Engagement of Academics in the Learning Process Utilising Technology

It is no doubt that technology, over recent years, has transformed the world in which we live. From the seamless integration of technology into our homes with smart television sets and smart mobile phones, to the optimisation of various technologies in improving organisational performance for companies globally.

The world has become more connected than ever before. Organisations now speak the language of globalisation. The limitations created by country borders does not inhibit the forging of business relationships like it used to.

The technology age has not only influenced the way organisations do business or the way people connect with one another. It has also influenced the way in which people learn about and understand the world.

Technology continues to remain disruptive as many higher education institutions strive to be innovative primarily in terms of distance education. (Glen, 2008)

Henderson (2008) highlights this very importance by stating “Technology allows students to become much more engaged in constructing their own knowledge, and cognitive studies show that this/that ability is key to learning success,”

This is further confirmed by Purdue University (2016) “Technology is a powerful tool that can support and transform education in many ways, from making it easier for teachers to create instructional materials to enabling new ways for people to learn and work together.”

The Da Vinci Institute as a private provider of higher education focusses on the cultivation of managerial leaders through business-driven action learning. One of the key attributes of a Da Vinci student is reflected in the 2016 milestone document which reflects that 76% of Da Vinci students are over the age of 35. (Da Vinci Profile, 2016)

These factors, which include the combination of adult learners and distance education, contribute toward the effective integration and implementation of technology in the learners’ learning journey.  

As such, The Da Vinci Institute has leveraged on what already exists and has updated its e-learning management system, Moodle. The upgrade has been of great benefit to Da Vinci students by improving communication, functionality and navigation and overall aesthetic design of the system.

The e-learning management system allows Da Vinci staff to distribute a Short Message Service (SMS) to students relaying important communication such as reminders for assignment submissions and workshop days (Moodle guide, 2015).

Further to these improvements, is the inclusion of Faculty on the e-learning management system which serves to promote ongoing engagement between the facilitator and the respective cohort which they have facilitated.

Facilitators introduce themselves to the cohort of learners via Moodle and provide relevant articles pertaining to the subject matter, prior to the workshop taking place.
This engagement is two-fold in terms of benefit, as it invites the learner to engage with the subject matter in order to receive some understanding before the workshop.

The facilitator then engages with the learners again after the workshop sending them further articles related to their workshop discussions. These articles are often aligned in terms of the learning outcomes of the assignment deliverables.

The engagement between the facilitator and learner becomes one of a closer relationship as the learner now feels supported and recognised in an individual capacity.

Pat Roper, a Faculty member of Da Vinci, in referring to her facilitating experience utilising technology stated “I think it is a great idea that we are engaging with students via technology.”

Roper further added to her statement “I found the system is easy and user friendly. I didn’t have any challenges.  It keeps us up to date with technology, have information at our finger tips and it can save on unnecessary printing.”

Contrary to this statement, Biddie Biddulph, facilitator at Da Vinci offered his view in utilising Moodle as a communication tool to students. “These new platforms will disrupt the higher education system as Uber has disrupted the taxi industry. So, in this context, one has to view what Moodle brings to students and faculty at Da Vinci.”

Biddulph further added “I found that I did not get responses from students on Moodle, maybe which is not what they are supposed to do. I rather get students sending me WhatsApp messages, and this maybe shows how prevalent the social media applications are with the younger generation.

Biddulph concluded his thoughts by saying “I think Moodle does what it is supposed to do, but it may be wise for Da Vinci to research very diligently the new platforms in this space.”

This statement was supported by another Da Vinci facilitator, Mark Fuller, who also engaged with students via Moodle however felt that there was a lack of two-way communication received from the students.

Fuller also stated that WhatsApp communication amongst students creates open communication, with students sharing pictures of diagrams and relevant links to their peers.

A study in 2015 conducted by Walters, Hanekom, Strydom, Simons (2015) highlights that “learning is inherently social, and that even if clear rules of engagement are set up, the formal is embedded and supported in the social learning process. WhatsApp has the potential to create collective, supportive, collaborative communities of practice.”
In addition to Moodle as a technology learning tool, Da Vinci has also started utilising Smart Boards. A Smart Board is an interactive white board that, through innovative software, allows the facilitator to engage with the learner through collaboration.

Greg Tosen, Head of Department for the Management of Technology, provided feedback on his experience “Overall a great tool for Da Vinci and I cannot understand why it has not been used earlier. It is certainly an asset and I would suggest that the Smart Board becomes the norm for all modules.”

The Da Vinci Institute is progressing increasingly toward achieving its ambition statements, which is to protect what we have, leverage our strengths and dabble in the future.

In conclusion, Da Vinci is protecting what we have which is our students. The strengths of The Institute is in managing technology and innovation in the cultivation of managerial leaders.

The culmination of these factors are made easier through the exploration into the future and providing a technological experience for both faculty and learners to assist them in co-creating new workplace realities.

Whilst Da Vinci has shown great progression in this regard, the question one needs to ask is what is the future of higher education in the context of trending technology, and how can Da Vinci leverage on this technology?
Storm Thomas
Communications Manager: The Da Vinci Institute
12 May 2016


References   
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Author unknown. 2016. E-Learning Challenges Faced by Academics in Higher Education. [ONLINE] Available at: 
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Walters, S., Hanekom, P., Strydom, S., Simons, S. – Academia.edu. 2016.  Crossing Boundaries: Lecturers’ Perspectives On The Use Of Whatsapp To Support Teaching And Learning In Higher Education. [ONLINE] Available at:

[Accessed 13 May 2016].