Professor Tony Ogiamien is the president/founder of an online university, the American Heritage University of Southern California, Ontario, the United States of America. Against the backdrop of the dreaded COVID-19 global pandemic and the surge in online education, Ogiamien, a former dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Benin (UNIBEN) spoke to Hendrix Oliomogbe on the challenges of e-learning in Nigeria, with recommendations for Nigerian universities on what should be done to address the issue.
How would you assess the state of online education in Nigeria?
It’s regrettable that we are discussing this issue when stakeholders in the sector should have had the foresight when the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) was established as a correspondence institution. When the online learning started in the United States, we should have sent people to study it but we didn’t. The National Universities Commission (NUC) put it on its website when it had next to nothing. NUC established the open distance learning when it didn’t know anything about it. We are not serious.
What do you reckon are the barriers to e-learning in Nigeria? Why do you think it will not work here based on your experience at the American Heritage University?
The first is connectivity. This is where the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) could have encouraged the government to find a bandwidth that would make distance learning to work but it left it to private subscribers like MTN, Airtel and Glo. Nigeria didn’t have the foresight to ensure that everybody has enough bandwidth on campus like the University of Benin (UNIBEN), for example. I spoke with Professor Oshodi when he was the vice chancellor. If there’s enough bandwidth it will work but it was left to individuals.
Our bandwidth is very low. A bandwidth for only the campus can be created. We can get experts from India, South Africa and other countries to help set up the bandwidth. It is worse outside the campus. An average student cannot hold lesson outside the campus for long. The question is how zoom can be used to teach 300 students at the same time, who do not have the means. How do you connect with bandwidth? You can’t teach Nigerian students for three hours without the call dropping and when it drops, it may not be able to reconnect again.
Why didn’t you try to replicate the success of your American dream here in Nigeria by establishing a campus of American Heritage University?
When I wanted to establish an online university in Nigeria 17 years ago, I applied to the NUC but it was not taken seriously. Online is where the world is heading to. Then, I saw the need to use phone device to teach students. In Nigeria, we didn’t pay attention to connectivity. At American Heritage University, we have one of the best online institutions because we are dedicated to succeed and took a different kind of training for our staff. We took it very seriously right from e-college to blackboard and built our own online campus. The major problem is connectivity.
How about the problem of personnel to teach the students?
There’s also the problem of personnel which requires the training of lecturers for e-learning. The lecturers will have to be trained for e-learning and also familiarise students for e-learning. There is the question of how they will know what to do if they are not trained. You need technologists with highly skilled computer knowledge. In Nigeria, we are not doing it with seriousness. The universities should be in the forefront and do the thinking and not the NUC. The NUC should give directives to ensure that e-learning is established in every university in the country.
How would you assess NOUN?
It took many years for NOUN to graduate its first set. It came at a time when online started but it chose to go the way of Rapid Result College. At NOUN, there is no two-way interaction between the teachers and students which e-learning does very well. With the right personnel and technology, e-learning succeeds. At American Heritage University, every faculty member was given five weeks of intensive training before he or she was appointed. Initially some saw it as something very boring. As for students, they should be taught how to log in and use the portal where payment can be made without going to the bank. A duplicate of his records are always stored in the portal right from day one to graduation. Students are sent to the students’ portal individually.
In an online class, how do you tackle absenteeism and cheating?
In a class that starts at 9:00am for instance, the professor logs in at 8.50am and sees the names of the students who have logged in. He greets them by 9:00am and class starts. Attendance is very strict and must be 80 per cent to qualify to write examination. The students see the professor just like in a normal class. There are no distractions. The examination is supported by a computer system whereby when a student is writing the examination, there is no cheating. The system sends a signal to the registrar if somebody is writing for a particular student. We made 67 per cent in the last Bar Examination.
In Nigeria, prevention of cheating will be another barrier to e-learning because of adequate technology to prevent it. When you have a bandwidth, it enhances mobility.
In all of these, what do you think should be the role of the National Assembly?
The National Assembly should appropriate funds for a bandwidth through the NCC so that Nigerians can get the full benefits of e-learning. We need a bandwidth technology that will enable talking online without interruption. We need the technology to enable it work. Zoom when you write to ask a question. Besides, it eats up battery very fast and it is also porous.
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