the tensions we encounter when
teaching and learning in open digital spaces.
As our spaces for learning evolve and shift from the traditional brick and mortar formal classroom,
to increasing inclusion of online and computer-mediated ways of communicating and connecting,
we to need to rethink how we think about space. Over the past decade we have seen a rise in
the adoption and proliferation of social technologies, and along with these a move to build on the
capacity to embrace new pedagogies and practices that can open our boundaries for both teaching
and learning. There is recognition that our pedagogical approaches will need to change, in part to
reflect new ideas about teaching and learning, but also to incorporate the uses of social technologies
(Bayne, 2010; Conole, 2010). As we continue to adopt these new technologies, and the resulting
spaces they create, we need to determine how to evaluate their effectiveness.
Anderson and Dron (2011) highlight three generations of pedagogies that they link to the
development and availability of technologies that support them; cognitivism-behaviourism
(preInternet), constructivism (advent of computer-mediated communications), and connectivism (online
connections between networks). Though they highlight the need for the continued adoption of all
three approaches, in the interconnected spaces of online teaching, a more networked and open
approach, is often emphasized.
Networked Learning (NL) theories and approaches stem from a social-constructivist paradigm and
as highlighted above, they are used to promote connections. Though one theoretical approach is not
privileged over another, NL can be seen to “encompass an understanding of learning as a social,
relational phenomenon, and a view of knowledge and identity as constructed through interaction
and dialogue” (Ryberg, Buus & Georgsen, 2012, p. 46). Following this description we see networked
learning environments created in a variety of ways, from a focus on what Ryberg et al. (2012) term
“strongly tied collaborative work and dependencies” more commonly found in formal courses, to more
loosely tied “social constellations” and individualized pathways characteristic of informal professional
Open Praxis, vol. 10 issue 1, January–March 2018, pp. 79–89 (ISSN 2304-070X)
Online educators’ recommendations for teaching online:
Crowdsourcing in action
Joanna C. Dunlap
University of Colorado Denver (USA)
Patrick R. Lowenthal
Boise State University (USA)
Over the years, online educators have learned a great deal about what works and doesn’t work when designing
and facilitating online courses. During the past few years, we have used crowdsourcing to invite experienced
online educators to share their recommendations for teaching online. In this article, we describe our use of
crowdsourcing to curate a robust list of online-teaching recommendations, present the recommendations
experienced online educators have shared with us, share the themes resulting from our analysis, describe how
the themes align with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model, and discuss how adhering to the crowdsourced
recommendations may enhance the design and facilitation of online courses.
Keywords: Online teaching; online education; crowdsourcing; instructional strategies; Community of Inquiry
In their seminal Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,
wrote about the following seven principles:
• Encourages contacts between students and faculty.
• Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
• Uses active learning techniques.
• Gives prompt feedback
• Emphasizes time on task
• Communicates high expectations.
• Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
It is likely the best-known set of engagement factors (Kuh, 2009), having been cited almost 7,000
times. The seven principles identified success factors that influence students’ engagement, success,
and persistence during their undergraduate-education experience. The principles have been used
in multiple ways over the years, including as a lens for integrating technology into the classroom
(Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996) and evaluating online courses (Graham, Cagiltay, Lim, Craner & Duffy,
2001). They also served to inform the design of the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE)
(Kuh, 2009). But what is not talked about much is how the principles were created (Chickering &
Gamson, 1999). The principles were not solely derived from a systematic review of the literature.
At a conference, Chickering and Gamson invited a group of experienced postsecondary educators to
share what they knew about good practice for undergraduate education—although not a term used
at the time, Chickering and Gamson essentially used a crowdsourcing approach to help them
coconstruct the seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education.
