Friday, 23 September 2016

Final reflections on the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) Programme

What do you feel were the strengths of the AURA programme?

At the onset of the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme, Strathmore University administration was intent on getting a proof of concept on the most effective approach to nurture a critical mass of dynamic research-engaged faculty and students, and what approaches could inculcate a rich research culture that is responsive to the society. In general, the AURA programme did not last long enough for the University to draw on the lessons. However, the AURA programme created the momentum needed to refresh the University’s approach to interventions to improve teaching and research excellence among the staff.

In terms of practical implementation, the novelty of the AURA programme and what was unique included:

  • Co-creation model: The overall design and implementation framework of the programme has elements and flexibilities that give room for the meaningful input from Strathmore. For example, the curriculum and design of the course is shared in advance for input by the Strathmore team. Our suggestions are taken seriously and acted upon. We are consulted frequently and think together on evolving aspects of the programme.
  • Experiential model of facilitation: This has worked very well with the young scholars. They were effectively engaged meaningfully throughout the delivery of face to face interventions.
  • Research Informed Implementation: It has been very helpful to have access to the data from the participants and to try and use these feedbacks in real time to guide programme implementation. This practice is also reflected in the design of the course and is very highly appreciated by the participants.
  • Creative Commons License: This is a great way to promote free access to resources generated during the implementation. It is a great boost to the programme.
  • Strengthened individual research capacities of the staff participants. These include positive results from participating in scholarly conferences, progress in the individual academic research projects by the participants and even in less tangible outputs such as refreshment of theoretical grasp of research methodologies (in AURA Research #1-2 [R1] and [R2] interventions).
  • Strengthened individual research capacities of the Project Coordinators: The demands of the programme, particularly the publishing of reflective blog articles was a great opportunity to improve the skills among the PCs.

How do you feel the AURA programme could have been improved?

  1. Deliberately focus on an outcome driven implementation: The benefits of the programme in refreshing the skill sets of the participants in teaching excellence and research capacity was great. However, it would have been more productive to design the programme purposely to achieve, in a progressive manner, tangible results in teaching and research, for example journal publications, etc. this requires reflection and an extensive multi-level design.
  2. Deliberately involve students as participants: Our experience in the involvement of undergraduate students in the Writer’s podium under the AURA Research Course 4 [R4] was very positive.
  3. The consortium should have comprised at least one university from the South. The role of ITOCA complicated the decision-making processes. In our opinion, it did not bring what we expected it to do. Maybe a leading university on the topic of the project would have been a better option.
  4. Leveraging in on functional linkages: The programme should pursue the possibility of leveraging in more resources from other partners to increase the effectiveness of interventions. For example mentoring of participants could get a shot in the arm from AuthorAID. Participants could also benefit from a competitive small grants programme, or travel grants from other sources, open to young scholars and students.
  5. Deliberately focus on continuity: The programme will come to an end. Although institutionalisation efforts may achieve a certain measure, largely there could be missed opportunities if the programme does not deliberately work on exploring other platforms to continue engaging even on a higher plane to keep the tide and momentum high. This, for example, includes actively exploring more grant opportunities to leverage on the winning aspects of achievement and take them to a new level.
  6. Create more opportunities for participants from implementing institutions to learn from one another: it could probably help to explore the possibility of having participants from the implementing institutions to attend some sessions together. It is critical to explore outcome driven learning opportunities for ALIRT team members from implementing partner institutions from the consortium institutions in specific areas. Explore opportunities for interactions between young scholars in the consortium institutions and implementing institutions could improve growth in personal trajectories of the participants.
  7. Publish and disseminate results of this AURA intervention to wider audiences: There should be a deliberate design in the second year to broadly disseminate outcomes, including to the audiences in the implementing institutions.

What would you like to see from future programmes in this area of work?

The general technical design of the programme is very well thought out. The model at the consortium level accommodates a north-south partnership to deliver the programme. The implementing partners are a mix of public and private academic institutions, at the moment concentrated in eastern Africa. This design has impacted on the programme delivery as follows: administrative and financial management was governed by unclear procedures and demands. This made the life of PCs very frustrating in compliance. Better communication on this would have been helpful in managing expectations on both sides of the engagement.

