With respect to the educational sector, the question is: “Have African universities moved to the fourth industrial revolution?” Simply put, what do we do in our classrooms that reflects the fourth insuatrial revolution?Prof. Ezra Maritim
Reconstructed Classroom: The New Learning Architecture
The world has gone through four industrial revolutions: the first was the coal age; the second the electricity age; the third the electronics age; and the fourth the internet age or the age that is now being referred to as Internet of Things (IoT).
Each industrial age transformed the socio-economic activities and hence the lives of the people. Unfortunately, the African continent was not an active participant and beneficiary in the first, the second, and the third industrial revolutions. Invariably, at the onset of the 21st Century, the World Bank asked one challenging question: “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?”
While the Bank answered this question in the affirmative, one wonders why the World Bank focused on Africa. Two trajectories seem to emerge: first, in the past centuries, there were low North-South technology transfers; and second, the fact is that Africa entered the 21st Century as one of the poorest continents and hence it is expected to catch up during this fourth industrial revolution through maximisation of the use of digital technology in all sectors, including, but not limited to, business and education.
With respect to the educational sector, the question is: “Have African universities moved to the fourth industrial revolution?” Simply put, what do we do in our classrooms that reflects the fourth insuatrial revolution?
The fourth industrial revolution classroom architecture is no longer that of the earlier industrial ages. The readiness and the activities of this Internet of Things era has several manifestations, including the delivery of teaching and learning. The new classroom architecture is multifaceted and includes the utility of several platforms to achieve successful delivery of learning, namely: video conferencing such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams; e-modules; Learning Management System; YouTube; and WhatsApp. These are the faces of the fourth industrial revolution.
From a sociological point of view, a norm is an expectation or a rule that can only be broken under special circumstances without sanctions or penalties being imposed. In the past one year, educational institutions have gone through a significant transformation in the way of teaching and learning. The institutions were forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to intermittently break learning and the teaching norms that have been in practice for centuries.
The familiar learning territory was shattered. Learners and tutors moved from in-person learning and teaching to the online learning environment. This movement involved a number of changes, including breaking of the traditional learning norms, reconceptualisation of the classroom, and development of new skills and dispositions for learning and teaching.
While our universities have adopted a new teaching and learning architecture, benefits and full utilisation of this architecture are yet to be realised. In this new learning architecture, learners and tutors have encountered both bright and dark spots. The bright spot is embracing the flipped classroom methodology. The dark spots, identified by the first-time online learners in a survey carried out by the School of Distance Learning in January 2021, were basically extrinsic barriers. They included the following: a digital divide – a situation whereby the learners came from diversified backgrounds with respect to location or place of residence and family socio- economic status impairing their accessibility and affordability to internet; poor or unreliable power and internet network connectivity; techno- cultural adaptation – technology comes with a culture that tutors are yet to adapt with respect to the provision of feedback to learners on assignments; access to technology-involved barriers arising from inability to own a laptop, tablet or a smartphone; inadequate training and preparation whereby students were using a computer for the first time; isolation and lack of peer/group interaction on problem solving; lack of appropriate software f o r solving mathematical and chemistry problems; assignment of family chores and responsibilities consumed learning time during the day; and interruption of concentration by such platforms as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The only intrinsic barrier identified by the students that inhibited them from effective participation in online learning is low familiarity with this mode. This is the need for more exposure to online practices and experiences.
In buttressing the University to be more attuned to the activities of the fourth industrial revolution, the School of Distance Learning has ensured that staff and the students are facilitated on technology-enhanced learning through the development of new skills and dispositions for teaching and learning. The restructured classroom, anchored on the use of ICT in teaching and learning, will be a familiar learning territory as the learners build confidence, acquire more experience, and develop positive attitudes to assimilate and accommodate its benefits for now and in the future.