African economies are growing and technological change is the engine of growth. To sustain growth, however, Africans need new skills, education and knowledge to match the challenges and technology of tomorrow. African students need the skills and capabilities employers will demand and markets will prize in the future. To meet this challenge, the EPICA Project has brought businesses, organisations and universities in Europe and Africa together to design an innovative, scalable ePortfolio, which will improve the quality, visibility and availability of new skills.
The OUT is the first university in the East Africa region to offer Open and Distance Learning (ODL) based Higher learning through Blended learning, using a combination of online learning and (limited) face to face learning. It started their pilot using the EPICA ePortfolio in January 2020 by offering 5 teachers of different faculties (Law, Education, ICT, Social work, Accountancy) a self-training course.
The aim of the 1 month part-time self-training course was to introduce teachers to competence-based design and assessment, the development and assessment of employability skills in higher education, and the strategy to make them visible through the ePortfolio system. Their training consisted of 6 modules. Though this was self-training, towards the end, the group, together with the main project team, gathered to share lessons learnt. Especially aspects that touched directly upon how to handle the pilot going forward were discussed, such as the various roles of all involved in the process of implementation. What should a university administrator, teacher, student and employer exactly get access to and do, for a successful pilot? At the one day face-to-face meeting we also prepared the pilot launch and orientation day for students, who are based in 8 different time zones and over more than 30 regional centres in Tanzania Main land & Zanzibar island.
All zones and respective centres were involved so that with 100 students distributed across the country, the pilot represented the OUT students population’s real distribution, nationwide. Two of our project team members/teachers went to each of these zones/centres and held an orientation workshop for the students, which included a welcome and a presentation on the EPICA project, the ePortfolio and the pilot. This was then followed by students filling out a user agreement. After this introduction, all students received technical and pedagogical training on the ePortfolio, on practices associated with competencies and on the elements for which they are required to create and submit evidence for. Individual students and their representatives too, commented that they found the ePortfolio easy to use and that they appreciated the benefits it offers, allowing them to nurture, increase and showcase their skills and competencies to potential employers and the public at large. However, as its use requires Internet access this might be an issue in remote areas.
The pilot launch and orientation day was attended by a 108 students. Despite the impact of the COVID pandemic, which resulted in closure of physical learning centres, we have continued with our efforts to work with this group, encouraging them to submit evidence for their activities in their respective courses. Teachers created a WhatsApp group for follow-ups, sharing, motivating each other and responding quickly to questions. Looking forward, after they have submitted evidence, the next step will be to evaluate and to provide feedback to students. Upon a successful evaluation of their work, they will receive an assessment outcome badge and a testimony to validate their ePortfolio, after which they will be able to share it with potential employers and the public at large. Our pilot allows allow us and all partners in the EPICA project to assess viability and to determine the scalability of the use of ePortfolios in partner universities.
The EPICA project brings together eight partners. Apart from OUT in Tanzania they are the African Virtual University (AVU) in Kenya, Integrated Communications Worldwide Events (ICWE) in Germany, Makerere University (MAK) in Uganda, Maseno University (MU) in Kenya, MyDocumenta in Spain, Open University of Catalonia (UOC) in Spain, and the overall coordinator of the project – International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) in Norway.
EPICA will organise a workshop at OEB 2020 where you will be able to try and test the final ePortfolio hands-on, learning more about this highly innovative tool to assess employability skills, award micro-credentials, and make them visible for the workplace. Find out more on the project website here.
Written by Edephonce Nfuka, EPICA Project Coordinator at OUT, Tanzania.