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Teaching and learning goes 21st century at Wits

- Wits University

The launch yesterday of a high-tech eZone, eFundanathi – "Learn with Us", is set to revolutionise teaching and learning at Wits.

The eZone, a student-centered adaptive learning environment on Wits Education Campus, is a collaboration between the School of Therapeutic Sciences and the School of Education at Wits.

Aimed initially at students studying to become nurses, teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and pharmacists, it's envisaged that the eZone serve as a blueprint to extend eLearning and collaboration across campus.

The eZone aims to transform traditional didactic teaching and learning methods so that students become tech savvy and able to apply their learning directly.

Revolutionising pedagogy

“It is not just about the space,” says Paula Barnard-Ashton, manager of the eZone. “It is about transforming the curriculum to meet the students’ learning needs, upskilling lecturers in using blended learning, and integrating the efficiencies that software can have on our academic and research output.”

A 2014 study by Barnard-Ashton, Lyndsay Koch, and Professor Alan Rothberg showed that using 21st century blended learning meaningfully improved the academic performance of occupational therapy and physiotherapy students - pass rates consistently increased by more than 10 percent.     

The outcome of applying new pedagogy like this has long-term impact too. Next generation educators, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, biokineticists and sports scientists will be equipped with critical thinking skills, and feel at home in the high-tech world of work.

The eZone is a high-tech flexible teaching and learning space on Wits Education Campus to advance eLearning.

Enabling access and subverting digital privilege

Power failures, protests and disruptions, and digital apartheid have plagued the day-to-day academic activities in higher education. Now, the eZone offers mobile technology and high-speed wireless connectivity, ensuring students have equal and continuous access to learning resources and activities.

Through eLearning, study costs can be significantly reduced by limiting outlay for textbooks. Students’ access to learning materials is improved, and effective teaching occurs in an environment that allows for rapid innovation. Through group collaboration, lecturers are able to teach growing numbers of students while the environment allows for each student to have a voice in a large class.

Sandra Khan, a third-year occupational therapy student, says, “A lot of what we deal with in OT as a profession is making things accessible. Where technology resources are concerned, not everyone has a laptop or access to Wi-Fi, so it's nice that you don’t have to pay for a laptop; you can just come and use one here in the eZone, as long as you have your student card.

This is an easy space for groups to meet, you are not restricted as much as being in a library because there you have to be quiet. The eZone is a nice, chilled, comfortable space to do work and meet as groups. It is easier to get work done!”

The eZone paves the way to further innovation in terms of online learning, virtual learning and simulation, ultimately to tele-science and education.

Read more about the research that informed the development of the eZone in Curiosity, Wits' research magazine, the iHuman edition, pg 22.