College of Humanities

Digitalised Ways of Doctoral Studies in COVID-19 Times: International Perspectives

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From left: Professors Michael Anthony Samuel, Hyleen Mariaye, Paul Webb, and John Chang’ach and Ms Malve Von Moellendorff.
From left: Professors Michael Anthony Samuel, Hyleen Mariaye, Paul Webb, and John Chang’ach and Ms Malve Von Moellendorff.

The College of Humanities recently hosted a public webinar series on the topic of Digitalised Ways of Doctoral Studies in COVID-19 Times: International Perspectives.

It featured academics Professors Michael Anthony Samuel (UKZN), Hyleen Mariaye (Mauritius Institute of Education), Paul Webb (Nelson Mandela University) and John Chang’ach (Moi University) and was chaired by Ms Malve Von Moellendorff (East and South African-German Centre of Excellence for Educational Research Methodologies and Management – CERM ESA).

Webb focused on the unfolding of the DIGIFACE project that aims to develop a continental platform of online support for building capacities and collaboration with 11 Centres of Excellence across African Higher Education Institutions. The project was launched in early March 2020 in Port Elizabeth, involving project leaders from Niger, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Mali, Namibia, Germany and South Africa. The reflection foregrounded the adjusted planned intervention in the alternative modes of operationalising this project’s agenda spanning continental African Higher Education Institutions and their partners in Germany. 

Project leader at the headquarters at Moi University, Chang’ach discussed the adjusted agenda of the work of CERM ESA and how COVID-19 affects delivery of its projects. In March, collaborations began towards establishing a MOU with UKZN’s School of Education and Moi University.

‘CERM ESA has over the past few years been involved in co-ordinating the capacity building for lecturers and supervisors (CABLES) programme related to activating postgraduate Masters and doctoral studies. Students are registered across participating institutions within the African continent and in Germany,’ said Chang’ach. ‘The project has also activated site-based responses through workshops and seminars on teacher professional development, and the creation of national structures to cohere the agenda of building responsiveness to curriculum policy reform. It offered week-long research schools with registered students in its collaborative ventures across East Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa and Germany.’

Mariaye reflected on managing the delivery of two doctoral education programmes between her own institution (the Mauritius Institute of Education) and their partners: University of Brighton-UK (a ‘northern partner’) and UKZN–SA (a ‘southern partner’).  Whilst different in the types of doctoral programmes offered, and the contextual variants of the institutional partner contexts, her presentation reflected on how Mauritius as a small island developing state (SIDS) has had to deal constitutively with matters of geographic isolation (“lockdown”) and re-connectivities across international terrains.

‘The projects have yielded a repertoire of “remote teaching and learning pedagogies” since inception around 2012. The use of technological platforms in Mauritius already has an extensive roll-out in primary and secondary schools. Rolling out postgraduate education programmes through digital means brings into sharper relief the affordances that were latent in the previous programme designs and delivery. The so-called marginalised become new centres of expertise. The COVID-19 context allows for greater connectivities and shared responsibilities of doctoral cohort seminars and supervision,’ she said.

Samuel reflected on the setting up of the Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education (foregrounding modules on the “Higher Education system” and “the designing of curricula”) at the critical turning point of the lockdown period in March 2020. His presentation focused on ‘the need to deal with allaying fears of the students (in this case, university lecturers involved in a university staff development programme) whist acclimatising them to be future agents of the new delivery models of online platforms of Higher Education pedagogy. The medium and the message of the modules coincided.’

The presentation also focused on the choice of online pedagogies to engage the launch in March 2020 of a Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association in South Africa (HELTASA) doctoral education national project. Both postgraduate projects involved students across a range of institutions nationally who reported positively on the “new normal modes” of delivery.

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