Crowdsourcing—a conjunction of “crowd” and “outsourcing” coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006
Wired magazine article—is “the process by which the power of many can be leveraged to accomplish
feats that were once the province of a specialized few” (Howe, 2008). Howe (2010) further defined
crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an
employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open
call.” Also referred to as citizen science and citizen social science
(e.g., Procter et al., 2013; also see
, this participatory process has recently gained in popularity due to the increasing
volume of scientific data and limited centralized support to efficiently process the data
(Ranard et al.,
. Although extensively used in the biomedical domain as a way to harness the computational
power of many people to process large-scale biomedical data—such as to support genome sequence
(Kawrykow, Roumanis, Kam & Kwak, 2012; Rallapalli et al., 2015)
and protein structure
prediction (Cooper et al., 2010)—it is also now being used as a field-based research methodology
in a wide range of disciplines; for example crowdsourcing approaches are used to classify distant
galaxies (Lintott et al., 2008; also see https://www.galaxyzoo.org/), create geographic digital maps
(Whitmeyer & De Paor, 2014)
, collect more representative data in forensic psychology research
Fox & Wingrove, 2016)
, tackle complex architectural design needs
(Newton & Backhouse, 2013)
validate assessment of interventions for speech disorders
(Byun, Halpin & Szeredi, 2015)
, and engage
in new product development
(Schemmann, Hermann, Chappin & Heimeriks, 2016)
. The growing need
for crowdsourcing in research and development has led to social networked spaces such as the
Amazon Mechanical Turk (https://www.mturk.com/), CloudFactory (https://www.cloudfactory.com/),
CrowdFlower (https://www.crowdflower.com/), and clickworker (https://www.clickworker.com/)—online,
distributed sources of available workers. Social network platforms have increasing potential to change
the way people connect and engage online; people no longer solely consume online content, but are
now empowered to actively participate and contribute. With the advent of online social networked
spaces and platforms, crowdsourced content and opportunities for contribution are ubiquitous via
YouTube, Twitter, Quora, Pinterest, TripAdvisor, Wikipedia, Kickstarter, and so on.
There are four types of crowdsourcing: collective intelligence, crowd creation, crowd voting, and
crowd funding (Howe, 2008). All four types of crowdsourcing go far beyond divide-and-conquer
approaches to goal achievement and research; they are true collaborations between and among
members of the crowd—leading to much more than individual, isolated contributions. Crowdsourcing
has fundamentally changed and enhanced the collection and dissemination of data, content,
resources, problem solving, and computing power, and has been proven effective for rapid and
efficient data collection, especially where expert-level knowledge of a topic or discipline is not a
(Whitmeyer & De Paor, 2014)
. [To view a wide range of crowdsourcing projects, see https://
The Catalyst for Our Curiosity
Online courses are part of the postsecondary teaching and learning landscape. Online education has
grown from a fringe activity to something that millions of people take part in
(Allen, Seaman, Poulin, &
Straut, 2016; Ginder & Stearns, 2014)
. Despite the popularity of online education, online educators are
in many ways still trying to figure out the best ways to design and facilitate online learning experiences
(Everson, 2009; Motte, 2013; Tallent-Runnels et al., 2006; Ubell, 2017)
. Fortunately instructional design
models have emerged to help designers and educators consider critical instructional decisions inherent
in designing and teaching online courses. One model in particular has gained a lot of traction, and has
significantly influenced our work in online education—the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. Garrison,
Anderson and Archer (2000) developed the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model to describe how the
interplay between teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence are foundational to
the development of deep and meaningful educational experiences in online courses (see Figure 1).
The CoI model emphasizes balanced instructional attention to teaching, social, and cognitive presence
in order to cultivate an engaged online learning community
(Lowenthal & Dunlap, 2014)
• Social presence involves the connections students and faculty establish in a learning space;
social presence is influenced by the quality and quantity of interactions between and among
students and faculty, helping all involved to feel more involved and engaged in an online
space. The goal of social presence is to minimize transactional distance and help students
and faculty feel real in online courses in service to achieving the learning objectives
(Lowenthal & Dunlap, 2014)
• Cognitive presence refers to how students interact with and process the content of a learning
experience. Supported by teaching and social presence, students’ cognitive presence is
engaged through deep and relevant cognitive-processing activities and assessments that lead to
enhanced conceptual understanding (Dunlap, Sobel & Sands, 2007).
• Teaching presence refers to the decisions educators make regarding the design, direction,
and facilitation of social and cognitive-processing interactions in online courses
Rourke, Garrison & Archer, 2001)
. To establish teaching presence, faculty attend to the design
and organization of learning experiences, the design and facilitation of interactions, and the
assessment of student learning.
