Most public Universities in Nigeria are now returning to normalcy after a long break occasioned by coronavirus pandemic and nationwide strike by academic staff. A significant fallout from the disruption is the adjustment to new normal in educational institutions.
The new normal predisposes several tertiary schools to new teaching and learning experience. In some Universities, especially private ones, classes went online during the hiatus. Other approaches were given to this forced experiment. From home and other remote places, everyone began to undertake teaching and learning over video conferencing apps.
As schools find innovative and cost-effective ways to stay afloat, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye is leaving no stone unturned in coming up with robust measures to meet the yearnings of its teeming students and other stakeholders. The Governing Council has since given approval for the University to fully go digital, and the implementation has commenced in earnest.
Recently, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ganiyu Olatunji Olatunde, spoke extensively about the digitization drive of the University, revealing that necessary technological equipment are being purchased and installed to upscale online teaching in the institution. Of course, the Management’s efforts have drawn applause from various quarters.
Following the recent Federal Government’s directive for reopening of universities, academic activities were poised to pick up again. But due to the second wave of the coronavirus, several institutions have put out notices that lectures are to be held virtually (both synchronous and asynchronous) as students cannot be accommodated on campus at this time.
Here at Olabisi Onabanjo University, physical resumption of students for the 2019/2020 Rain Semester has been halted. Although online academic activities commenced on Monday, 4th January, 2021 at the University and would continue unhindered according to the authorities. “I am to inform you that due to the spike in Covid-19 infections in the country and for the safety of all, students are to continue to stay away from the University campuses until further notice,” a memo signed by the Registrar, Mr Femi Ogunwomoju, had informed students. He enjoined students to continue to attend their lectures (online) accordingly.
”Online lectures (which commenced on 4th January, 2021) will continue unhindered and students are advised to continue to attend their lectures (online) accordingly.
Once again, I implore all students to stay away from all the University Campuses, attend their lectures online and await further instructions from the University Management.”
True to the Vice-Chancellor’s promise, online teaching, which would make tertiary education much easier, more accessible and compliant to safety regulations, has started at OOU. To ensure its overall success, the University Management organised series of training for its academic staff and further engaged the students via their Union leaders.
Actually, the resort to online teaching is one of the anti-COVID-19 measures emplaced by the Management and while lecturers and students are upbeat about the virtual learning environment, many of them have been sharing their new experiences.
Majority of the stakeholders welcomed the new development. They however, observed that there were initial hitches and teething problems which they all agreed will be perfect in the long run. They called on the University Management to address the challenges of internet network in terms of speed, coverage and stability to enable students and their teachers enjoy the in-demand model.
The Head of Department, Microbiology, Prof. Samuel Bankole, while speaking on the subject matter, said the online lecture was well received in his Department and turnout of students was quite high.
He said, “In my Department, things are going on normal. We started the online lecture recently and all courses in the Department were taught. Even this week, lectures will be held. But the only challenge that I could normally see is what comes when you have a new technology. Sometimes when you are talking, the students would tell you they are not hearing you. Even, you hear background noise, maybe from the environment where those students were receiving lectures.
Also, the University network is not getting down to this place, so sometimes our lecturers have to use their personal data instead of going to the ICT. It’s a new technology and I believe, with time, everything will be perfected.
I taught a course last week and in that class they were about 102. The response, so far, has been above 65 percent for all lectures. What I just want to say is that the e-learning is something that we should all embrace. What the University would have to do is to find a way of making the network available everywhere.”
Much of the concerns has already been anticipated and envisaged by the University Management. The Vice-Chancellor, it will be recalled, assured that OOU would soon be one of the best in Nigeria in terms of online teaching. He revealed that the University has made appreciable progress on internet access and electricity availability to enhance the virtual teaching and learning.
According to him, the institution has transited its broadband connection from radio waves to fibre optic cables and hopes of efficient internet services are quite high.
Prof. Olatunde said, “We’ve discussed with the service providers that we are using, we are going to make data more affordable for our students. The service providers have also agreed to contribute to it because they see the goodness of the equipment we are using.
We are going to drop Hotspots all over the campus. The kind of smart boards we are using is such that when a lecturer stands and uses that board, it records him when he is talking, sends it on YouTube and stores it. It converts your speech to word format and the student can go back and read at his leisure.
It monitors student attendance at lectures, when the student comes in and goes out. It gives them assignment online and you can even assess them online. So, it’s a very robust system.”
Further explaining the efforts to improve OOU for digital exploit, the VC said the University has capitalised on opportunity of the pandemic to chart the course for online teaching and make learning more convenient.
Another lecturer, Dr Oluwaseyi Adelowokan, who is the Sub-Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, described the online teaching as a laudable achievement for the University. He urged his colleagues to get themselves acquainted with the features on the University Learning Management System (LMS) and flow with the new normal.
Dr Adelowokan opined, “I want to say the Management has done something wonderful. You know after the COVID-19 is a new normal which everybody just have to flow with. The online teaching is a laudable achievement for the University and for some of us that happen to be alumni of this institution. I would say the students are already eager to be back in class and take their classes. The attendance rate is so high, the lecturers too are now fully integrated. So, all of us have keyed into it and lectures have commenced steadfastly.
Because it’s a new normal, little hiccups are not unexpected. Some of the challenges we have had to do with the infrastructure. We know Rome was not built in a day, you don’t expect us to get there at a time. But the most important thing is for us to begin and we’ve began. We realise there is infrastructure challenge, starting from electricity and the network problem. For instance, while I was taking a class, the network disappeared and there was a little gap before I could reconnect. Though when I reconnected, I still found most of the students waiting at their own end there. Then we connected and I continued my lecture.”
