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Deploying contemporary Information Technology solutions for Academic Delivery



By KSN Reporter

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many economic sectors and allowed a number of them to accelerate their hitherto slow adoption of information technology systems for efficient service delivery.

One of the showcase emerging sectors remains the education industry. This sector is now thriving with the adoption and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in education systems, popularly known as “EdTech”.

Global bodies such as the World Bank Group have stepped up engagements and support to help countries leverage EdTech investments to develop resilient hybrid learning systems.

Locally, due to pressures occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly evident that the traditional instructional methods, modes of knowledge production and consumption, and institutional conceits of exclusivity are no longer tenable if education institutions are to remain relevant for Africa’s regeneration.

The emerging ecosystem of challenges and opportunities requires African and Kenyan education institutions to embrace EdTech strategies.

Lifelong learning in which learning occurs at our convenience (wherever we are, at whatever time, via a variety of delivery platforms) is increasingly gaining a foothold globally due to the dynamics of 21st-centuryst century skill sets that the job market demands As a result, any considerations in EdTech must support ICT solutions that enhance support for 24/7 learning beyond traditional geographic, physical boundaries and demographics, just as a modern business is increasingly turning to technology to operate on the cutting edge 24/7. EdTech proponents agree that technology played and continues to play an essential role to deliver education to students outside of school.

Guided by my personal experience while implementing ICT solutions and charting the technology policy for United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) with my dependable colleagues, I recently reflected on the key ingredients that make for a solid technology in education (EdTech) foundation.

Firstly, education institutions must focus their energies on the governance and staffing structure of the ICT function. Due to the increasingly centralized nature of ICT as the nerve center of an institution’s day-to-day learning and administrative operations, there is a need for a staffing structure that places the head of ICT operations at the highest possible level of the organization structure. ICT integrations and operations are a management function and cannot be in peripheral management positions. The organic development of appropriate controls, policies, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is another continuous activity for which the Head of ICT would bear responsibility. Decision-making on ICT adoption models, e.g., developing ICT solutions in-house, outsourcing development or buying off-the-shelf solutions, hosting in-house, or hosting in the cloud, will largely depend on an institution’s leadership’s vision and mission.

Secondly, technology adoption must be regarded as a change management lever. A learning institution must be conscious of the negative impact changes in technology and or software can have on learning, teaching, and the institution’s operations if these changes are not adequately communicated to all constituents. The latest research in this area proposes a socio-technical approach that adopts co-design, incorporating the users at every stage in the design and development of ICT solutions since a system is only as good as the team that develops it. The more inclusive the team is, the higher the chances of the system impacting the institution’s operations; positively.

Invariably, an institution’s strategic plan, financial resources, and focus will guide the selection of what tools senior management prioritizes; hence, this article outlines some critical ICT solutions that higher education institutions may consider deploying to offer 21st-century education that supports teaching, learning and administration.

Enablers such as power supply, reliable internet access, and redundancy platforms should be carefully considered. Due to the unreliable nature of connectivity in most parts of the African continent, there is a need to deploy a couple of internet links which in our local context, Kenya Education Network (KENET), Kenya’s National Research and Education Network (NREN) provide at highly subsidized rates. There is also a need for redundant power (from the primary grid and backup from a generator) with some form of load balancing that encompasses failover capability.

Closely linked to access is the need for technical help desk tools that handle queries and guide users. Education institutions would need an ICT call center (Helpdesk) responsible for resolving technical issues that users raise.

Due to the increasing cybersecurity risks that automation exposes organizations to, storage, backup, and remote services are also crucial factors. The operationalization of robust Disaster Recovery (DR) measures at three levels (on-site, at a remote location e.g. on the cloud, and via tapes kept in a vault) as part of the organization’s Business Continuity Plan (BCP) should support data restoration in case services fail.

Educational institutions need to ensure continuous effort is made to maintain and upgrade their core ICT infrastructure. This ought to be guided by a 3 to 5-year ICT strategy that builds into the overall institutional strategic plan. Within the operational framework, periodic maintenance and upgrading of technologies are also vital.

Integrating a robust Learning Management System (LMS) is a requirement. Whether it is deployed to complement learning in a face-to-face mode on one end of the spectrum or a core part of an institution’s online pedagogy, an LMS is essentially a virtual learning environment that is used in the delivery of educational content to learners and paperless assessment through a variety of technological functions which are connected to the Internet. There are several options here, some of which may be open source.

To further boost remote productivity, video conferencing and proctoring tools are now a must-have ingredient. Institutions must invest in videoconferencing platforms which support synchronous learning. Among the activities that a comprehensive videoconferencing tool provides support for include scheduling study groups, class sessions, remotely locating students, recording lectures, co-teaching, connecting laboratory environments to lecture halls, and facilitating various modes of pedagogy such as online, blended, hybrid, and hybrid-flexible (hyflex). Proctoring tools work alongside video conferencing tools in a live proctoring environment or on their own if they have Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities to flag suspicious behavior.

The integration of a Student Information System (SIS) helps to elevate the student management process to a higher level. An SIS acts as the learning institution’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system; holds and processes data that relates to every student’s learning journey at an institution. An SIS is a learning institution’s solution for missing marks management and the institution could select some options each with its positives and potential pitfalls.

From a management perspective, integrating a Business Intelligence (BI) tool is also recommended. These BI tools provide real-time Business Intelligence analytics, interaction, and content usage to users at various levels, including teaching faculty, departmental heads, and senior management for data-driven decision-making to aid student learning. The institution may also need to invest in third-party software integrated into the LMS to monitor interaction and activities on the platform.

