The Corona-virus pandemic has led to the closure of schools in Liberia and other parts of the world. The effects have been diverse preventing students from primary, secondary, post-secondary schools and universities from continuing their schooling. Parents, teachers and administrators have wishfully anticipating the end to the pandemic to resume normal educational activities in the contemporary teaching environment, the classrooms. A notable aspiration which in no way should negate but stimulates the desire of finding alternatives to safely continue the learning process during this pandemic beyond the contemporary classroom scenarios.
What are some alternatives that could be used to facilitate on going teaching and learning in situation like this, where the doors of bricks and mortar classrooms are closed due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic? The answer to the latter lies in utilizing a component of ubiquitous computing, known as ubiquitous learning, labeled u-learning. U-learning takes advantage of digital and technological convergence that have propelled and given relevance to Information and Communication Technology(ICT). In reality, u-learning “takes advantage of digital content, physical surroundings, mobile devices, computers, pervasive components, and wireless communication, to deliver teaching and learning experiences to users at anytime, anywhere and in the desired form”.
An example of u-learning is using computers along with Internet connections to facilitate both online and distance learning. A distinguishing feature of u-learning in comparisons to the wider eLearning concept, is the virtual enhancement it brings to the eLearning process. U-learning is considered as “learning on demand which involves learner being in constant contact with technology having the ability to always learn, not limited by distance” (Ashish Rangnekar, 2015).
Does Liberia have the environment to facilitate u-learning? It is indicative that the current telecommunications and mobile infrastructures are positioned to adequately support any form of u-learning. Relevant to this process are the availability of mobile phones, existing GSM infrastructure, open source applications, proprietary applications and fiber optic nodes that are essential to u-learning. As one envisages the existing environment, it appears like being in the midst of technological abundance to facilitate on going eLearning processes and yet doing little or nothing. What is responsible for the lack of required actions when it comes to leveraging on existing technologies to create virtual teaching and u-learning environments?
The answer lies in determining whether schools and administrators in Liberia are prepared for u-learning programs which embodies paradigms of virtual teaching and eLearning experiences to users at any time, everywhere as desired. It appears like there exist the lack of enthusiasm in implementing and using u-learning platform. This assertion can be validated by the very few learning institutions that are using u-learning since the inception of COVID-19. A few that if survey, would constitute less than two percent (2%) of all schools in Liberia. An answer to the reason for the low percentage could be attributed to what William Koomson (2020) observes about schools and administrators in Ghana during this pandemic period: That they have not “achieved the online parity”, a longing that should boost the desire for u-learning amongst would be users. However, the upsurge in COVID-19 and its adverse impact on contemporary learning in brick and mortar classrooms should rekindle the perception of everyone regarding u-learning. The effects have actually accentuated the relevance and urgency of developing some form of u-learning platform in schools across Liberia. What motivates is that applications and technologies to implement u-learning paradigms are available, affordable and diverse. This makes it convenient for schools to tiller u-learning implementations to meet intended users’ conditions, requirements taking into account available resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has accorded us the opportunity to rekindle our perceptions of u-learning and proceed with the development of e-learning platforms in schools. Now is the time for educational institutions to move forward with u-learning in its respective forms.
How be it, few schools, colleges and universities have taken delight in alternatives for the dispensation of education under this pandemic condition by leveraging u-learning. The attempts of some who have used Google Classroom, Zoom, Moodle, Skype chat room, exchange of emails and other messaging tools are commendable initiatives. It is noteworthy that the environment has been consolidated and enhanced through the process of digital and technological convergence that is so relevant to academic transformation. In the midst of digital academic resources, with ease to build an academic u-learning environment, may educational institutions administrators and responsible agencies not just remain stagnated while students sit idle for a prolong period during this pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on academic institutions should serve as a wake-up call to commence building the culture of blended learning in academic institutions (from primary to university levels) to transform and make scalable the mode of learning with respect to evolving Information and Communication Technology dynamics for learning .
Let us say bravo! to those academic institutions that had some form of u-learning platform for students prior to the pandemic. And to those universities, colleges, primary and secondary schools that took the initiative at the early stage of the pandemic to grapple with some type of u-learning solutions for their students, we also commend you. With the motivation obtained from your pilot, be admonished to expand your scope and make blended learning a policy consideration for your respective institutions. To bring the latter to fruition, a holistic approach is required. Through this endeavor, we can develop a generation of students that will utilize the potential of u-learning and thus view Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as an enabler in their academic sojourn. What is more, in the event of similar future crisis, developed u-learning platform will help facilitate a continuous learning process where students will not just sit idle for a prolong period.
Ashish Rangnekar, (2015) Ubiquitous Learning: What Every Education Organization Needs to Know
Koomson, W. K. (2020) Coronavirus In; Mass Gathering Out: Acid Test of Ghana’s Educational Institutions Operating Distance Learning Programs
Henry L. Nyain