Stephen Ng’ang’a and Cavin Opiyo are based at Strathmore University Business School, Strathmore University, Kenya.

The continuous learning curve of an academic-cum-manager


Pixabay. CC0 Public Domain.
I joined the university after a ten year teaching position in a private primary and secondary school in Nairobi armed with a bachelors from a local university in education.

A Kenyan undergraduate degree in education comprises of foundational courses in education. The courses cover: philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, and communication of education. In my personal reflections over the years I have seen how disconnected the courses were managed (and possibly still being managed to date). This disconnectedness continues to be the main issue that any dedicated teacher has to learn after studies.

IDS Learning Event

The learning event came at a time that I had been struggling to engage technology in my teaching. The theories that had been covered in the undergraduate course were not aligned with the teaching environment. For a teacher, I felt it was a case of "dive in and swim by self". To complicate the issue further, my role as an academic and manager requires appraising faculty on pedagogy. My walk into the learning event was therefore one filled with great expectation on my ever-expanding horizon in teaching.

The event facilitation, and the general presentation of work arising from the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme, brought out my disconnected undergraduate experience. My personal discovery was how teachers of the theories were also bent on one theory - the behaviourist approach. Secondly it opened my eyes to the reality of how my present faculty is also behaviourist in teaching and in use of technology. Thirdly, that arising out of the learning is my personal struggle to teach using the connectedness of social constructivist approaches. These three learnings are shaping my outlook as the academic manager that I am.

The learning curve

Ever since my undergraduate education, I have held a curious mind on what it is to be a better teacher. This curiosity has made me examine the foundational courses deeply to unravel their value. The "three learnings" I have picked from the learning event are part of the curious academic’s journey into education.

The "three learnings" that I got from this event have awakened my desire to change in the following areas.

  1. My teaching (which I do on part time basis since my employment is a managerial one). The little teaching I do, I have placed my emphasis on becoming more of a connectivist or contructivist teacher. This I have found to be a journey that I will have to undertake for a while.
  2. My role as a manager in a learning institution has to move away from the behaviourist model and adopt some connectivist outlook to solving work related issues. This is important especially where I manage meetings and academics are involved.
  3. I have appreciated the value of time in the learning process. Learning how foundational concepts of theories after many years of practise means other academics might be going through the same. It is therefore important to give faculty time to experience teaching and see the value of growth in the profession.


Professional growth requires a mind that is in constant search of learning. The accidental meeting with AURA has opened my horizons to teaching and research that I have not covered in my undergraduate and post graduate education. The learning event, and the entire AURA programme, has been like a volcanic activity in my growth as a professional. It has provided me with several eureka moments that has given my learning curve a new direction.

Stephen Ng’ang’a is trained teacher with a post graduate degree in education management. He works as an Academic Manager at Strathmore University. In his role he is in charge of the teaching and learning processes of the university. He is extensively involved in the student experience from admission to graduation. This student experience requires the development of faculty capable of delivery. The role of faculty development is what has been his contribution to this programme.

How learning, teaching and research are changing around the world

A personal reflection on our impact on others

It is interesting how, as an institution, we teach and create content for learners; the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme has helped us to reflect back on our impact: the impact of the learning journey of others. Even after so many years of practice, there is always a new way that we could improve and optimize the time offered us by the learners.  It is time to re-examine ourselves, our teaching styles, our approach to research, and how these impact on others; the learners.  As a provider of edu-technology; I ask myself,  how can I demystify the technology, so as to make it accessible to the faculty in a very simple yet profound way?

Therefore, to be in a room with people who have been there before and who can speak to both the faculty and the likes of me was a real honour and the only down side being the number of people who needed to be there!

There is a sense of self-discovery; a sense of continuous improvement, even just from the sharing of the challenges that lie before us. Those challenges that are new, and those that are not so new, yet the solutions, the approach to the solutions, are varied. This speaks to the diversity that was in the room.  This offered different perspectives - the public versus the private, and all of that.

