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New Zealand's e-learning certificate helps USP meet strategic objective

The University of the South Pacific (USP) says undertaking the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand’s Certificate in Designing and Facilitating e-Learning has widened its staff’s understanding of effective delivery of online education, as the education provider moves towards having more of their programmes delivered online.

The e-learning certificate is about capacity building with international students around the world and the qualification has so far been delivered in 27 countries in 9 different languages.

USP is jointly owned by the governments of 12 Pacific Island countries and its Strategic Plan 2013-2018 aims to move the organisation from “good to excellent” including learning capacity building.

“The Open Polytechnic’s Certificate in Designing and Facilitating e-Learning directly addresses our strategic objectives in terms of staff development for effective application of new pedagogies,” says Dr Theresa Koroivulaono, acting director of the Centre for Flexible Learning (CFL) at USP.

USP’s Strategic Plan outlines the university’s expectation that all course materials will be fully online by 2018.

Koroivulaono says that workshops led by Karen Kane, lecturer in the Open Polytechnic’s School of Education Studies and programme leader for the e-learning certificate, at USP in 2013 and 2014 were invaluable in up-skilling academic staff in the area of online learning.

Kane said she was impressed with both staff and management’s desire to engage with best practice examples in e-learning, which included showcasing tools that Open Polytechnic uses and how these are integrated into course materials.

It was this range of case studies and examples from the e-learning certificate that saw more staff wanting to engage and additional, impromptu workshops being held.

The first contracted workshops attracted over 150 academic staff, including deans and professional staff leaders.

“I think staff are more engaged in the workshops and the professional development that is being provided and they are well aware of the fact that it is up to them to get their courses up and running on the online environment,” says Kane.

She added that the sharing of ideas and providing academic staff with practical teaching strategies in the online environment was the most rewarding part of the work.

Koroivulaono says academic excellence is one of the many graduate attributes USP aim for from students and part of that is the knowledge and skills for advanced information and communication technology.

“As part of our graduate education, these skills need to be embedded in the curriculum. We are moving from good to excellent,” she says.

Similar workshops will be held at USP’s Alafua Campus in Samoa and Emalus Campus in Vanuatu.

“As outlined in our SP, by the end of 2018, we are aiming for 60 per cent of our undergraduate programmes to be delivered with flexible learning and 30 per cent of our undergraduate programmes delivered by online mode,” says Koroivulaono.

The university says its goal is to play a key role in the knowledge economy. With the development of a Knowledge Hub and ICT-based pedagogies, this would lead to knowledge creation being both a regional resource as well as developing regional capacity to take advantage of the rapidly emerging ICT-based industries.

In September, the Samoan Minister of Education Honourable Magele Mauiliu Tafugai Magele officially opened a centre to develop distance learning in Apia and this is indicative of USP’s effort to move towards flexible online learning.

The Pacific Centre for Flexible and Open Learning for Development will gain governance and funding from the Commonwealth of Learning, an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.