For a third year GBSN Member, The Open University Business School hosted two faculty fellows from Strathmore University and the Narxoz Business School. Dr. John Olukuru from Strathmore University Business School in Kenya recently visited The Open University after successfully applying through the Global Business School Network (GBSN) faculty fellowship. This offers academics from institutions in developing countries the opportunity to learn about the OU’s approach to distance and online learning. Here John recalls his month-long stay in Milton Keynes as an International Fellow.
Indeed, this was a very different academic life – I arrived at The Open University on 7 May and was surprised to see such a huge campus with lots of learning facilities but with no students on campus! The many buildings were full of staff who ensured that the online students had a great experience. It was amazing to see the different structures that empowered the student journey. The student experience managers impressed me with how they used learning analytics to predict and support struggling students.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to learn from The Open University than what the five-week GBSN fellowship could allow me. The lecturers (central academics) and tutors (associate lecturers) worked superbly well together. It was a shock to learn that a lecturer does not engage the students directly since they are so few compared to the large number of students. The tutors do this job but surprisingly again, they were not teaching. The materials developed by the lecturers are excellent such that the tutors only come in to assist.
Student Centered Approach
The best aspect that I’m taking back home is that learning materials are written by lecturers by thinking about the students – ‘how would you speak to the student in a face-to-face classroom?’ The use of Adobe Connect makes the tutor’s interaction with students similar to face-to-face learning. It was amazing to see how the tutors divide students into groups online, give them activities and still get all students to participate in the learning process. The virtual classroom environment is brilliant and enables the students to get one-on-one support.
The dedication of lecturers was something worth noting especially the way they worked in teams to develop content for various modules. Teamwork and its role in the success of the online learning was just fantastic. Another aspect of scholarship is where the academic engages in research on specific aspects that improve the teaching, learning and the student journey.
I was privileged to attend a scholarship conference where I picked up several lessons for my teaching career. Above all, the learning analytics. It was very evident that we generate a lot of data that will be very useful in improving the teaching and learning. The VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) used by the OU has lots of student data and it was nice to see that KMi (Knowledge Media Institute) uses it to provide learning analytics for 358 modules on a weekly basis. This was a big learning point, especially how to use these analytics in improving retention. A beautiful observation at KMi was that 17 nationalities work at the centre. They definitely bring a lot of different experience and exposure on analytics.
It was wonderful to learn that The Open University is really open! Anyone can apply and enroll to a programme they like, without the limitation of high school grade requirements. In addition, the FutureLearn and OpenLearn programmes are doing a lot of good. Having a programme for the autism group was an eye opener on what we can do in developing countries using OU materials. There are over 40 badged courses that can be accessible for induction and career development. I look forward to using some of these courses for the various communities in Kenya – The Macheo (Swahili for sunrise) group that involves giving English, Mathematics and Science tutorials to boys and girls from the slums. Executive Education at the OU amazed me, especially how they empower SMEs with relevant skills to grow their business.
The Open University – a real experience of how learners can access learning wherever they are in the world. Time and distance are no longer a problem.
I would like to thank everyone who made this Fellowship a lifelong learning experience. Many thanks to Caroline (Broderick), Marcus (Crawley) and Mark (Fenton-O’Creevy) for all the support and making sure that I was very comfortable. Thanks also to my GBSN colleague, Ainura Kaldarova for helping me learn more from Kazakhstan.
Dr. John Olukuru is the Head of Data Science and Analytics at Strathmore University, Business School. He is also the Director, Risk Management Centre. He is working on a number of data science projects and trained data science programs for various companies including Kenya Airways, World Bank, KNBS, UBOS, among others. John holds a PhD in Quantitative Finance from University of Glasgow. He has MSc Actuarial Science (Heriot Watt University – Edinburgh, UK) and MSc Statistics (University of Nairobi).