Although the university will “move heaven and earth to complete the academic year”, online learning remains a challenge for some lecturers and students.

Moving Wits University to online lectures from Monday, April 20 has proved to be a difficult task despite efforts from students, staff and the institution to smooth over the transition from face-to-face learning.  

According to Professor Anne Fitchett, a lecturer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, lecturers have been working to create various online resources for students such as supplementing lectures with narrated slides and chat rooms where lectures can answer questions from students.

These resources have been posted on the Wits online learning platform Sakai, which is now a zero-rated site, allowing students to access it at no data cost. 

Students’ reception of the online learning method are mixed. Although as Ntokozo Dhlamini (21), a third-year student in education, said: “I commend lecturers for making the lectures as interactive as they can with the narrated slides.” However there are still various challenges that impact the online teaching and learning experience.

It is a bit impersonal; difficult to identify students at risk who don’t come forward with their problems,” said Fitchett. These sentiments were echoed by first-year BA general student, Michaela Scholtz, who bemoaned the fact that not all students have strong enough internet connections, and cannot participate in the online tutorial forums. “We cannot have [proper] tutorials. Talking to others is a very easy way to learn,” she said.

One of the students struggling to connect is Tshimangadzo Mpilo (22), who is in the second year of BSc biological science. He said he had not received his 30GB of data from Wits, and had not been able to contact the institution for a solution. 

Other students, such as 21-year-old Lish Marimane, in third-year of BCom accounting, will struggle with internet access even after receiving the 30GB from Wits. “Network is bad in Utah (a village in Mpumalanga). The only place to get a decent connection is under a [specific] tree outside my house,” she said.

Although the transition to online learning has presented some difficulties, students are ready to do whatever it takes to complete the academic year. As Dhlamini put it: “The university made it clear that they’ll move heaven and earth to complete the academic year. We as students need to manage our time for the sake of the academic year.”

At the time of this article’s publication, the university administration had not yet responded to Wits Vuvuzela’s attempts to contact them, because they were experiencing a high volume of calls and emails.

FEATURED IMAGE: A Wits student navigates the Wits-e website where online learning is taking place. Photo: Tshepo Thaela