Because the CoI model is a descriptive model that does not provide much prescriptive guidance
on how to intentionally design for and facilitate student learning and engagement in online courses
(Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007), online educators continue to experiment with different ways of
establishing a Community of Inquiry in their online courses
(Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2014; Lowenthal &
. Online educators can make some inferences from the indicators of teaching presence
developed by Anderson et al. (2001), but even these indicators lack sufficient detail (Dunlap, Verma
& Johnson, 2016). There is also literature suggesting strategies for establishing social presence
(Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2014; Lowenthal & Dunlap, 2014)
and cognitive presence (Dunlap, Furtak &
Tucker, 2009; Dunlap, Sobel & Sands, 2007; Sobel, Sands & Dunlap, 2009) in online courses, however
these strategies represent recommendations from a few as opposed to the many. Therefore, in much
the same way Chickering and Gamson used a crowdsourcing approach to illuminate success factors
for undergraduate education, we broadened the online-teaching conversation by crowdsourcing
specific recommendations online educators have for teaching online. Through this process we curated
prescriptive strategies for actualizing the CoI model in the design and teaching of online courses.
Approach to Inquiry
We were interested in co-constructing a list of recommendations for online educators, using a
crowdsourcing approach similar to the one used by Chickering and Gamson’s to derive the seven
principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Because crowdsourcing is a participative
activity in which “an individual, an institution, a non-profit organization, or company proposes to a group
of individuals of varying knowledge, heterogeneity, and number, via a flexible open call, the voluntary
undertaking of a task” (Estellés & González, 2012, p. 197), we invited online educators from a variety
of disciplines and with a range of experiences to share recommendations for online teaching, knowing
that experienced online educators—regardless of discipline and experience level—would be able to
contribute relevant recommendations. We defined “experienced online educators” as educators who
had taught at least one online course in the last three years, whether or not they designed the course
themselves or inherited from another educator. Similarly, we invited contributions from educators
representing a variety of disciplines. Although there are situational factors—such as discipline
differences, course size, length of course, preparation and disposition of students and faculty—
that make every online course unique
(Dunlap, Furtak & Tucker, 2009; Dunlap, Verma & Johnson,
2016; Sobel, Sands & Dunlap, 2009)
, we believed many recommendations for online teaching would
transcend situational factors in the same way Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles transcend
situational factors. Our inquiry was shaped by the belief that there is value in exploring the day-to-day
practice of online educators who have amassed recommendations for teaching online.
The recommendations were crowdsourced from online educators who attended our presentation
sessions for special interest groups focused on online education at seven professional education
conferences over a two-year period:
• Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), international conference
• ED-MEDIA, international conference
• American Educational Research Association (AERA), national conference
• Educational Learning Initiative (ELI), national conference
• CiTE/Pearson, national conference
• Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT), regional conference
• CU Online Symposium, regional conference
During each of our presentations audiences collaborated on a shared Google Doc, with each
participant anonymously contributing one to two recommendations about teaching online. We
displayed the list of recommendations on a screen as the audience added them. As part of the
sessions, we then opened up the conversation so the audience could discuss similarities, surprises,
and future actions. In this way we used crowdsourcing to create an increasingly robust list of
recommendations from online educators in the trenches; crowdsourcing audiences at professional
conferences allowed us to tap into the collective intelligence of educators with online teaching
Individually, we examined the curated recommendations for common themes. Although our own
work as online educators is significantly influenced by the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model, we
intentional set aside the model as we analyzed and sorted the recommendations; we wanted any
themes to organically emerge from the data. After we each sorted recommendations into general
categories (e.g., learning, teaching, design, support), we worked together to define and describe
specific themes. Through our collaborative analysis we found that the recommendations consistently
fell into four themes: (a) supporting student success, (b) providing clarity and relevance through
content structure and presentation, (c) establishing presence to encourage a supportive learning
community, and (d) being better prepared and more agile as an educator. Below is a sampling of
recommendations to illustrate each theme.
Supporting Student Success
Experienced online educators shared strategies for supporting students in online courses so that
students have the potential to be successful. For example, some of the recommendations referred
to the need to:
• Provide relevant individual and group feedback in a timely manner. Feedback is essential, and
be specific in your feedback.
• Grade frequently. Every week or more often. If you don’t grade, they don’t do.
• Make sure feedback is clear, explicit and includes opportunities to ask questions for clarity.
• Champion the student voice.
• Design learning experiences that address all learning preferences/styles.
• Remember that an online course needs to be an interactive experience.
• Let students have fun. Let them create and post materials, search out and post resources, do
video responses, use apps like screencasting, Pinterest, etc.
• Students want choice; give them a choice of which activity to select.
• Create opportunities for students to solve their own problems.
• Incorporate choices for student assignments and assessments.
• It is more important what the students do then what you do.
