The current global health crisis has precipitated unprecedented disruption in the higher education sector, but it is not the only crisis facing the world. The pandemic has exposed a myriad of other crises that have been hiding in plain sight, such as the persistent inequities that millions of people encounter in attempting to access various socioeconomic opportunities, including opportunities to acquire higher education. As national governments and traditional higher education institutions moved to emergency remote teaching and learning, suddenly many of the preconceived ideas and assumptions about forms of online, blended and distance learning were questions, and often, permanently altered.
The emergence of distance education many years ago created opportunities for millions of individuals across the world who were previously excluded from traditional forms of residential education, to realise their aspirations and fulfil their educational dreams. Distance education, and the various forms of blended, and distributed forms of educational delivery that since emerged, has grown into a formidable form of accessible, affordable and quality education that claims its rightful place in the global education landscape.
The current ongoing pandemic has propelled to the front open, distance and e-learning (ODeL) and in many respects, it has come into its own. Unisa, as the oldest and one of the largest distance educations in the world is hosting its 2021 ODeL Virtual Conference. With more than 150 years of experience, Unisa evolved from an examining body, to a correspondence education institution, to being a fully-fledged, world-class ODeL provider. No other institution on the African continent, and not many other institutions in the world realise the educational dreams and aspirations of thousands of individuals, overcoming many odds and challenges, like Unisa. Not many institutions are successful in balancing issues of cost, quality and access, and for many, Unisa’s business and pedagogical model is a case study of providing affordable, quality education at scale to thousands of students.
This virtual gathering of scholars, researchers, practitioners and emergent scholars will take place from 4 to 6 August 2021, under the theme “Mediating Open, Distance and e-Learning in the Advent of Global Crises”.
We know that ODeL has the potential to contribute to redressing these and other inequities, provided ODeL institutions focus candidly and resolutely on quality, improved teaching and learning and optimal faculty and support structures to support their students’ success.
Therefore, the purpose of the 2021 e-conference is to generate debate and consider practical and sustainable solutions for ODeL teaching, learning and research in times of global crises, using pre-conference workshops, plenary sessions and breakaway sessions to explore the theme and various subthemes.
Subthemes under discussion range from the hi-tech to the human and organisational.
On the technology side, speakers and delegates will explore topics such as learning analytics, e-assessment, digital literacy and proficiency, technology-supported trends in ODeL and the place and role of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open education resources (OERs).
The human and organisational elements will encompass the inclusion of marginalised students, the experiences of ODeL teaching staff during the pandemic and topics such as emerging ODeL business models, the nexus between quality, access and equity, professional development and capacity building, among others.
The programme for the e-conference is still being finalised and details about speakers, topics and time slots will be announced as and when these become available.
In the meantime, please block off 4 to 6 August 2021 in your diaries. The Unisa 2021 ODeL Virtual Conference is an event not to be missed. See the conference website for more information on the amazing line up of keynote speakers, presenters and workshops, as well as registration details.
A series of pre-conference workshops will take place on 3 August 2021.
The conference is offered free of charge, but registration is essential to receive session links.