COVID-19 poses a challenge to the higher education landscape at a magnitude similar to the emergence of technology-supported online instruction. It is thus no coincidence that the solution to this poser lies – in part, at least – in higher education’s commitment to foster online teaching and learning.
Indications are that all universities in South Africa need to move away from traditional teaching methods to online instruction in an attempt to see the 2020 cohort through the current academic year. However, several factors including the cost of data, the technical unfamiliarity of interacting with virtual content, and socio-economic issues, make it problematic for many academics and students to switch completely. The question at a recent workshop was: Are we ready to teach entrepreneurship online?
The Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) – a body under Universities South Africa’s (USAf) Community of Practice (CoP) Entrepreneurship Development in Academia – hosted the nation-wide Zoom workshop under the theme: Sharing Practice to Move Online with Entrepreneurship Teaching Methods and Student Experiences.
The debate involved 108 participants representing 17 South African universities with those involved getting the opportunity to share experiences and brainstorm the new socioeconomic realities of our current situation. National convener for the CoP Dr Thea van der Westhuizen said that the online workshop was a first-of-a-kind, initiated and hosted to a large audience of entrepreneurship academia and university operational staff from different incubators, accelerators and entrepreneurship service-desks.
UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Professor Sandile Songca, and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, discussed the ‘bigger picture’ of re-mobilising an institute to online platforms.
Songca and Ramjugernath outlined three possible scenarios facing UKZN in the wake of COVID-19:
- Students will be able to return to normality (contact on campuses) after the lockdown period of 35 days (ie on or around 30 April, 2020).
- Students are not able to return on the 30 April (or any time before 4 May 2020), and that it may be June, July or August before contact lectures resume.
- Students are only able to return to campus after 3 August, 2020, or not at all in 2020.
Ramjugernath said going online was a must, and that sustainability of universities nation-wide depended on this happening. He highlighted key barriers to this being poor internet reception and students both in South Africa and in many other countries throughout the world, not being sufficiently techno-savvy.
Ramjugernath further highlighted that many students came from socio-economic backgrounds which were not conducive to learning from home and many did not even have electricity. He proposed the following: 1) An immediate investigation to determine cellular coverage throughout South Africa; 2) A survey on the access students have to electronic devices, and 3) An investigation to reveal the percentage of students that could be catered for when a tertiary institute moved fully online.
Ramjugernath said he believed that institutes like UKZN had the technology to move fully online, but that student internet access and municipal infrastructure were big barriers. He said the only way to salvage the 2020 academic year—should Scenarios two or three (mentioned above) come into play – was by moving online.
Campus Coordinator for Doornfontein in the Department of Business Management at the University of Johannesburg Professor Shepherd Dhilwayo gave a perspective from a campus-coordinator viewpoint on coordinating a cluster of lecturers to teach entrepreneurship online. Dhilwayo’s approach is to embed entrepreneurship elements into a wide variety of non-business service subjects, such as engineering and health sciences. He pointed out that following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of Business Management managed to continue with teaching and learning processes through online methods. An initial concern was whether modules could immediately be transitioned from a blended learning to a fully online approach, but it seems that in this case lecturers had not faced serious barriers in placing content online. He concluded that there might be need to revise the practical component of entrepreneurship modules where students are required to interact socially, to a more theoretical and hypothetical scenario-based method of teaching delivery.
Professor Richard Shambare of the University of the Western Cape said there were various barriers and opportunities to consider for tertiary undergraduate teaching of entrepreneurship. Now was a good time for entrepreneurship teachers to re-invent their curriculum to embrace a future technology-orientated world. Such a curriculum, said Shambare, would provide business solutions to socio-economic problems and contribute to value creation of current social problems following COVID-19.
He sees the new social order as a good opportunity for entrepreneurship students to re-develop their entrepreneurial mindset and sharply assess how they can creatively innovate new business opportunities, especially online business.
Shambare emphasised that entrepreneurship educators could no longer pretend to be ‘all-wise-and-all-knowing’, but should co-create knowledge with various scholars from different disciplines and institutes, especially working closer with the private sector and practitioners.
‘The challenge for entrepreneurship lecturers now is about identifying the needs, determining how these needs may be quantified, and what value it can add to South Africa’s socio-economic development. Yesterday’s competitive business advantage is not applicable today.’
Van der Westhuizen concluded the discussion by proposing that tertiary institutes, the private sector and various levels of government need to strengthen their systemic integration to share resources and expertise. Re-building communities would require a strong integrative approach where different sectors and industries strongly supported one another.
The discussion can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/xyGe8uiZ4OA