Last but not least, Learning Technology Interoperability (LTI) tools also come in handy as the platforms above must not exist in isolation. LTI applications and tools make sharing data between an organization’s LMS, SIS, payment services, and other services such as the library; simple, eliminating the need for manual processes. Apart from the negative impacts on efficiency that disparate pieces of data occasion in an institution, data held in various systems inevitably leads to compromises in integrity.

Other useful ICT tools for academic delivery include library systems that are accessible from remote locations securely using Virtual Private Network (VPN) platforms, an e-Repository that hosts the institution’s academic artifacts, operational workflow systems (e.g. clearance, grade change, procurement, etc.), Electronic Data Management Systems (EDMS) that host the institution’s anti-plagiarism platforms and tools that support inclusivity for differently-abled persons.

According to the World Bank Group: ‘Education at its heart is about human connections and relationships. While we can never replace the magic that happens between great teachers and students in an in-person environment, there is a glaring need for us to focus on the social aspects of technology that enhance connections from a distance and to an audience each of whom has their unique personal circumstances and learning preferences. Much more attention must be directed to how technology will enhance teaching and learning in a learning environment that has the nimbleness and flexibility to enable faculty to reach out to students from the widest possible demographic, both in son campus and at home.”

Suffice it to say that EdTech solutions are now a vital enabler of successful educational outcomes.


US announces changes to student visa application process



US State Department has revealed changes in policy that will impact foreign students entering the US.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced during the National Association of other Student Advisers (NAFSA) in Washington that they had streamlined the visa application process for students from other nations, including Kenya, who want to pursue higher education overseas.

According to him, applicants won’t need to participate in an interview to complete their application.

This adjustment is a significant deviation from the standard procedures, which at first required an interview.

The Department also extended the window in which a Visa application may be submitted, bringing it from 120 days to a full year.

Blinken stressed the significance of forging alliances with other nations when discussing visa reforms in order to provide students with additional opportunities  options to study abroad.

He applauded organizations like NAFSA for helping students seize opportunities and for organizing student exchanges.

“At the State Department, we are working to expand international education. After the acute phase of the pandemic ended, more and more international students began applying to study in the US again. We took steps to streamline our visa process and make it easier for students to apply,” he said.

M Square Media’s CEO, Raghwa Gopal, applauded the US government for taking action to expand international study programs. Gopal asserted that by giving students the skills they would need for future international engagements, the short-term educational courses would be advantageous to the students.

Foreign students can enter a recognized college, university, high school, or other educational program in the US under the academic student program.

Foreign students must be admitted by a school that has received formal US government recognition, and the program must result in a certification, certificate, or degree.

After a popular outcry, the deadline for the hike in worldwide visa fees was postponed from the originally announced date of May 30 to June 17; some applicants will now have to pay up to Sh42,000 to obtain the travel document.

Business and tourist visas (category B1/B2S), student visas (F), and exchange visitor visas (J) are the categories that would see a rise, going from Sh21,800 ($160) to Sh25,206 ($185) visas for temporary workers (H, L, O, P, Q, and R categories) will cost Sh27,941 ($205) from Sh25,897 ($190).

The US Embassy in Nairobi stated that they acknowledge the critical role that international travel plays in the US economy and pointed out that President Joe Biden’s foreign policy places a high priority on granting visas, particularly for work and tourism. They insisted that the fees are only intended to cover the costs of providing the consular services.

The cost of non-immigrant visas hasn’t gone up since 2014, so this is a big deal.

Following the suspension of the process in 2020 as part of the safety measures established at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak, the embassy has been dealing with a massive backlog of visa interviews.

The Embassy shortened the wait time for visa interviews for Kenyan visitors last month and permitted renewal of some categories without going through an interview physical appointments.

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Vihiga: Section of Secondary School dorm razed, no injuries



On Tuesday evening, a portion of a dormitory at Ebunangwe Boy’s Secondary School in Vihiga County caught fire.

Billy Maloba, a witness to the incident, estimates that the fire started at 8 o’clock.

“No one was injured in the accident since it happened when the students were doing their night preps in class,” he said.

Ebunangwe is a mixed boarding and day school.

The school has only one dormitory.

“It was raining around that time so it took a while for people to notice the fire,” Maloba, who said he lives a few metres from the school, said.

He claimed that once the fire was put out by the locals, the Vihiga fire department arrived.

Since property with an unknown value was destroyed, the cause of the fire has not yet been identified.

By the time of publication, the school still had not released a statement regarding the incident.

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UoN only Kenyan university among world’s top 2,000



According to the most recent rankings published today by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), the University of Nairobi is the only university in Kenya classified among the top 2,000 universities worldwide.

The leading institution in Kenya is in the top 7% of universities worldwide after being ranked 1,425th on the Global 2000 ranking for 2023.

But due to a fall in the employability of its graduates and its research output, two crucial performance measures, UoN has dropped 20 spots from last year’s rating.

The rankings are being released as the education industry undergoes significant adjustments. In an effort to pull universities out of their current financial mess, there has been an increased focus on university finance recently.

In order to rate colleges from around the world on four criteria—educational quality (25%) employability (25%) faculty quality (10%) and research performance (40%)—CWUR analyzed 62 million outcomes-based data points.

These are measured independently of surveys and information provided by universities. 20,531 universities were ranked this year. Stephen Kiama, vice chancellor of the University of Nebraska, was ecstatic to get the news.

“Obviously we’re delighted. Students at UoN are taught from new knowledge based on research. We have a huge responsibility to maintain the standards we’ve set. The others [universities] know where to go,” he told Nation.

The CWUR president, however, sounded an alarm over the performance of Kenyan universities.

“It is alarming to see only one Kenyan university in the rankings. Funding to further promote the development and reputation of Kenya’s higher education system is vital if the country is to be more competitive on the global stage,” he said.

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