• Remember that it’s about the student and not the teacher.
• Involve those students who are afraid to participate. Give students specific roles, use
discussion protocols that help make space for all students to contribute.
• Use collaborative, group projects to have students work on topics of their own choosing that still
meet the learning objectives of the course.
• Students are so tired of respond/post 3 times, so get them working together to create
something. Such as using Google Docs to collaborate on a list like this one.
• Provide opportunities for higher order learning, experiential learning to engage students.
• Have effective assessment tools/rubrics so students know how they are being assessed.
• Model what you want from students (e.g., model how to share and interact in a discussion
forum, provide exemplars of projects and other assignments, and engage in think-alouds that
illustrate how to read and take notes from primary sources).
• Model the kind of writing, critical analysis, digital literacy, and digital composition activities you
want students to engage in.
• Model the behaviors you expect from students.
• Account for cultural differences. For example, not all people/cultures feel comfortable doing an
ice-breaker that gets too personal.
• Be concrete and explicit with instructions for all activities, assignments, and projects. You get
what you ask for.
• Make students accountable for their learning. Contracts are great. So are rubrics as long as
your students are interpreting them the same way you are--provide examples.
• Map out all course requirements in advance so you and your students can plan out the
workload at the start of the semester.
• Make sure your students can’t get lost - make sure they know your expectations, what they
should be doing, when it needs to be done, and your expectations for the course.
• Set the same expectations for your students that you set for yourself.
• Provide a just-in-time tech support option for students, where they can ask “how do I?”
questions, and the instructor provides visual examples (e.g., screen capture) to provide answers.
• Have a format for discussion that rotates roles on a weekly or biweekly basis.
• Be interesting--use different ways to keep the course spontaneous.
• Don’t assume all the students are tech savvy, nor that they have the same level of technology.
• Clarify how course content applies to the profession and world beyond the academy.
• For large online courses (100+) record an introductory podcast.
• Know your institution’s FERPA and ADA considerations, and student learning services.
Providing Clarity and Relevance through Course Structure and Content Presentation
Experienced online educators also shared lessons learned regarding the structure of online courses
and the presentation of content within an online course. Some of the recommendations they shared
• Present content in digestible chunks to make it easier for students to process.
• Structure online learning resources so materials are one click away.
• Don’t underestimate the power of integrating relevant visual components in course materials.
• Make sure content is accessible.
• Address universal design for learning (UDL) principles in all created materials.
• Be intentional with every aspect your course design.
• Make everything explicit; say more than you think you need to say.
• Use guest lectures where appropriate in order to expose students to a range of expertise,
multiple perspectives, and practitioners/scholars in the field.
• Assign meaningful work: do not ask students to participate in an online discussion, for example,
unless the discussion clearly supports students’ learning and progression.
• Use technology intentionally, not just because it is novel and “cool”.
• If sharing recorded lectures, create “chapters”/mini-lectures that are in more manageable,
Establishing Presence to Encourage a Supportive Learning Community
Interestingly, the highest number of recommendations shared by experienced online educators
fell into the “presence” theme. Online educators commented on the importance of connecting with
students, helping students connect with each other, and helping students feel they are members of
a supportive learning community. Recommendations include:
• Know your audience.
• Create a sense of community.
• Make many human connections, early in the course, to ensure all students feel comfortable
communicating with you and each other.
• Put faces with names.
• Get to know people on a personal level in the online world (make connections).
• Use students’ names.
• Be accessible.
• Be kind.
• Show your character. Personality is a good thing.
• Online students typically won’t take advantage of having your personal cellphone number. Really!
• Use stories to liberate and articulate your experience in ways that have potential value to
students; ask students to share stories as well.
• Have a sense of humor, and share it if and when appropriate.
• When building the course, think like a film director: everything in the frame is there for a reason.
Control the environment--keep it focused. When running the course, think like a good
hostess-keep everyone involved, keep things moving, but don’t be the focus of attention.
• Use scaffolded, structured group work to build relationship through relevant collaboration.
• Instead of asynchronous discussions in a forum, use synchronous (online) sessions.
• Incorporate the use of synchronous communication and collaboration technologies in order to
connect with students in real-time; use video and audio functionality so students can see and
hear you and each other.
• Use video to introduce yourself to the class as the instructor. Ask students to do the same.
• Create social presence using audio and video (e.g., weekly audio/video introductions).