Dealing with new learning environment for adult learners

Yet in all these years of experience, there is yet so much that is new, so much yet unknown and so much yet to learn. This field of education is expanding, and opening up in new ways in different contexts. The presentation on connectedness was a good case in point since it was on what Adult Learners bring to the learning environment, and experience to the table, and how the role of faculty can be as facilitator; not the sage in the room.

In short even, what may appear to have been settled in terms of learning theories have been sufficiently challenged with the newly emerging learning environment - where the people you teach may be more knowledgeable about aspects of the knowledge domain.

Hence the need to facilitate, concretise and formalise knowledge, and to encourage its utilisation as a skill. Encourage learners to learn from each other using social learning and to become a community of learners from remote locations.

Students learn how to take more responsibility for their learning and the teachers; how to prepare material for an independent learner and how to keep the learner engaged even in your absence. Teachers require stills to manage an online community and on how to measure the quality of their delivery as well as new ways to assess the learning outcomes.

Increasing role of technology in education

In terms of the role of technology, and the opportunity and challenges it affords, and how best to navigate the thin line between success and failure. Another important point in how to deal with the shortened feedback loop that has many more touch points.   The notes and curriculum that has worked well in the past may require major modification when offered for a technology mediated learning.

It was good to learn there are several attempts to structure the online delivery in the form of a framework. Admittedly this is still a changing process and going forward, opens a new avenue for research work.

All in all we are living in interesting times and we need to be more purposeful and proactive.

Julius Bwibo, B.COM (1st class, UON), Msc Information Systems (UON), MBA (Strathmore), MAPE (Strathmore), DBA Candidate (UON)

I have worked in the IT industry for over 21 years, I also have experience as a teacher, as a founding faculty member for the IDPM (now the IMIS certification) in Strathmore in 1992. Now I am involved in development: the end to end eLearning offered in Strathmore University, including consulting on how a proposed school of digital learning could be structured. I have travelled and consulted widely in Africa. I am currently working on my Doctoral Thesis having completed Degrees in formal education. business, IT and philosophy.

There is no level at which taking in knowledge is enough

Impressions from the IDS Learning Event which took place at Strathmore University in July 2016

Picture credit: Pixapopz/Pixabay. CC0 Public Domain.
I must say, when I knew the programme was aimed at the lecturers, I really tried to think of how it would help me in any way. Initially I knew that to become a lecturer you must have gone through some type of study, and on completion, become a lecturer, but what I did not know is that even when you become a lecturer, you normally still undergo training here and there to become better at it, and also to learn more!

In the workshops that took place over four days, there were four universities that were participating namely: Kenyatta University (Kenya), Jimma University (Ethiopia), Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences/MUHAS, (Tanzania) and Strathmore University (also Kenya). I was shocked that people who have studied to PHD level would sit down and listen to what someone else had to say. Due to ignorance, I thought that once you have a doctorate degree then ‘you know it all’ but it turns out that no-one knows everything. This got me into great surprise about how the people there were so eager to know and learn more as though they knew nothing.

During the sessions, we (the student volunteers) were encouraged to join in the different groups and to participate. I was an active participant in the first group and since, we were mixed, I learnt quite a lot from it. Some of the things I learnt were that we, as students, have different levels of understanding and ways of taking in knowledge hence it’s the work of the lecturer to make sure that each and everyone understands and to make sure that students are moving at the same pace.

During the first workshop I also learnt that in order to make a lecture interactive, we ought to engage the students in discussions and group work so that they can also share some of their ideas and not get bored.

