Following Government's proposal to open up University Education during the Covid-19 lockdown via the provision of Open, Distance and E-Learning services, a team from the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) visited Cavendish University Uganda (CUU) on 30th July 2020, to assess the university preparedness to rollout ODeL. A while ago, the NCHE issued emergency ODeL guidelines to universities as means of getting them prepared to resume teaching remotely as a preventative measure against the spread of the novel Corona Virus, which causes Covid-19.
The Inspection was therefore aimed at ascertaining whether CUU is prepared and ready to offer Online teaching and learning services to all its continuing and prospective students. In his opening remarks, the University Vice Chancellor Prof John Mugisha stated that " upon receiving the guidelines, we organised ourselves internally and immediately applied to NCHE for the required accreditation. We as CUU are privileged to be among the very first Universities in the Country to undergo this rigorous inspection."
It will be recalled that CUU is probably the only University in Uganda that did not actually shut down due to its advanced ability to function remotely using technology enabled systems. When government announced the closure of all education related institutions on the 20th of March 2020, CUU transitioned all its contact students to online study. CUU had in 2017 installed an innovative, highly interactive and smoothly functioning teaching and learning platform for its distance learning (DL) students. Other than the learning platform, each student was issued with a tablet preloaded with study materials, videos, notes, quizzes and essay questions.
Throughout the Nation wide shut down of universities, CUU opened up the platform to all students, provided access accounts for every student, paid for their platform access fees and trained all its students on the appropriate usage of the platform. An Online command centre was also created, Lecturers trained, and staff were equipped with computers and data to enable remote functionality. Classes resumed unencumbered offering remedial sessions utilising the technologically advanced Cavendish University Learning Platform (CU-LP).
NCHE’s visitation was consequently an opportunity for CUU to demonstrate the capabilities of its teaching and learning platform as well as digital leadership and organisation. Prior to the shutdown, CUU had the opportunity to demonstrate the numerous educational capabilities about the CU-LP during a NCHE conference and the benefits of adopting Online teaching and learning approaches.
At the said conference, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Mugisha, emphasised that, "At CUU, the market demands require us to plan ahead of the constantly morphing global challenges".
During the Inspection, the Executive Director, Mr. David Mutabanura articulated the unique educational features of the CU-LP which include: student-centric solutions that create personalized learning paths for each student; collaborative learning that encourages interaction with other students; intuitive interfaces that navigate interaction similar to social media interfaces; use of artificial intelligence, pedagogical design services, among others. He further highlighted that the system makes real-time graphic analytics, identifies and clusters high-risk students per course and proposes interventions.
CUU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Dr. Olive Sabiiti explicated that much of the university's academic preparedness began long before the university shutdown and the ODeL guidelines. She outlined course development, instructional design; staff training and ODeL preparedness; appropriate online course assessment measures; student ODeL training and readiness; teaching and learning evaluation; and assessment as well as quality assurance.
Mr. Evans Maganda, the Distance Learning Coordinator ably demonstrated the CU-LP technical functionality and fundamental capabilities that foster student interaction with instructors and peers; permit Google meet classes which students can attend synchronously but also allow recording for later viewing; monitoring student logins and activities; lecturers’ activities; quizzes and essay questions; personalized learning, clustering of students according to learner behaviour; and the identification of best study materials.
The NCHE team thanked CUU for planning and leading ahead of time, having launched the CU-LP 3 years ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic. They also applauded CUU for being the first university in Uganda to the have successfully carried out a Scientific Virtual Graduation that other universities could emulate.
The NCHE Team Leader Dr. Otto, urged the university to start an IT recording studio as a means of producing shareable teaching materials that can be utilised by other universities. The move could also assist the university in its efforts to train and utilise local teachers of practical subjects instead of relying on virtual studios where practical procedures and processes might differ from the specific needs of the Ugandan industry.