• Step outside of the LMS to connect with students more informally. Use social networking to stay
in causal contact with students, and for students to be connected with each other.
• Make collaboration tools and technologies available for students to work together.
• Create opportunities for students to build community.
• Connect visually with your students, using video, Skype, etc. Do this immediately at the
beginning of the term as it actually changes the quality of your interactions from and with students
from that point on.
• Instead of a text-based announcement, use a video walk-through. It can do wonders for
immediate relationship building (personalizing the instructor).
• Allow yourself to use the telephone (or web conferencing space such as Skype or Zoom) to
connect with students, especially if you want to be more efficient in responses to
misunderstandings or the need for further clarity.
• Construct online discussion questions to encourage conversation and sharing.
• You can (probably) never do too much to get students to engage. Silence is most likely a
Being Better Prepared and More Agile as an Educator
Experienced online educators also pointed to being better prepared and more agility as useful
lessons they had learned, sharing recommendations such as:
• Sometimes you have to leave the LMS and find other technologies that help you better achieve
your instructional goals.
• Online teaching isn’t about taking your face-to-face course materials and uploading them to a
• It is okay if things don’t go perfectly the first time- they probably won’t. You’ll learn and keep
improving along the way.
• Assume nothing.
• Nothing beats preparation.
• Be well prepared. Quality comes from advanced thoughtfulness.
• Technology fails. Have a backup plan.
• Have a Plan B--a REALLY GOOD Plan B.
• Have plans A, B, C... for all modalities.
• Expect that technology will fail -- have a Plan B and a Plan C. Consider this part of course
• Don’t over plan to the point you can’t or are unwilling to adjust if need be.
• Be flexible.
• Be prepared up front to be flexible.
• Expect the unexpected, no matter how prepared you think you are.
• Don’t be afraid to drop things when you go online - you only have so much time.
• Don’t underestimate the time commitment to teach online. Make room in your schedule to work
on your online course and with your students.
• Technologies are always changing. Be open to trying new things.
• Take advantage of faculty development workshops and conferences on online teaching.
• Use midterm and end-of-semester feedback from students to make necessary modifications.
• Ask colleagues to check out your course and make recommendations for revision.
• Remember that good teaching is good teaching. You may need to translate for the online
environment, but what you know about student learning is still relevant.
The four themes that emerged from our analysis of the recommendations resonated well with the
Community of Inquiry (CoI) model:
• The “Supporting student success,” “Providing clarity and relevance through course structure
and content presentation,” and “Becoming a better prepared and more agile as an educator”
themes align well with teaching presence because the associated recommendations address
the intentional instructional design decisions online educators make to create effective,
supportive learning experiences for students.
• The “Establishing presence to encourage a supportive learning community” theme strongly
aligns with the goals of social presence in online courses, with the theme’s associated
recommendations addressing the quality and quantity of formal and informal social interactions.
• Recommendations shared in the “Supporting student success” and “Providing clarity and
relevance through course structure and content presentation” themes are directly related to the
interactions students have with course content in support of conceptual understanding and the
achievement of course learning objectives.
This alignment with the CoI model—arguably the most popular framework for the research
and practice of online learning—has reinforced for us that using crowdsourcing to curate
recommendations for teaching online from experienced online educators is a sound approach to
broadening the conversation and taking advantage of online educators’ collective intelligence. It
has also reinforced for us the soundness of the recommendations online educators shared, and
the appropriateness of heeding their advice; the themes and associated recommendations have
potential to help faculty new to teaching online courses start out on solid footing, and to help
continuing online educators consider alternatives and enhancements to their course design and
We found that crowdsourcing online educators during live professional conference sessions
was fruitful, leading to many insightful recommendations. Although crowdsourcing as a research
methodology has limitations (see Khare, Good, Leaman, Su & Lu, 2016), our experience in this
project well illustrated the central principle of crowdsourcing—that the collective intelligence of a
group generally leads to more valuable results than the limited contributions of a few (Howe, 2008).
The benefit of this approach for us is that the results are authentic and credible because the source
of the results is experienced online educators. Online educators’ recommendations ring true to
people learning how to be effective online educators because the recommendations are derived
from people who are just like them: educators who care about the quality of the online-learning
experiences they design and facilitate and who face similar professional pressures, opportunities,
Through our analysis of experienced online educators’ recommendations, we identified four
themes related to effective online course design and facilitation: (a) supporting student success,
(b) providing clarity and relevance through content structure and presentation, (c) establishing
presence to encourage a supportive learning community, and (d) becoming better prepared and
more agile as an educator. These themes and associated recommendations are relevant for
faculty new to online teaching, as well as for those already in the trenches. The work is significant
because it captures the lessons experienced online educators have learned about designing and
facilitating online courses—based on their experimentation, assessment, revision, and reflection.