In the last two sessions, groups were mainly categorized into respective universities and the main topic of discussion was e-learning, the need to implement it, and how to maintain it. (By e-learning I mean using the internet to teach, for example, people who are not in Kenya or Nairobi and want to enroll in Strathmore, e-learning means they are able to do so and can learn from wherever they are through the internet.) I saw the need to be part of a different university so as to learn more about the education system in the respective country, and how their university functions. I was honored to be part of MUHAS located in Tanzania. It came to my understanding that their level of education is not as advanced as the one in Strathmore University. For instance, in Strathmore it is almost obvious that all lectures use the e-learning platform to either post slides, share videos or give assignments while, at MUHAS, the number of lectures using the platform are around two in every department and some departments do not use it at all. This made me appreciate what Strathmore does for us as students and the different opportunities offered by Strathmore and not to take it for granted.

During my free time (that is during meals and breaks) I managed to interact with different lecturers and they were very surprised at how the university functions, and they loved the hospitality of the university in general, the structures of the university and how disciplined the students are. I can proudly say that I do not take lecturers for granted anymore and I now understand why they do what they do and have learnt to appreciate their good work. Just as they were eager to learn more, despite their high level of education, I am also eager to learn more and have learnt that there is no level at which taking in knowledge is enough.

Finally, I would like to give thanks to the organizers of the workshop for giving me the opportunity to be part of the workshop and to also be part of the great experience. 

Linda Nzavi is an undergraduate student at Strathmore University. She is studying for the Bachelor of Business Information technology.

Blend of learning theories and practise

Impressions from the IDS Learning Event which took place at Strathmore University in July 2016

Theory versus Practise

It was a vivid reminder of how learning theories simply laid out (such as constructivism, behavioural and cognitive) can be used in a practical sense in the classroom environment to enhance teaching and learning. It was contended that most students are “passive learners” operating at the surface level. This, it was said, has a lot to do with the teaching style.

It is based on this premise that activity-based learning should be encouraged, and measured by use of continuous feedback (avoid long lectures).

It is clear that if the content is too simple, then this leads the learner to boredom but if the content is too complex, then the learner switches off. This is what is expressed as the zone of proximal development.

Use of technology

Technology is mainly used in a restricted manner, handing in assignments and retrieving notes. The use of technology can be enhanced by identifying variables in the teaching and learning environment that can be used to measure learning activities, and if used effectively, can also predict performance and provide clues to points of intervention to facilitate set learning outcomes. I see this as an appeal to the “affective domain” in teaching, where the term “appreciate” (or favourable feeling toward) the outcome also becomes an objective in itself.

Impact on overall administration

The administrators in general are interested in variables such as retention and pass rates. Factors affecting these variables include personal factors, in this regard, Strathmore University appears to do much more than other peer universities through the mentorship programme. This is not the case with the experience from other universities, especially those with high enrolment numbers and a largely online offering of their academic programmes.

Are we doing enough to encapsulate the above?

In the blended learning project at SBS, for instance, a unit such as Strategic Management (offered by Dr. Fred Ogola) was offered as a blended (online as well as face-to-face sessions) as opposed to his other classes which were purely face-to-face. The difference this time was the use of impactful short video sessions (max. 7 minutes, with enhancements by use of technology), a pause to allow reflection followed with a request to the students to answer some questions (activity); then the next session proceeds, following a similar pattern. This type of approach was well received even with fellow faculty members and is now the prototype of how a blended session ‘should look like’.

What was the success factor?

The faculty was primed and given an opportunity to script his class, precise and to the point. The take away is that a session of 10 minutes would be equivalent to a 45 minute, or more, session in class. The session is controlled, students are able to interact with the content at a self-directed pace (containing the student within the proximal zone of development) and if need be, the student can rewind. At the end of the session, every student is "carried along" in the class. This is an enhancement to the teaching and learning environment. This is evidence of learning theory put into practise in an innovative way.

The above model has also been done with Geoffrey Injeni, by his own words ‘this is wonderful’.

Currently, faculty with the MBA for Executives are being lined up to pursue this approach.

David Shikuku is a consultant at Strathmore University and the technical lead in the Blended Learning Project. He has 20 years work experience spanning many areas including: accounts, logistics and warehousing, sales and marketing, project management and is currently completing his MBA (UoN).  David Shikuku holds a B.Ed (Maths) UoN, Diploma in Information Technology (IMIS), Agronomy (Yara). He has an affinity towards operational excellence helping deliver on overall strategic objectives. 

