Monday, November 19, 2012

Why research firm used ICT to rank universities

By EDITH FORTUNATE [email protected]

In May this year, Samsung Electronics launched a Samsung e-learning product designed to support academic delivery at Strathmore University.

That partnership has that brought about the now familiar use of tablets by MBA students at the university.

The students use Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablets linked to a Samsung electronic board, which allows interactive learning. The tablets also enable students to exchange notes with their lecturers even when they are away from class.

The Strathmore experience caught the attention of market and social research firm CPS Research International (CPS), which placed the university in second position in a recent ranking survey of universities in East Africa, based on ICT uptake.

Also ranked in the top 10 in the survey is Mount Kenya University (MKU), located in Thika town, a 40-minute drive to the East of Nairobi.

At MKU, students can connect to the Internet through WiFi when they are on the campus grounds.

These are some of the ICT investments that universities in Kenya have undertaken to improve learning.

According to CPS, ICT can transform the traditional authoritative learning into a more transparent and interactive experience, with the lecturer playing the role of facilitator rather than expert.

In a report on East African universities ranking released early this month, the organisation noted that ICT made learning more conversational.

Further, the concept of a library continues to evolve such that it is no longer a physical reading room but an online virtual location where learners can access different databases in different formats (multimedia).

Other than speeding up access to knowledge, this system accommodates more users.

The use of advanced ICT in learning is not only gaining popularity in institutions of higher learning, but increasingly becoming necessary as demand for university education expands and puts pressure on facilities.

Therefore, the use of ICT innovation is considered to be one of the most creative ways of accommodating the rising and shifting student demands and improving the learning experience.

That is why CPS is convinced that universities that have put ICT to good use deserve recognition, hence its recent ranking using technology as a measure.

Its report, titled CPS International Educational Index 2012, states: “Available evidence shows that the use of ICT in the educational process is spreading faster than any other form of curricula change and innovation in the world.”

The report continues: “The globalisation effect in the world has embraced an overly optimistic view of ICT as the central tool for higher educational change. Moreover, African countries are finding themselves in a world that is being driven by knowledge and technological advancements each single day.”

The Kenyan universities ranked in the top 10 included Strathmore, Multimedia University College, Africa Virtual University, University of Nairobi, Mount Kenya University, and Kenyatta University.

Of the six, two are private (Strathmore and Mount Kenya). Strathmore was placed first in Kenya but second in East Africa after Makerere University Business School.

“Makerere University Business School topped the list because of the (ICT) facilities it has compared to the student population,” says CPS lead researcher Dann Mwangi.

The survey on East African universities was done between April and October 2012. The researchers were keen “to know how universities and other higher education institutions in the region had embraced the use of ICT in teaching and enhancing quality and effective education.”

According to Mr Mwangi, Strathmore is among the private universities that have demonstrated keenness in embracing ICT in learning.

“Strathmore is constantly partnering with ICT firms to embrace technology. An example is their law school, where each student uses a tablet provided by the school for their official work and during lectures,” said Mr Mwangi.

The report notes that the work of lawyers and legal practitioners involves a high level of documentation, information processing, storage, and retrieval.

The information intensiveness of a lawyer’s responsibility is such that tools and technologies that would speed up the documentation, management, and information handling are not only important, but also professionally necessary.

The value of accuracy, correctness, completeness, relevance, and timeliness are characteristics of information which ICT systems generate to meet lawyers’ information needs.

“A need for more accountability, quality, and patient safety are also pushing further changes in the use of ICT tools in clinical care. At the point of patient care, the ability to electronically request and receive diagnostic testing and treatment services has the potential to create significant benefits for the health sector,” says the survey.

Universities like MKU have been able to achieve this by applying ICT in many of their courses, says Mr Mwangi.

The use of ICT in higher education is no longer optional, according to the survey. For all these reasons, schools, universities, countries, and regions are compelled to develop new initiatives that incorporate ICT tools in teaching and learning so that education systems can succeed in linking the new demands of the knowledge society with the new characteristics of learners.

The survey factored in student learning, input, processes and products, impact and development stages.

CPS also looked at institutions’ ICT policies, infrastructure and facilities, faculty, students, career guidance, teaching, structural organisation, research output in ICT schools, and finances.

“The best universities worldwide have been discussed in many forums as those enabling both the students and the faculties’ access to the knowledge-rich ICT resources.

Therefore, the imbalance of educational resources, which ranks some institutions of higher learning into either best or poor, can be addressed by application of ICT through e-educational and e-learning tools and networks as they link students in these categories to virtual classes together,” states the CPS report.

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