In addition, the work is an example of how professional conferences can be opportunities for
crowdsourcing; this participatory approach recognizes the expertise of our colleagues and our
valuing of that expertise. Finally, the work offers an additional data point in the larger scholarly
quest for prescriptive guidance to online educators on how best to design and facilitate online
courses. Through this work—which we continue to add to, especially in light of the increasing
use of synchronous communication and collaboration tools and spaces in online courses—we
hope to inspire our colleagues and students to (a) consider their own unique lessons learned, (b)
explore different ways to attend to those lessons learned in their online courses, and (c) consider
crowdsourcing as a research methodology.
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Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Open Praxis, vol. 10 issue 1, January–March 2018, pp. 91–97 (ISSN 2304-070X)
Building public health capacity through online global learning
People’s Open Access Education Initiative (Peoples-uni) (United Kingdom)
University of British Columbia (Canada)
Richard Frederick Heller
People’s Open Access Education Initiative (Peoples-uni) (Australia)
Rising disease burden and health inequalities remain global concerns, highlighting the need for health systems
strengthening with a sufficient and appropriately trained workforce. The current models for developing such
a workforce are inadequate and newer approaches are needed. In this paper we describe a model for public
health capacity building through online Global Learning, defined as “innovative, integrated, global opportunities
for capacity building through online learning and shared experiences between and within Low- to
MiddleIncome Countries and High-Income Countries, in a continuous process that helps health care workers learn as
they progress through their careers”. We demonstrate how two programmes, Peoples-uni and NextGenU.org,
have implemented this model using a mix of low-cost and free online learning courses, a global community of
volunteer tutors, mentors and peers, and appropriate high quality competence-based content.
Keywords: online learning; global health; capacity building; public health; student mentoring
This paper identifies the need for a new approach to Public Health capacity building, describes the
success of two online education initiatives, and presents an innovative model framework to transform
educational practices through global learning to build Public Health capacity.
The need for a new approach
The Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030 recognizes the need to
boost the global Public Health workforce (World Health Organisation, 2016). Traditional higher
education models have proven insufficient and inappropriate to solve the workforce challenge and
build capacity, particularly in Low- to Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). The Lancet Commission on
Health Professionals for a New Century (Frenk et al., 2010) recommended:
“Redesign of professional health education is necessary and timely, in view of the opportunities for
mutual learning and joint solutions offered by global interdependence due to acceleration of flows
of knowledge, technologies, and financing across borders, and the migration of both professionals
and patients” (p. 1923).
The British Council in its 2015 report Connecting Universities - Future Models of Higher Education
(British Council, 2015) stated:
“As the traditional suppliers of higher education, universities today are operating in a rapidly changing
environment. As well as coping with less resources, traditional learning has evolved: access to
information is now freely available online; with smartphones, tablets and an array of digital tools at
their fingertips, the habits and expectations of students have changed” (p. 2).
A number of new models of higher education have been proposed, including for LMICs (Nhando,
2015; Mintz, 2014; Epstein & Yuthas, 2012) using advances in technology, and building on the
increasing availability of Open Educational Resources (OERs) and open source delivery platforms
(Creative Commons, 2016). The development of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has
increased access for students, although exposure to LMIC audiences has been limited (Wildavsky,
2015), and MOOCs’ consequent credentials and certification are still limited to those who pay. While
recognising the limitations of MOOCs, Bill Gates in his 2015 letter includes a whole section focusing
on on online education titled: “Better software will revolutionize learning” and predicting a “future in
which world-class education is only a few taps away for anyone in the world” (Gates, 2015).
Two examples of online education for Public Health capacity building
We have previously described our work on building Public Health capacity in LMICs and High Income
Countries (HICs) through e-learning, using OERs and volunteer tutors (Heller et al, 2007; Heller,
2009; Galway, Corbett, Takaro, Tairyan & Frank, 2014; Frank et al., 2016; Clair, Mutiso, Musau,
Frank & Ndetei, 2016), which have been identified as innovative models for global health education
(Crisp & Chen, 2014; Ladner, 2014).
