Mzuzu University is one of the public universities in Malawi that has incorporated Moodle into its learning structure. We talked with Paxton Zozie, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Open and Distance Learning at Mzuzu University, about the technological challenges they have faced when using the LMS and why they are taking a student-centred approach.
Mzuzu University, in the Northern Region of Malawi, received its first students in 1999 and today has a student population of about 4,000 people, including open and distance-learning students. Nowadays, the institution offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in areas like science, languages, arts, security and theology.
Mzuzu University lecturers and management noticed that when teaching big classrooms, some of the students were attending lectures passively, barely participating to discussions and other activities. Technology was seen as a mean to stimulate and increase their engagement. “We thought we could use technology to improve interactivity. However, since we don’t have many resources to buy specific hardware like clickers, we started using open source tools like Socrative to increase participation in class. It works well, when students have internet connectivity: for example they use their mobile phones, or their laptops and tablets to interact with each other, as well as to follow their lectures”, said Mr. Zozie.
The university also created a system using PHP and SQL that students can use to answer questions during lectures and their answers are shown from the database using a projector screen. This way students and teachers can further discuss those answers during the lecture.
The use of engagement tools is only part of the investments made by the university in education technology. They also have deployed Moodle as their LMS. The decision to move to Moodle from another open source system was due to the fact that some lecturers were already familiar with the platform. Also, several universities in Malawi have adopted Moodle, therefore in the future it might be easier to share content between institutions.
The deployment of Moodle has been positively received, although the adoption rate is still a bit slow: some lecturers have fully embraced the platform, others are using it only to upload content, and other still require some training to understand its full potential.
According to Mr Zozie this is related to a cultural challenge. Some of teachers, in spite of this technological aid, tend to keep using more traditional teaching methods, like chalkboards, whiteboards, and in some cases Power Point. “I think it’s an attitude problem, because they can use their laptops to learn, so it’s not really a technological issue”, continued Mr. Zozie.
From the students’ perspective, in the beginning some of them thought that the interface was not user-friendly, but after they received some tuition they found the system very easy to use.
Closing the conversation, Mr Zozie expressed the hope to have a proper Moodle community in Malawi, with institutions collaborating and sharing best practices.
*Paxton Zozie, Deputy Director (Centre for Open and Distance Learning) Mzuzu University
*Photo by: AFP Eman HELA