As the public university strike enters its 60th day this week and the protagonists dig in deeper into their opposing positions, some parents have wondered if the lecturing process cannot be disrupted through digitisation.
After all, taxi services have been disrupted to give rise to the Uber, Little Cab, Taxify and others to the great benefit of consumers. If Taxify goes on strike, the consumer simply turns on Little Cab or Uber and continues to enjoy their ride.
Basically, the taxi business has been commoditised through technology into what is known as ‘Taxi-as-a-Service’. The service provider does not own a single taxi, but uses software to connect taxi owners to taxi riders.
Taxi owners procure their own vehicles and register onto the software to immediately be accessible to thousands of potential riders. The money paid by the riders is then shared between the taxi driver and the software owners.
Is it possible to have Lecturing-as-a-Service?
Students would then sign up to ‘University-of-Nairobi-as-a-Service’ or ‘Multimedia-University-of-Kenya-as-a-Service’. Once registered, they would find many lecturers offering many units starting at different times.
A fixed class size of, say, 30 students would be specified for science-based, practical courses. The cost of the programme would be standardised for students but eventually there would be premium pay to lecturers whose units are competitive to get into – based on market forces of supply and demand.
The number of students competing to get into a particular lecturer’s class would therefore be a proxy measure for the lecturer’s standing or expertise in that field.
Lecturers offering similar courses but attracting fewer students would therefore be forced to improve their delivery in order to remain competitive in the race to provide ‘Lecturing-as-Service’.
Students would also have options in terms of registering onto alternative lecturer units, in the event they find their favourite lecturer is on strike or unavailable for one reason or the other.
Most of the content would be in digital format and the lecturers would adopt a facilitative rather than the traditional ‘chalk-and-talk’ models that currently prevail in our universities.
Of course, these proposals are not necessarily in my favor, as a current and active don, and are likely to attract fierce friendly fire. However, given that this column has previously explored how other professions are being disrupted by technology, there is no convincing reason why lecturing should be spared.
Most dons may rightly argue against the ‘Lecturing-as-a-Service’ model by saying that education is a basic human need and should therefore not be commercialised and sold to the highest bidder.
LEARNING AND TECHNOLOGY
However, the problem with such an argument is we have been commercialising our education over the past two decades.
Indeed, a few years back, Boni Khalwale successfully argued in Parliament that contrary to public opinion, the University of Nairobi is the largest private university in Kenya – based on the large number of its privately sponsored students compared with government-sponsored ones.
Either way, putting on my technology hat, one cannot avoid to see nor discuss the impact that technology will have on the future of learning.
Indeed, with open learning models like those at MIT, Stanford and other Ivy League universities, that future of learning is already in the present.
That said, being a university lecturer is more than just teaching, and should in fact be more about researching. Research is one of the most neglected aspects of the Kenyan don's brief, with most universities and industries sparing little or no funding for it.
With minimum-wage conditions, the time spared for research is therefore converted into ‘moonlighting’ – where dons move from one university to another hawking their knowledge in the form of extra teaching.
Global research practices are also undergoing fundamental shifts in the light of emerging technologies. It is, however, difficult to discuss the impact of technology on research in Kenya given that even the traditional aspects of research are hardly supported and executed.
Perhaps we will revisit the impact of technology on research practices once the current impasse has been sorted out and dons actively involved in research.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu