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Why MKU is fine-tuning and
enriching the DIBL module

 Students are finding blended learning at Mount Kenya University (MKU) an increasingly exciting and enriching experience.

The university’s Directorate of Distance and Institution Based Learning (DIBL) is helping them sharpen their computer literacy skills, and is as well granting them greater access to the online portal. The technical support staff help students navigate the platform. DIBL Director, Prof Pamela Ochieng, confirmed last year that the university had embarked on increasing access to the student portal, targeting 100 percent by December 2017 from 75 percent. Since September 2017, the directorate has been implementing procedures and schedules on the training of staff and students on the use of the digital platform. “My vision as the director is to improve the quality of education offered, possibly through benchmarking and collaboration, both locally and internally,” Prof Ochieng said.

The university created the DIBL Directorate in October 2016 to offer blended learning and distance education programmes. It serves students who are separated from their lecturers by time and space. The university ensures that the distance learning provision is of equal quality to classroom study in terms of teaching methods and scholarly rigour. This is in accordance with conventional provision to ensure satisfactory delivery of programmes and provision of support and assessment of students. MKU has put in place the necessary administrative, technical and ICT infrastructure to support digital and distance learning. The delivery modes include traditional distance education by correspondence courses, online provision and interactive CD ROMs, e-learning and blended learning to open learning centres, and face-to-face sessions.

A significant element of flexibility, selfstudy and learning support is an integral part of this mode of delivery, which relies on a mix of multimedia technologies, such as e-learning, video conferencing, internet and print. E-learning technology creates web-based learning and virtual classrooms. Audio technologies entail the use of pre-recorded lectures and video conferencing. These technologies enhance interactive learning. Prof Ochieng says the learners should be equipped with modern ICT skills for the country to achieve the Vision 2030 goal of mainstreaming information technology in schools. It is embedded on the philosophy of education globally.

The MKU Directorate of DIBL aims to:

• Expand access to higher education;

• Provide an alternative way of 2018  obtaining quality academic qualifications to those who cannot attend  the face-to-face mode of learning;

• Allow students to access education without changing areas of residence;

• Reduce the cost of education;

• Allow the university to offer teach- ing that is appropriate to the digital age;

• Enable the university to build on its international reputation by recruiting students worldwide; and

• Enrich students’ perspectives and learning experiences.

Prof Ochieng notes that the DIBL has generally improved the teacher training programme in Kenya and globally. The programme includes teaching practice, which is carried out during the students’ final session. The students are assessed by both the internal and the external examiners.

Expanding ODEL

Mount Kenya University (MKU), in its quest to accommodate the current and emerging trends in distance education, has broadened the scope of its Open, Distance and Electronic Learning (ODEL) to include Distance Learning (pure online) and Distance and Institutional Based Learning (DIBL). The ODEL is responding to the growing interest in alternate approaches to distance learning that have created a convergence of distance and on-site study. These learning environments ensure students on site and students at a distance have much the same learning experiences.

The university aims to enable thousands of professionals to conveniently access higher education even as they attend to work and other commitments, says ODEL Principal-designate Susan Nyokabi.

“With ODEL, we bring learning to the people. Anyone with an electronic gadget that has internet connectivity – smart phone, computer, laptop or tablet – should be able to access higher education,” she asserts.

Last August 2017, the university beefed up the ODEL directorate, which has since lined up several initiatives to enable many more qualified students pursue higher education. The Distance and Institution-Based Learning (DIBL) is a key component of ODEL. It is headed by Prof Pamela Ochieng. DIBL directly supports the School of Education by training teachers face-to-face during holidays and also online.

Thirty per cent of learning is through face to face and 70 per cent is via the online platform. Ms Nyokabi says the university is equipping ODEL lecturers to facilitate video lectures, Skype and video conferencing.

It is also improving its website to make it more interactive so that students are able to apply, register, pay fees, communicate with their lecturers and receive feedback more easily and effectively. “We aim to minimise the need for students to visit our campuses to seek help when they can be assisted online from wherever they are,” Ms Nyokabi says. The university uses the Sakai system, considered one of the best electronic learning platforms. It is user-friendly.

Varsity sharpens ODEL experience

Quality learning and efficient service delivery are the ultimate goals of the series of initiatives Mount Kenya University (MKU) has embarked on at its Open, Distance and Electronic Learning (ODEL) directorate. ODEL Principal-designate Ms Susan Nyokabi expresses optimism that progressively, the university will have significantly transformed the ODEL platform to be of greater benefit to its students.

The university plans to increase the number of ODEL degree programmes (Bachelors and postgraduate) from the current 33 to 48 within the next one year. “We want to enhance service delivery so as to reduce complaints,” she adds, indicating that the university plans to achieve this through timely resolution of students’ queries. Ms Nyokabi reveals that ODEL has started a tracking system to establish the status of each student’s email and resolve any reported incidents. Two mobile phone lines have been set aside to serve ODEL students who need immediate feedback on their concerns.

These lines are: 0702041042 and 0724205417. A third line will be introduced. Further, the university is improving the website to make it friendlier and to allow users quick access to all relevant information. A server dedicated to the students’ portal has been put in place to ensure students enjoy smooth interactions with the learning platform, says the ODEL head. A review of the modules to improve quality, enrich content and capture new changes wrought by modern technology and evolving trends is ongoing.

The ODEL modules are developed in line with the MKU curriculum that are approved by the Commission for University Education (CUE). “We are also decentralising ODEL services to all campuses so that students are not served only from the main campus in Thika,” Ms Nyokabi adds. “Students can then choose an examination centre closest to them. Diaspora students sit examinations at the Kenyan embassy in their respective countries. Locally, they can choose an MKU campus or centre they can access conveniently.” Besides a dedicated team at the Directorate of ODEL, MKU has strong academic schools and departments that provide mentorship, guidance and support to ODEL students.