The People’s Open Access Education Initiative (Peoples-uni: http://peoples-uni.org) provides
low-cost online education to help build Public Health capacity in LMICs (Heller, 2009). Modules for
continuing professional development or as part of a Master of Public Health (MPH) course, are
taught by an international volunteer faculty (including graduates of the programme) and courses
are developed using Open Educational Resources. Students can choose from a range of modules
on public health foundation sciences (e.g. Health Economics, Health Promotion, Evaluation,
Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Health Inequalities and Social Determinants of Health), and
topicbased modules (e.g. HIV/AIDS, Preventing Child Mortality, Injury Prevention, Non-Communicable
Diseases, Communicable Diseases, Disaster Management and Emergency Planning). To date,
1691 students have enrolled, of whom 30% passed at least one module at the Masters level. In
a partnership with a UK University, 128 students who had already passed two modules enrolled
on the MPH programme – 94 (73%) graduated with an MPH and a further 18 (14%) gained a
graduate Diploma or Certificate. Seventy percent of the students are from Africa and 12% from
the Indian sub-continent. Student feedback is very positive, our website (http://peoples-uni.org)
includes testimonials from a number of graduates (such as “Peoples-Uni is a new breathing of
life for students from developing countries who can now enrol and learn about public health and
contribute to the country needs where public health improvement is urgent”). An active alumni group
continues to work together to perform and support collaborative research (Heller, Machingura,
Musa, Sengupta & Myles, 2015).
A sister site, Peoples-uni Open Online Courses (http://ooc.peoples-uni.org), offers self-paced
learning in public health - it is freely available in any country. More than 2300 people have enrolled
on the site and in a report of the first 1174 students (Heller et al, 2017), 15% gained a certificate
of completion. Students are spread between LMICs and HICs, although Africa remains the largest
geographical source. A wide range of courses is available, many in areas not usually covered in
traditional MPH courses, and some developed by or for other organisations.
NextGenU.org is the world’s first organisation that provides credit for free. Accredited courses
span from college-level pre-health sciences and community health worker training through
medical and public health graduate training, medical residency programs, and continuing
medical education. Courses are competency-based, and include online knowledge transfer, a
web-based global peer community of practice, skills-based mentorships, and a free certificate.
More than 5,000 users have registered from over 200 countries, and NextGenU.org expects to
achieve its ultimate outcomes by July 2018: the first globally free degree, a Master’s in Public
Health, and Graduate Medical Education (a Preventive Medicine Residency). Founded in 2001,
NextGenU.org globally launched its first full course in March 2012, Emergency Medicine (EM)
for Senior Medical Students, created in partnership with Emory University’s WHO Center for
Injury Control, the International Federation of EM, and the Society of Academic EM. NextGenU.
org’s accredited partners, North American universities that are outstanding in each particular
course topic, give learners credit for this training (or institutions can adopt them and use them
with their students).
The NextGenU.org free model has been tested in North American medical and public health
students (Galway et al, 2014; Frank et al, 2016), and in community health workers and primary care
physicians in Kenya (Clair et al, 2016), with as much knowledge gain and greater student satisfaction
than with traditional courses, and the creation of a community of practice that has learned to interact
globally and productively. While the rates of completion by individuals is low and similar to that of
MOOCs, when these NextGenU.org courses are adopted by institutions, there is essentially 100%
Both Peoples-uni and NextGenU.org are committed to the quality of their educational approaches
and have a number of structures and policies in place to ensure that teaching quality will be
maintained over time. Partnering with other educational organisations that offer their own quality
assurance is also a way of maintaining quality. Although both programmes evolved separately, and
differ somewhat in detail, they each respond to a common need and to the opportunities for online
learning in the digital age. Presenting them together in this way, in the context of a general model, we
hope will encourage others to replicate and expand this approach.
The Global Learning model
We define Global Learning as “innovative, integrated, global opportunities for capacity building
through online learning and shared experiences between and within Low- to Middle-Income
Countries and High-Income Countries, in a continuous process that helps health care workers
learn as they progress through their careers”. Educational programs are developed and
delivered for relevant needs at various stages, with a progression from learning to leadership, as
demonstrated in Figure 1 – the Learning Ladder. We have identified a number of key ingredients
for online Global Learning, including Information and Communication Technology, the need for
a global context and multidirectional learning, a focus on further educational developments,
as well as lifelong learning though career progression. The features of these ingredients are
described in Table 1.
