Wits virtual learning leap

LEARNING LEAP: Wits launches suite of free online courses. Photo:Stock Image

LEARNING LEAP: Wits launches suite of free online courses.                               Photo:Stock Image

Wits University has become the first university in Africa to develop and offer online courses with global virtual learning platform edX.

The collaboration is the first of its kind between a major international Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) provider and an African university.

Wits will introduce these free MOOCs between August and October, with plans to have short courses and full online degrees available next year.

Director of the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development, and Head of WitsX, Prof Christine Woods, said that the idea to go virtual with education is because the “university aims to increase access to higher education and promote an ‘anywhere, anytime and any device’ approach to learning, as well as increase the institution’s educational footprint locally, nationally and internationally”.

A 2010 World Bank report on financing tertiary education in Africa reported that the total number of students pursuing higher education in Africa tripled between 1991 and 2006, from 2.7-million to 9.3-million. The edX and Wits partnership will help bridge this gap by delivering education opportunities to students on the continent and beyond.

Woods said the online courses will be designed in such a way that learning materials and assessments will be downloadable when the student has internet access allowing them to continue studying ‘offline’.

The three courses offered, namely System Dynamics for Health Sciences, Research Methods: An Engineering Approach and Results-based Project Management: Monitoring and Evaluation will be niche courses that reflect Wits’ expertise in specific areas and respond to particular challenges in the country such as healthcare education.

“This is a pioneering, innovative project that is unlocking new opportunities for South African universities. We will continue to develop course content to enable students from around the world to access our international expertise in fields ranging from the paleo-sciences to infectious diseases and deep-level mining,” said Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of Wits University via a statement released by the institution.

The MOOCs offered by WitsX are free (https://www.edx.org/school/witsx), although a certificate of completion can be purchased for approximately $49 (approximately R720.00 at the current exchange rate).

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What are MOOCs?

Wits will be launching three MOOC courses between August and October this year.  But what exactly are these MOOCs and how do they work? 

edX photo

MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are academic or training courses open to an unlimited number of global participants through the internet.  First introduced in 2008 and later developed to its current form in 2012 by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  On this platform, students have access to filmed lectures, readings, problem tests and some provide interactive user forums.  Wits has chosen the edX platform over other popular platforms like Coursera and Udacity.  EdX differs from the other two as it is a non-profit organisation and runs on open-source software which allows copyright holders to share the software with others at no extra cost. Using edX, Wits joined a group of over 40 universities from all over the world including the University of Toronto, Boston University, University of Tokyo and Hong Kong University.

MOOCs are open to anyone with an access to the internet.  “Access to the internet and a computing device and sufficient time to complete the learning activities and course assessments will be required.  Requirements to register for other online courses will vary according to the course”, said Christine Woods, who is the director for the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development (CLTD) at Wits.

To complete a WitsX MOOC, you need to go to WitsX website, on www.edx.org/school/witsx, choose one out of the three courses that will be on offer this year, click “enrol now” and create their personal account.  Wits has said that students will need to allocate two to four hours per week over six weeks to complete the course.

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