By Stacy Redd
Study.com: You've been recognized in the academic community for your work in innovative pedagogical approaches and educational technologies. How have these interests informed and shaped your current projects in education equality?
Vivienne Bozalek: In South Africa, there is a great concern that despite policy intentions of providing access to quality education, the state has not been able to turn around what had happened in the apartheid era, where a minority had access to privileged resources and the majority were provided with a substandard educational experience.
Education generally in South Africa, including higher education can be seen to be in a state of crisis because people's chances of being able to succeed and to acquire a quality education are very different depending on who one is and what resources one has had access to. Current language and maths literacy levels are very low for the majority of children.
My current research which is just starting is with a large group of researchers across 9 higher education institutions (HEIs) and one international NGO (OpenCourseWare Consortium) in South Africa looking at emerging technologies and their impact on teaching and learning in South Africa. To this end, we have designed and conducted a national survey on how academics are using emerging technologies to improve their teaching and learning. The second phase of this research will be case studies at the 9 institutions of innovative pedagogical practices using emerging technologies
Study.com: Do you feel a tangible difference has taken place in terms of who has access to quality education in South Africa?
VB: Those who have access to quality education in South Africa are the privileged few. There is a joke that it is not outcomes-based education but income-based education (our Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape coined this phrase). This means that those who are rich are able to access quality education and the rest can not. There is also not a good throughput rate in higher education for those who have not had access to schools to prepare individuals for university study.
I anticipate that our study will show that through using emerging technologies, students gain more agency and are able to engage more with learning. We do not however at this stage have any results from our study as we are only just embarking on the first phase and the survey itself is not yet complete.
Study.com: Why, and in what way, do you feel that emerging technologies can have a significant impact in addressing social inequality?
VB: I think they have been able to address inequality because most people now have access to mobile devices such as phones and both communication and information has been made possible through the use of these devices. One can also provide a better educational experience by using more knowledgeable others whether they are students or educators to assist in gaining epistemological access to knowledge. It is also possible to use students' subjugated knowledge through the use of emerging technologies and for students to gain more control over their educational experience.
Study.com: How does a lack of access to the emerging technologies themselves further impact efforts to reduce social inequality?
VB: It would be wonderful for all students to be able to gain access to mobile devices such as iPads. This would make it possible for students to gain access to all sorts of educational experiences which are currently limited. The resistance of institutions and educators may also have an effect on the democratization of knowledge through emerging technologies.
Study.com: What are the most important changes that you see potentially coming out of this project?
VB: I hope that our project is able to impact on teaching and learning practices of educators, to make an impact on policy and to promote flexible education in South Africa and ultimately contribute to the improved quality of education for some students in South Africa.
Study.com: Do you think that this project can be replicated internationally or is it particular to the South African context? Why?
VB: I think this project could definitely be replicated in any other context as it is topical and there is a current interest in emerging technologies and their affordances in higher education.
Study.com: In your opinion, what are the most important changes (at the institutional or social levels) that need to take place so that higher education institutions can more effectively bring about social equality?
VB: There needs to be a sharing of resources, of professional development for university educators, resources to make tools available to students and academics to use emerging technologies as well as assistance to make use of these and to develop ethical guidelines on the use of emerging technologies.
Study.com: You've also been involved in an international, inter-institutional teaching project between the University of the Western Cape and UNC- Charlotte. What did you and your co-educators learn from the experience of teaching collaboratively online?
VB: We learnt that it is important for students to have contact with each other across geographical contexts but that there are a lot of constraints in engaging in such endeavours. Students who work and live in different time zones may find it difficult to meet synchronously. Educators also need to keep in constant contact. There are also different expectations for assessments across contexts which may be tricky to negotiate.
Study.com: What new types of knowledge did students gain from relating to peers across the world that they wouldn't get in a traditional classroom?
VB: They learnt about different cultural contexts and also that they have things in common and similarities. They gained access to educators across different geographical contexts and learnt about different policy contexts too. The US students learnt about research methodologies such as participatory learning and action techniques which they had not encountered prior to this endeavour. They learnt to negotiate across differences and to come to some compromises and to work collectively and contribute to work of their peers across institutions.
Study.com: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about any of your current projects in education equality or education technology?
VB: It would be wonderful for anyone who reads this and is engaged in similar projects to contact us - we are keen to share ideas and learn from others about their experiences.