Six approaches to enhance distance learning between the University of Missouri and the University of Western Cape


Although the UM/UWC partnership has spawned a number of innovative teaching collaborations, we have not taken advantage of technology nearly enough. Faculty from UMSL and UWC several years ago did collaborate to teach a graduate level seminar using video conferencing and social media. Students enrolled at their respective schools for this seminar. Although the seminar was successful according to faculty and students, similar semester long courses have not been offered.

 

From time to time, a faculty member from UWC or from UM has lectured via video conferencing and engaged with students from their partner school. But this has happened only infrequently. Nonetheless, given advances in technology such as Zoom, the time is indeed ripe to use Zoom/ distance learning as a vehicle to help” internationalize” our respective schools.

 

We need to consider ways both UM and UWC can benefit from distance learning to enrich our students. First, a cautionary note. UWC students pay markedly lower tuition (less than $100 a credit hour). UWC students simply cannot affordable to enroll in online UM courses and pay the normal tuition charged. Thus, we should not look to UWC or UM students or distance learning courses as a significant new revenue source for either school. Rather, the question is how we might be able to take advantage of technology to the pedagogical benefits of our respective students.

 

Detailed below are some steps we might take to use distance learning to connect UWC and the four UM campuses, to further internationalize our campuses, expose our students to diverse views, and enhance the learning experiences of our students:

1) First, most of our UM students will not have the resources to travel to SA. Even fewer UWC students will be able to travel to the US. However, Zoom technology gives us the ability to enrich the learning experiences of both sets of students, expose them to the views of a very diverse group of faculty and students, and ultimately give them a more global perspective. Only a few UWC or UM professors have done guest lectures via Skype or video conferencing in the past, primarily because of the hassle and extra time involved.

Zoom is far easier to use and offers us the ability to reach even more students. Think of how much richer a discussion in a world literature, political science, or history class would be if UM students heard what UWC students and their professors thought about a book each read, about President Trump’s decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, or about the continuing effects of the colonization of Africa. I have seen benefits for both sets of students when I teach in our joint UWC/MU law winter school program about the death penalty in the US. It is fascinating to listen to them debate the merits or failure of the death penalty to curb crime in the US and it is obvious that both the UWC and American students leave class with new insights.

Encouraging UM and UWC faculty members to connect with each other and offer to do lectures for each other in their areas of expertise costs nothing, can be done easily from one’s office using Zoom and does not require overcoming any administrative red tape. We just need to get the word out on our different campuses.

2) It would be terrific if UWC students could access UM courses via distance learning and if UM students could take UWC courses. Although there are some logistical aspects that need to be addressed, such as the time change mid-semester and different academic calendars, I think there would be great benefit to both institutions if UWC students could access courses that are unavailable at UWC, while UM students could access UWC courses that would be incredibly diverse and mind-opening for UM students.

One challenge that remains is that UWC students cannot afford the tuition that UM charges for their courses. Two approaches come to mind and there may be others to consider. It is possible that UM could offer discounted tuition to the UWC students similar to what UWC charges its students. But that would require each UM campus to agree to essentially provide scholarships for UWC students taking UM courses. That may be possible, but would require each UM campus to sign off on such an arrangement. Perhaps to enable UM to recoup loss revenue for the scholarships for UWC students, UM could charge UM students normal UM tuition rates for its students even for taking a UWC courses. However, we would have to address the administration required to make all this happen.

3) A second approach would be for UM just to not charge a certain number of UWC students to take UM courses, while in turn a comparable number of UM students could take UWC course without there being any exchange of tuition. Instead, each school could set a fee for their respective students to participate in the other institution’s courses. This approach might be easier to administrate.

4) But the best and easiest approach is to offer joint courses. This is the approach we use for the UWC/MU law program. For example, I team teach a course during the program at UWC with UWC Prof. Julia Sloth-Nielsen. The American students register for the course at MU and pay tuition to MU for the course, which MU calls Comparative Criminal Justice administration. The UWC course is entitled “Advanced Criminal Procedure” (an approved course in the UWC curriculum) and the UWC students pay tuition for the course and get credit just like any other UWC course. The students take the same exam and I mark the American students’ exams and give them grades according to the MU scale, while Prof. Sloth-Nielsen marks the UWC students according to the UWC scale.

This approach is very easy to administer. It also is flexible because the professors can have as many or as few interactions with their counterpart professor and students, depending on professorial wishes. Although the courses are joint, they can be relatively independent if desired. For example, one of the two professors could play the instructional major role with the other primarily focused on grading. Or, if there are only two UWC students who want to take a cybersecurity course at S&T, then UWC’s Antoine Bagula might only give a lecture or two and then grade the exam, while S&T’s Bruce McMillin handles the bulk of the lectures. Alternatively, UWC’s Wessel Le Roux might do the bulk of the lectures in a Comparative Constitutional law course, while MU’s Sam Halabi primarily marks the three MU law students taking the course.

 

5) MU’s Elizabeth Chang and her UWC counterpart Courtney Davids are ready to offer a joint Zoom course staring in February 2019. Just as with the UWC/ MU law winter school program, the MU students will sign up and pay for the MU course just like any other MU course and the UWC students will do the same on their side. The only administrative cost of such a joint course is making sure that it is scheduled for a 2 hour block so that when daylight savings changes, the students could shift to the second hour without disrupting their overall class schedule.

 

6) UWC’s School of Government and the Centre for Excellence in Food Security both are outfitted with Zoom equipment and screens and are anxious to do guest lectures, have UM faculty guest lectures for them and to hold joint classes. We need to identify UM faculty willing to take them up on their offer.

 

Distance learning offers enormous potential for both schools and their students.  We need to talk more about effectively using distance learning to push this partnership forward. If we are able to harness this technology, the partnership will achieve even more than it has in the past.

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