Dr Jenika Gobind; Senior Lecturer, Director of the Online Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration, Wits Business School, University of Witwatersrand

The rush for online programmes has gained momentum over the past years, as public higher education institutions have seen the need to place traditional contact programmes online. Private higher education institutions have commanded a stronger presence in this space. However, in light of various public higher education institutions wanting to extend their reach into teaching and learning spaces beyond their geographical range, online programmes have somewhat presented a logical solution. The rush for online programmes has spurred on the rush to the finish line. Raising many questions relating to quality, value and pedagogical underpinning. The challenge remains, as to which public higher education institution will draw the larger share of the market. Which will present the more comprehensive accredited qualification that more importantly would be recognised and internationally accredited? Not excluding shorter certificate courses that may not necessarily have the frills associated with national or international accreditation. As these non-accredited courses rely on something greater than accreditation. Institutional reputation is what drives these programmes to attract individuals with online capabilities flaunted, public higher education institutions are tempted to outdo one another as they each present their wares. And now in light of a pandemic that threatens society, as we know it, we turn to a new norm, which ideally should entail support and collaboration.

 Faced with a context that defies the convention of chalk and talk and contact teaching. The pandemic forces the education community to resort to new and unconventional teaching methods.  The norm of attending class and engaging with students in face-to-face discussions has dawned on the education community at an unexpected pace. As such teaching online is the only option for higher education to continue with their primary function, as the alternative is unsafe. The rush to deliver face to face courses or qualifications online has taken off with momentum, as each higher education institution is in pursuit of the finish line. The first to present qualifications online, the first to ensure that teaching continues, as the inability to do either may result in institutions not reaching the finish line and failing to deliver on their mandate. Resulting in disgruntled students opting to enrol at institutions that can provide an offering that will allow for the completion of their qualifications. 

In fear to ensure continuity there looms the opportunity to ignore pedagogical underpinnings and to offer teaching that is rushed, poorly constructed and ineffectively executed. Consequently, offering students a sense of education behind the bells and whistles that make online programmes attractive and fashionable. In the wake of the rush to reach the finishing line, there remain many hurdles that online programme developers need to ensure to achieve the first prize. The following needs to be answered before reaching the podium. 

  • Will online programmes be accessible to students who have been forced to return home? 
  • Are our educators familiar with the design principles that allow for an effective online qualification?
  •  Would the accelerated training currently offered to these educators be sufficient? 
  • How are we to ensure that online assessments are effective and fair? 
  • Are we ensuring that notional hours are met? 
  • What of qualifications that require field and lab work, how are these to be delivered and assessed? 
  • Does the phrase that we live in unprecedented times negate poorly constructed programmes and qualifications? 
  • How do we ensure these programmes and qualifications produce well-rounded graduates?   

Finally, in the rush to the finish line, will these questions be answered? If not, are we preparing our students for failure?  The challenge is not to get to the finish line, but to latch on to each other’s shoulders and to support one another to the finish line.