Learning is not a spectator sport

Many thanks for the opportunity to be part of the IDS Learning Event. Through it I was able to network and learn quite a bit both from the facilitators present and the lecturers from other institutions of learning who were participating in the workshop.

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Previously, I was of the opinion that teaching was a routine job: lecturers were given a course outline and handed content to teach. They then had to pass on the same to students mostly through class lectures. I was familiar, to a small extent, with this. Being at Strathmore University where use of IT (power-point slides and the e-learning system) in teaching is highly embraced and encouraged, I was really interested in knowing which other ways IT could be used in teaching and understanding the process that goes on at the back-end before students receive content to chew on.

During the first session, an important revelation dawned on me: Learning is not a spectator sport. Genuine learning is active and not passive. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers no matter how diligent they are at doing that so as I previously presumed. What a rude shock! I had relied upon the bare minimum stated above for almost the whole of my life. It was evident thenceforth that I was barely scratching the surface of just how much I could internalize and grasp. I learned that when students are actively involved in their learning, they learn more than when they are passive recipients of instruction. You can imagine that I resolved to participate in class more. Then came the resultant problem:  how would I be able to participate constructively in class?

Integration of IT in learning through especially use of dashboards on e-learning sites would be the answer to the problem that dogged me. I found out that through expression of opinions and reading what other students posted on the dashboards, it was possible to refine my thinking and to harness more knowledge from my fellow students than I had previously been doing.

I also came to the realization that, other than just passing on information required by the course outline, lecturers passed on their “industry experience” when teaching. This was an important aspect of the whole learning experience as information was widely available on the internet and anyone could access it, however such experiences gave classroom students an edge over others.

The most important “pickups” for me were the learning theories available to lecturers. I had always thought of learning as a one-directional tool, not knowing that there were several different approaches that taught specific skills. I often wondered what the point of group work assignment was, for example, especially as in some cases one person ended up doing the assignment for everyone else and submitting. (I must say I am guilty of doing this too, as previously the emphasis for me was on the marks available rather than the skills such an assignment was required to confer on me.) However, after learning about behavioral, cognitive and connectivism theories, I now get why different lecturers choose to use a specific techniques or combine several.

Interacting with lecturers from other institutions really made me appreciate Strathmore University even more and the facilities it has availed for student learning. Comparatively speaking Strathmore is a bit ahead of the other institutions. I resolved this had to reflect in my understanding of the coursework and to reflect on the nature of skills I would have at the end of the course. The same is important, especially in light of the current IT-skewed society that we live in.

In conclusion, I had a good time at the conference. The lessons I picked up firsthand will remain etched in my memory for eternity.

Michael Omugah is an undergraduate student studying Bachelor of Commerce at Strathmore University

Networking opportunities and discussions on lecturing and teaching

My experience of the IDS Learning Event which took place at Strathmore University in July 2016.

I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to be part of the IDS Learning Event that was held at the Strathmore Business School in July 2016. Through the workshop, I was able to network with lecturers from Kenyatta University (Kenya), Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) (Tanzania) and Jimma University (Ethiopia) as well as the facilitators from UK.

The workshop opened with an ice breaker introduction session where we all had to introduce ourselves and the institutions we had come from. The participation in the group was the most amazing part - I sat with the Strathmore team and had a discussion about ways lectures could be improved and the teaching methods in their classes so that students do not get bored, or left behind, and the reasons why students choose to come to Strathmore University, and the reasons why students do not attend class, and why students fail.

Before this discussion, I was thinking that teaching was an easy job where lecturers just come to class to give students the course outline and the contents. Then the lecturers discussed the approach they use to interact with the students in order to improve in the class. At Strathmore, IT is the most important aspect of teaching (e.g. the e-learning system and PowerPoint slides). I got a better understanding about the process it takes before we students receive this content.

Raj Patel is an ACCA student studying at Strathmore University