Following on from the very successful Partnerships for Enhanced and Blended Learning East Africa (PEBL-EA) project, SEDA is delighted that the PEBL-WA project began in September 2021 and will last for two years ending August 2023.
The ACU is the lead partner on PEBL-WA, and SEDA is one of the technical partners. In addition to SEDA, there are four other technical partners: The Commonwealth of Learning (CoL), whose remit is to lead on quality assurance matters; the National Universities Commission (Nigeria); the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission, and the National Open University of Nigeria. The National Commissions’ involvement is critical in ensuring that outputs from PEBL can be shared across the region (and indeed, the continent) with minimal red tape as the project progresses.
The regulatory bodies undertake policy audits in Ghana and Nigeria, whilst the university partners are the recipients of the training. During the second year those trained become the experts and pass on their knowledge to colleagues in a cascading approach. This strengthens capacity once the project is completed.
Aim of the project and partners:
The main aim of the project is to create a partnership across 12 African Universities in 2 countries to allow the permeable use of modules between them. Together with the technical partners above, the following universities are partners in PEBL-WA:
SEDA’s role in the project:
SEDA’s specific role in the project and our most significant contribution centres on the professional development of university partners’ nominees and the growth of an autonomous community.
At the start of PEBL-EA, the SEDA team designed and developed an online course called Developing Blended Learning (DBL) which is still at the heart of the offer, duly adapted to the needs of the current cohort of participants. DBL has two pathways: the core pathway leads to the SEDA named award, Supporting Technology-Enhanced Learning (STEL); successful participants on theextended pathway (which builds on the skills and knowledge gained during STEL) have submitted claims for the SEDA named award, Developing People and Enhancing Practice (DPEP).
There are 5 Outputs in the PEBL project although historically we have only been associated with Output 3 which is all about DBL. Ruth Brown became involved in the reviewing of MDF modules at the end of DBL1 which following DBL1-DBL3 has now become officially in SEDA’s remit.
During DBL4 (the delivery of DBL during PEBL-WA), six students from PEBL-EA who had been awarded STEL during DBL3 joined the leadership team as tutors for the PEBL-WA STEL participants. Their tutoring activity, along with the delivery of Carpe Diem workshops in 3 East African universities and the study of 4 units that explore academic development from theoretic and practical perspectives, prepare them to make a claim for DPEP. The last of the 3 workshops took place the week of 5 September 2022, and their claims are due to be submitted in two weeks’ time.
A highlight of their DPEP activity was the joint development of a (successful!) motivation to the ACU to fund the workshops. While very modest pots of money were sought (£400/workshop), the process of motivation was a great learning curve for all the tutors.
The 6 tutors each took responsibility for six STEL participants. The STEL claims went to an Exam Board on 11 August. 30 claims were successful, 4 were not submitted (but will be ahead of the next Exam Board in December), two were deemed not yet successful (but both participants wish to submit to the next Exam Board).
A new inclusion in the STEL course for DBL4 was the research into the needs of the university, colleagues and students with regard to blended learning, the results of which informed the development of an Action Plan to deliver the aims of the PEBL-WA project. In turn, this Action Plan was presented to Influencers in each university with the specific intention to raise the profiles and enhance the reputations of the participants in their institution. They are presently arranging a follow-up event to keep the Institutional Influencers informed of what has happened since the January presentation. A long-standing strike by ASUU in Nigerian Universities means that Nigerian participants need to consider alternative ways to deliver the project aims in view of environmental influences.
The 30 successful participants have now started on the DPEP pathway. Claims for the DPEP named awards are due to be presented to an Exam Board in mid-December.
Outputs and activities:
The outputs are as follows:
There are several activities including the following:
Project management and administration:
Following a change in project management Elaine Fisher is now Project Manager overseeing the management of the project from SEDA’s perspective and Roz Grimmitt is the Project Administrator handling the administration and Canvas.
Highlights to date:
The workshop in Abuja had three main aims:
• To create face-to-face space for bonding of the group;
• To model good practice in presenting workshops – or to “practice what we teach”; and
• To teach the DPEP participants how to run Carpe Diem workshops.
A smaller workshop for 7 local teams from Abuja universities on the 21st and 22nd of July – a workshop-within-the-workshop – had the following intentions:
• To create a place where DPEP participants could co-facilitate a Carpe Diem workshop; and
• To offer local teams the opportunity to learn how to repurpose existing modules for online delivery.
Although the ACU were planning for a joint Network meeting and training event in July, this had to be postponed until later on in the year due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation. The face-to-face workshop went ahead and was held from 19-22 July 2022.