Online learning; best international Open Educational
Resources; collaboration and networking across boundaries,
including student/teacher interactions
Global health challenges that are common to all settings
covered; volunteer tutors from HICs* and LMICs**; costs
affordable for HIC and LMIC students
Learning between and within HICs and LMICs, and between
local and/or global mentors/tutors and students and between
local and/or global peers
New content, delivery channels and awards developed during
program, and through new partnerships
Appropriate for career stage; alumni engaged in education,
research and advocacy
Our approach leans on a new conceptual model of education, relevant to the digital age, Connectivism,
“presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning
is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. How people work and function is altered when
new tools are utilized. The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of
new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. Connectivism
provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era”
(Siemens, 2005, n.p.).
Our model of Global Learning is an extension of Connectivism to offer an innovative and practical
approach to the enormous problem of global Public Health human resource shortages.
How to deliver the model
• Assemble cohort – shared interest/affiliation/geography plus desire to learn about Public
• Identify needs and availability
Develop knowledge and skills for independent practice:
• Provide access to online courses – self-paced or supported with facilitated discussions,
mentorship and possible addition of face-to-face or flipped classroom
• During the programme and among alumni, students collaborate to learn from each other
• Offer certification/credit/academic award (MPH)
Develop skills as trainer and leader:
• Collaborative research among graduates
• Facilitate and develop further educational opportunities for the graduates
• Graduates join programme teaching staff and develop own educational products
The aim is to create an iterative process of education and feedback with increasing depth and
widening range of delivery methods. Once started, feedback on future learning needs will enable
the development of future content and delivery channels, enabling progress through the Learning
Ladder, from healthcare student, to practitioner, then trainer and leader. This creates the possibility
of globally, sustainably, and permanently transforming health sciences education, and filling in the
enormous gaps in health worker capacity.
Outcomes of the model
The framework depends upon internet-based e-learning, and on a global network of volunteer tutors
and students. It encourages collaboration, and allows education to cross both geographical and
professional boundaries, facilitating learning between countries and across income settings, and
allowing students to maintain their current employment, not depleting vital local manpower.
Volunteer tutors, including alumni of the original programmes, work as an online network, thus
defraying costs and travel and minimising environmental impact, and time expenditure. This, together
with the use of Open Educational Resources, allows lower investment in infrastructure.
Further opportunities include the possibility of more intensively supplementing e-learning with
face-to-face mentored and peer-based education, where this is feasible and cost effective. Other
individuals and organisations can be encouraged to collaborate and partner to develop further
Lastly, this framework allows us to explore how global learning can be built into current undergraduate
and graduate education and training programmes in HICs (Galway et al, 2014; Frank et al, 2016;
Jones, Beanland & Mathew, 2013). In this way, the model offers the potential for increased knowledge
of global health problems amongst those working in high-income settings, as well as expanded and
quality-assured opportunities for those offering their skills as volunteer tutors.
There remain a number of challenges to the model. The traditional higher education system is often
resistant to change, and the sustainability of educational programmes such as those we describe,
which are sited outside the traditional system, is difficult to predict, and depend on the credibility
offered to them by healthcare organisations and employers. The financial viability of free and
lowcost courses also remains a challenge. A reliance on volunteers is a risk, as well as a strength, and
efforts will have to be continued to ensure that the quality of the education is maintained over time.
The Global Learning model we describe: “innovative, integrated, global opportunities for capacity
building through online learning and shared experiences between and within LMICs and HICs, in
a continuous process that helps health care workers learn as they progress through their careers”
creates the possibility of globally, sustainably, and permanently transforming health sciences
education, and filling in the enormous gaps in health worker capacity. Debate and collaboration with
others will allow global learning to be scaled up and adapted to support capacity building for health
We acknowledge and are very grateful for the long and ongoing support of Peoples-uni and NextGenU.
org’s volunteers, students and alumni. We thank Neil Squires and colleagues at the Faculty of Public
Health for their advice and encouragement, Gill McLauchlan for her early work on developing the
OOCs, and colleagues from the Global Health Exchange (GHE www.globalhealthexchange.co.uk)
especially Ged Byrne, Helena Posnett and Anna Lee for their input into the thinking about the model.
The GHE has provided financial assistance to the Peoples-uni, the Annenberg Physician Training
Program is the provider of NextGenU.org’s endowment.
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