The School of Built Environment and Development Studies (BEDS) recently hosted a workshop on setting up a virtual classroom, led by Community Development lecturer, Dr Zifikile Phindile Shangase.

The workshop on Virtual Classroom Africa was a collaboration project between BEDS and the English Department at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Botswana (UNIBO). The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) and is realised through setting up a virtual classroom for co-teaching of research methods and academic writing for postgraduate students. 

Dean and Head of the School, Professor Ernest Khalema said, ‘This is important for the School since it enhances student learning, links with our strategic goals and fits into the framework of decolonisation and transformation.’

Under discussion at the workshop were tools to assist students’ collaboration, assessment tools applicable in virtual classrooms, tools for holding effective live lectures and Moodle tools that can be used in this venture.

‘This workshop was relevant for staff as the virtual classroom is at the planning stage,’ said Shangase. ‘We held the workshop to determine available resources within our learning management system and whether we need to supplement them with any web 2.0 applications that would allow students to create content, collaborate, share and communicate effectively with each other and also have lecturers across the regions.’

She believes the project will contribute towards building capacity and professional development and sustainable partnerships for staff and students at UKZN and UNIBO to use technology effectively in enhancing the quality of teaching research methods and academic writing.

‘This project will lead to the possibility of technology enhanced distance supervision support for postgraduate students between the two universities. The use of ICT technologies by students will also be enhanced because the critical skills set is essential in the 21st Century,’ said Shangase.

Dr Naledi Kgolo, a collaborator from the University of Botswana, added: ‘Collaborating with UKZN on this project showcases the need for comprehensive student learning. It is evident that there is a need for collaboration between African countries.’

Words and photograph: Melissa Mungroo