Reflecting on the location of the workshop in Abuja it became obvious to those delivering the training that it had been pivotal in the bonding process. There was no home advantage whereby people could turn off and go home or go into their office and answer emails or be distracted by work.
Results thus far:
The DBL4 Exam Board was held on the 11th August and 29 out of the 36 were successfully awarded their STEL claim, which is a successful outcome. 5 will go forward to the December Exam Board if claims are received by the required date and 2 will be dealt with through Chair’s actions owing to requested additional minor supplementary evidence. (See the updated situation above.)
The tutors who supported the face-to-face workshop attended the Exam Board and there were positive comments provided by them concerning the opportunity this provided to observe the whole process.
The External Examiner reported that the feedback on the claims was ‘diligent, detailed and shows real commitment to students’ learning and that overall it is great to see what is being achieved’. He thought that the ‘level of feedback showed real commitment to student development, influence and change’ and that there was ‘consistency in format for those completed and not completed’. It was clarified that the purpose of the Exam Board is to both verify individual awards as well as to discuss the process. In her comments to the Exam Board Ruth explained that there was consistent participation and that the tutors played an important role in building a community. She also fed back that prior to and during the face-to-face workshop there were some problems due to communications issues and technological difficulties.
Feedback from the university partners:
There has been very positive feedback about the Carpe Diem training from university partners including comments such as “the workshop was well planned and perfectly executed”, “very good programme”, “Ruth did a good job of ‘gingering everyone”, “seamless and a wow event for all”, and “play and learning combined and all actively engaged”.
Reflections on the project – updated provided by Elaine Fisher and Ruth Brown, 13th September 2023
Some two weeks into Developing Blended Learning 4 (DBL4), it became clear that a significant number of participants on project teams were not known for their engagement with blended learning. We had faced this in PEBL-EA at both ends of the “spectrum” – senior managers and (in one case) a teaching assistant with two months’ experience – and by DBL3 had identified that the “ideal” participant was probably early- to mid-career with a particular interest in online and blended learning. In the rush to go-live, the profiles of the participants had not been made available and so, two weeks into the course and, taking into account what we had learned on PEBL-EA, Ruth decided to press the pause button.
The institutional contacts at each university were asked to review the post project aims and to consider whether the people initially selected to participate in DBL4 would realistically be able to achieve these objectives, given their day jobs. As a result, nine “Newcomers” joined the cohort. Some senior managers elected to retain their places on DBL4, and a significant number of these faced challenges to stay the course.
Calling “time-out” on the course was not lightly (or easily) taken. Subsequent experience vindicates the decision.
Influencing the Influencers
A challenge for the project that was highlighted by one of the participants – from the senior management team in her university – was that many of the participants were in roles which may not have allowed them to gain a reputation for the skills that they were working to acquire, particularly in educational development roles. The conversation that raised the issue took place as Ruth was looking to create a meaningful activity for the Oldtimers (see Pressing pause) while onboarding the Newcomers.
An interim activity was developed with the aim of raising the profile of PEBL-WA and reputation of everyone on the PEBL teams. Having conducted interviews with colleagues and brainstormed ideas for ways that they might raise their own profiles and reputation as facilitators of repurposing material for blended (or online) delivery (Unit 5A), each institutional team developed an Action Plan to achieve the project outcomes (Unit 5B). The Guidelines for presentation to Institutional Influencers scaffolded the process. Without exception, the leadership in the universities recognised the need to support their teams proactively.
After the core pathway Exam Board, each team organised a follow-up session with Institutional Influencers to bring them up to date with progress on the project – and to be the event at which their STEL named awards were presented to them (see Guidelines for 2nd presentation to Institutional Influencers). A third event was organised at the end of DBL4, and was once again the opportunity to remind the “great and the good” of their universities who they were, what they were doing, and to be presented with their DPEP named awards.
Participant-run Carpe Diem workshops
One of the documented weaknesses of the cascade model of training is that there can be a distortion of the message (or messages) as it flows down the levels (Mpabulungi, 1999). It is a bit like the “broken telephone” game – what is transmitted from the first speaker comes out as gobbledygook at the end of the chain. In the cascade model, what is taught at the top is often very different to what is received in the lowest tier of the training pyramid.
In the PEBL project, the cascade process is more open-ended, allowing for multiple iterations of the cascade, as well as what might be called “salmon runs” – lanes that go against the flow where people downstream can spawn new knowledge upstream. So, skills (particularly) and knowledge are more fluid than in the traditional cascade model.
Introducing agility to the model, however, in no way mitigates the possibility of distortion that plagues the conventional approach. In fact, there is a possibility that it has the potential to aggravate the phenomenon as there are more players at each level, and multiple pathways for knowledge and skills transfer.
