E-Learning and E-Library as educational imperative for rapid scale up: the Case of MEPI Ethiopia
MEPI Addis Ababa University, Dr. Miliard Derbew and Netsanet Animut
MEPI Addis Ababa University is implementing a combination of Moodle Learning Management System, eGranary Digital Library System, and a multi-link Smart Classroom to support the teaching/learning process. The three systems are implemented to work hand in hand in such a way that courses recorded in the smart classroom can be linked with the curriculum in Moodle and reference materials available in the eGranary. The Moodle learning platform is implemented as the main communication platform and used for the implementation of the curriculum. The eGranary Digital Library is an off-line information store that provides instant access to over 30 million Internet resources without a need for Internet access. It delivers instant access to a wide variety of educational resources including video, audio, books, journals, and Web sites. A smart classroom is a classroom that is equipped with smart boards and conferencing equipment, allowing the professor to teach using a wide variety of media and interact with students seating in different classrooms.
AAU is continuing well with its planned efforts to ensure quality of teaching while coping with large numbers of students (enrollment increased from 100 to 400 in the last four years). There is a strong recognition that it can hardly be met without extensive use of ICTs to support the teaching/learning and research endeavors. As a result, MEPI AAU has been working to put in place a full range of information communication technology that support and promote self learning, create learning opportunities for large numbers of students on and off campus, and be suitable also for distance education. Apart from being open source software (no license fees), which can be downloaded from the Internet, the Moodle platform offers many features that one could expect to use in a learning management system. In the instructor’s module, professors can give lessons, add contents for a course, ask and answer questions and release homework and feedback. Students are provided with the ability to regularly communicate on new events and gain updated information about the course, collaboration, and discussion forums. A quiz module is available as part of the system and can be used for student self-examination. Students’ can also check the grade obtained for a specific test and receive online feedback. Moreover, availability of local experience and support for Moodle within the university as well as partner schools can also be considered as a major rationale for selecting Moodle.
Access to key textbook and reference materials has been a challenge for medical students. The medical library consists of very few reference materials and textbooks, which are mostly outdated (average textbook to student ratio of 1:25). The Internet connectivity at AAU is challenged by poor bandwidth and highly interrupted connection. The eGranary Digital Library offers a very good solution given the amount of information that it contains and its capability to provide instant access to Internet resources without going through the Internet. Its integration with Moodle is also another important consideration for our decision to use eGranary.
Small class teaching has been introduced at AAU’s medical education system to maintain quality of medical graduates in the face of large influx of students. To this effect, small group learning opportunities were supported and initiated by MEPI and the programme has been paying remuneration for excess load, resulting from the introduction of this scheme. A total of over 2000 lecture equivalent extra hours teaching has been provided every month starting from April 2011. As faculty put in more hours into teaching, support in the form of extra load payment was made available by MEPI. The MEPI team felt that, although it is a very good temporary solution it is unsustainable and a huge burden for the faculty. As a result, the interconnected smart classroom solution is implemented to run parallel sessions at the same time. Although it is at the early stage of implementation to see the impact of this program, it is believed that the technological support would result in flexibility of learning for students, financial saving for the school, and time saving to the faculty.
eGranary is configured in web-server connected to local area network (LAN) that can serve all users connected to the LAN. It has a built-in proxy and search engine that emulates the Internet experience and built-in tools to upload local materials. Moodle is also embedded as one of the collections of eGranary. This integration helped us to create links between course content and reference materials available in the eGranary.
The main smart classroom consists of a unit connected to two other classrooms and it has a capacity to be connected up to 7 multi-directional classrooms at once. This gets us three connected classrooms with the "command center" being one of them. We have also plans to have up to seven fully interactive classrooms. These units are also linked with our storage server and gives us the possibility to record any lecture and also do live webcasting to up to 500 people at once. Once the lectures are captured, it can be viewed by anyone who has access to the system anywhere on our campus.
The three systems are being implemented in partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Although it has been a challenge so far, attempts are being made to build adequate local capacity to run and maintain the systems. MEPI AAU is also investing a lot to interconnect the campus (wired and wireless) and upgrade bandwidth (from 6 to 100 mbps) of the Internet connectivity. Another challenge for the program implementation was lack of adequate access to computing resources. To alleviate this problem, MEPI has established two computer labs with a capacity of 120 and 30 computers, initiated laptop loan services, and on the process of providing tablets for students.
The entire necessary infrastructure for eLearning is now in place and early signs of usage from faculty and students are encouraging. The next step is scaling up the use of e- resources and the infrastructure in place. To do that, faculty development strategy on eLearning and instructional design is being drafted. It is also important to engage the medical education team in selecting courses that are suitable for electronic delivery. A fully functional eLearning studio is also under establishment to support faculty in their preparation for electronic course content and delivery. It is also planned to identify indicators to measure the impact of the eLearning program on quality of education, reduction of student attrition, saving faculty time, saving cost, etc…