The Department of Educational and Distance Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Nairobi, held a Two-day online conference on Online, Digital and Distance Education during the University of Nairobi Research week on October 24th &25th, 2022.The conference aimed at sharing expertise and allowed for knowledge exchange between practioners in the distance learning field. The conference gave an excellent academic platform for researchers and lecturers in the field of distance education to share and exchange new ideas and experiences; establish relationships and networks for partnerships and collaborations in optimizing online and digital learning for sustainable development in the 21st century.
Over 95 papers were submitted, a number higher than the previous conference, indicating the conference's growing global recognition from global partners and academia.
Prof. Mary Kinoti who represented the Vice Chancellor and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, innovation and Enterprise Prof Hutchinson during the conference’s launch welcomed all the participants to the 5th year of the annual research week of the University of Nairobi and the 3rd Conference on online, digital and Distance Education. She noted that as academia they must undertake research and help solve the world’s problems. The Professor in the Vice Chancellor’s speech emphasized the role of the Universities in helping achieve the United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, noting that only research would help these institutions achieve this noble patriotic responsibility.
“As long as distance education is concerned Africa did start on the right foot and is still on the right trend in the revolution of the field’’, were the sentiments shared by Professor Helen Ochuko Kwanashie, who was a keynote speaker during the first day of the conference. She further explained the changes and new ways of doing things brought about by the covid 19 pandemic to the world of distance and online learning, in her presentation Prof Helen explained how students have adapted easily to these changes attributing the ease to technology and the digital shift happening in all corners of the world
She explained the importance of research in learning and distance education as it helps sort out the challenges facing Distance education in the contemporary world. Some of these notable problems according to her intense research in distance education are but not limited to internet connectivity, financial constraints, power supply, attitude and poor infrastructure.
Prof Sharon Thabo Mampane, in her keynote presentation, shared the future of mitigating these problems including reducing the cost and availing of technology infrastructure, training and creation of effective distance learning curriculum, Optimizing online and digital learning for sustainable development in the 21st century by, she explained the benefits of distance learning which according to her include the flexibility to learn self-inspiration, adaptability and freedom, easy access, earning while learning, save on time and money as there are no travel costs as well attending virtual trips as a way of having new experiences
On the second day of the conference, Dr. Oluremi Sailu and Mr. Kukubo Barasa were the keynote speakers and tackled the issues of teacher preparation to help the mold of job-ready graduates, especially learners who were under the distance learning programs across the many universities represented in the conference. The two presenters called for competency in the online and distance learning programs rather than just bombarding the students with exams, noting such a system would help create competency and develop the needed skill set for the job markets in the world.
Dr.Anne Aseey, Chair, Dept. of Educational and Distance Studies, Faculty of Education at the University of Nairobi who was presented last on the last day of the conference commended all the speakers and the participants, noting that that the conference had provided a forum for distance education practitioners, researchers, scholars and students to have an opportunity to share new insights and paradigm shifts on Blended and Flexible learning. ‘’Covid-19 brought the education sector to a standstill. The only way of learning that people adopted was distance and online learning. This was done hurriedly by institutions of higher learning and others hence the need for more debate and explorations on the way forward’’, Said Dr. Anne noting that it is in that context that the conference was quite critical to distance and online teaching practitioners from diverse settings and spaces to discuss and deliberate on best practices that can work for institutions and organizations as they think of best practices.