In the PEBL cascade, the aim is to develop materials, delivered online or via a blended format, that coach students to master the learning outcomes of any given module. The route to that aim, in the first instance, is to prepare participants to grasp the why of blended learning (including creating blended learning modules) and, in the second, to support colleagues to repurpose their own existing modules for online/blended delivery.
While PEBL participants are expected to master a complex mix of theoretic and practical tasks along the journey, they need to have a tool that their colleagues can use to scaffold the repurposing process with minimal consideration of the underpinning pedagogy: a tool that focuses on the how, rather than the why; a tool that minimises the possibility of distortion.
Carpe Diem, a quick-prototyping method of recreating existing materials for blended delivery, was made for such a situation as this. Grounded in Prof Gilly Salmon’s Five Stage Model of E-Learning (2022), and six sequential steps, the Carpe Diem process (Salmon, n.d.) is designed to enable teaching teams to remodel materials during a two-day workshop. With an action plan as a key takeaway from the workshop, a committed team can realistically have a repurposed module ready-to-go in as little as a month or two.
As part of the PEBL-WA project, each institution was expected to run at least one Carpe Diem workshop in their own university. (Partner universities were funded to organise a maximum of two workshops, subject to certain criteria, and some have gone on to arrange further Carpe Diem events at their own expense.) Protracted industrial action in some Nigerian universities proved a challenge to this requirement, and several institutions ran workshops for colleagues at neighbouring universities who were not affected by the strike.
The DPEP organisers of the workshops were congratulated by their colleagues on the way that they managed to make learning meaningful. And also fun.
During the KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) workshop, Ghana was playing South Korea in the World Cup. Instead of ignoring this fact, the organisers played parts of the game during breaks, thus energising the whole experience. At Ebonyi State University (EBSU), one of the participants had a birthday, and it was a lovely touch that the team marked that occasion with a cake.
None of the fun detracted from the purpose of the workshops. There is plenty of evidence that the workshops “worked”. At EBSU, Ruth and David each delivered short presentations at the two workshops that were offered.
The University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) provided photographic evidence of people working hard … in PEBL-WA T-shirts (not sure of the provenance … but undoubtedly evidence of initiative!) They also sent a video of the materials that they provided to participants (and attributed the idea to Ruth!)
It is important to understand how the training relates to what the participants are learning on the two pathways – STEL and DPEP. Carpe Diem workshops are run by DPEP “students”, using the Carpe Diem quick-prototyping method of repurposing material for online/blended delivery. Each DPEP workshop organiser draws on what they have learned in the core pathway of DBL4 as they facilitate the participants’ progress. The quick-prototyping method does not require in-depth understanding of the underlying pedagogy – that comes from the organisers’ skills and knowledge.
After the Carpe Diem workshops, it is important that each participant feeds back to university management what they have been undertaking. Every institutional nominee should gain recognition from their university. This appears to be happening given the feedback that the partners provided at the latest Steering Group meeting. They confirmed that they are doing what they can to promote morale for participants and are supporting them to ensure success.
Next, local conditions have led to unexpected challenges.
Lastly there has been some encouraging feedback from participant universities and the course leader:
Overall view of the project
A particularly positive indication of how well this project has been understood and received is the way that some of the institutions have invited PEBL colleagues from other universities to join their in-house team to lead their Carpe Diem workshop. Using some of the funding available to run the workshops they have asked for (and received) assistance from their fellow participants.
In addition, KNUST asked Ruth to present 3 sessions on servant leadership at their Online Leadership Development and Coaching Workshop for student leaders. All the sessions went very well with some positive feedback. Possibly the most powerful contribution to the conversation was a quote from Bishop Dale Brenner: “If serving is below you, then leadership is beyond you.” It really made everyone stop and think about their own leadership style.
Elaine Fisher (Project Manager) & Ruth Brown (Developer and Trainer)
Mpabulungi, A. (1999). Assessment of the Cascade Training (Uganda Working Brief Series). Uganda: UNCDF.
Salmon, G. (2022). The Five Stage Model. Accessed from https://www.gillysalmon.com/five-stage-model.html on 21 March 2023.
Salmon, G. (n.d.) Carpe Diem – a team based approach to learning design. Accessed from https://www.gillysalmon.com/carpe-diem.html on 21 March 2023.
Suzuki, T. (2008). The effectiveness of the cascade model for in-service teacher training in Nepal. In: IMSCI 2008 – 2nd International Multi-Conference on Society, Cybernetics and Informatics, Proceedings. Florida, USA: International Institute of Informatics and Systemics.