On his part, the Acting Head, Department of Economics, Dr Olukayode Maku, said everyone has to adapt to the new situation. He enjoined students of the University to take the virtual learning with all seriousness. According to him, some of the emerging challenges are being effectively handled internally.
Dr Maku said, “We have a Faculty WhatsApp Group that relates directly with the ICT representative, who when you are teaching and you have a challenge, you can just send a chat and he will reply you that ‘this is what to do.’ That has been helping a lot. Though there are some that may not be easily tackled.
The members of staff were involved in series of training, guiding them to use the virtual teaching and learning arrangement in the University. A number of people have been using that platform to teach. The major challenge has been the issue of uninterrupted network.”
The don frowned at students who have been underutilising the LMS, saying they must demonstrate seriousness and appreciate the investment made by the school to enhance their knowledge.
His words: “Sometimes, when you expect large number of students, like 100, you see only about 60, 65 in class. Even the 60, 65 you see in class, not every one of them will start and finish. Some of them will even leave the class before the end of the lecture, maybe because we are just starting. Perhaps, as time goes on, it will improve.
The good thing about this thing is that it is auto-recording in terms of attendance. So, attendance can be generated at any time. There is no way you would not attend and then you’d say you attended. But that can also be beaten because you can just appear for five, ten minutes, the system would capture you that you have entered and then you leave. However, that is detrimental because if you don’t attend classes, you will have challenges.”
Dr. Phillips Rikhane, of the Department of Geology, posited that the Management was on the right track with the virtual teaching. Rikhane, who spoke on behalf of the Head of Department, aligned with the submissions of many of the lecturers on the network bottleneck.
He said, “I think the Management is on the right course because I used it recently to teach my students and the response rate was quite impressive. But the only limitation is that, sometimes, there would be problem with network. Sometimes, we have to stop for about two, three minutes to reconnect again and again.
The only area we are looking at, because I can only speak for the Department now, is that there are some courses that we need contact with the students, particularly map interpretation. For map interpretation, we need to move from table to table, telling the students this is how to do the contour lines and the likes. And two, the field mapping exercise of the Department. We need to take the students physically to the field to see what we are talking about. As we say in Geology: Geology is best taught on the field”.
On their part, students of the University have commended the Management’s efforts in restoring teaching during the ongoing pandemic. They, however, identified compatibility of mobile phones, poor network in remote areas and epileptic electricity supply as some of the challenges being encountered.
President of the OOU Students Union Government, Comrade Awoyemi Oluwabunmi Michael aka Pablo, who spoke on behalf of the students, said though e-learning has become the new normal, some students may be at disadvantage. He appealed to the University authorities to find a lasting solution to the issues already raised by the students.
“We appreciate the University Management for their efforts. It’s a welcome development that most times they respond to anything relating to student issues. However, the Management should work on all modalities to ensure our students come back on campus early,” he added.
Notwithstanding the fact that it is one of the Universities that have taken giant steps in online teaching in the country and made tremendous preparations for students’ resumption, including protocol advisory against coronavirus, OOU still believes it is not yet time for physical return of students on campus.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic, Prof. Deji Agboola, while giving the rationale behind the Management’s decision, said physical resumption of students was shelved based on medical advice. He said the University needed to be extremely careful following the spike in number of COVID-19 cases.
Agboola said, “The Vice-Chancellor mandated me to chair the meeting with the students. All the Principal Officers were with me, except the Vice-Chancellor. We had the meeting virtually and at that meeting, the students also raised this question. And my answer to this was very simple. You compare yourself with people that are above you, you don’t compare yourself with people you are above. Virtually all schools in Ogun State have resumed with their students on campus. But the question is: what is their population?
We are not saying that the students will not resume physically, we are only saying that we are going to monitor this second wave of Covid. At the appropriate time when we know that our students are safe, we would allow them to come to campus. The University was already prepared for students to resume physically but the problem we are having today is the rate at which this virus is killing people. We need to be extremely careful. It is when the students are alive that they can resume physically.”
Reacting to the network challenges being experienced by some staff and students, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor assured that the Management was on top of the situation. According to him, the issue would be sorted soonest as the Management has taken proactive steps by meeting with service providers and investing in high quality information and communications technology (ICT) facilities.
“The University Management is not unaware of the teething problems. In the next few weeks, the staff and students will be smiling as far as internet is concerned. The measures have reached advanced stage, just waiting for deployment,” he stated.
While highlighting the advantages of online teaching, Prof. Agboola pointed out that it was most suitable during this pandemic era ravaging the world. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor noted that OOU would not relent in its efforts to improve and sustain the virtual teaching.
He added: “I’m happy to inform you that the Vice-Chancellor presented to Council and Council has since approved that we should change from radio wave to optic fibre. We would soon deploy Hotspots to all the campus and that actually shows clearly that we are going to have more efficient internet services.
Again, we were on SMT-1, now, we are moving to SMT-2. We’ve purchased the necessary infrastructure and when deployed, as you are entering the campus right from the gate, you can access our Wi-Fi and it’s going to be more effective. Again, the Council has also approved the purchase of more latest smart boards which will allow us to multi-task.”
The DVC contended that part of the reasons the University had less access to foreign students was because of lack of virtual teaching. This, he stressed, the University Management would do everything possible to address with the fullscale commencement of online teaching in the institution.
His words: “The Vice-Chancellor wants us to even give people all over the world access to what we are doing, just like the last Post-UTME.
You will recall that last year during the Post-UTME, the campus was full with prospective students that wanted to come in. But this year is such that we conducted the Post-UTME without any student around. That’s to show that we are interested in making life easier for everybody and we also want to ensure that even people that are outside the country have access to what we are doing.
The success story is that this Post-UTME that we did, some people did it outside the country. You know when some of them did JAMB, they travelled out and could not come back. And so, they were surprised that they could even do the Post-UTME mock outside the country.”