Advancing Local Digital Transformation Through Global Partnerships

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Authors: Madeline Shellgren (Director of Community Strategy and Engagement & IELOL Global Program Director, Online Learning Consortium) with contributions from Dr. Angela Gunder (Chief Academic Officer, Online Learning Consortium), Dr. Heather Farmakis (Chief Programs & Operations Officer, Texas International Education Consortium), Dr. Robert Abaidoo (Professor, Department of Theoretical and Applied Biology, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology)Dr. John Serbe (Department of Supply Chain and Information Systems, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), Prof. Eric Appau Asante (Department of Educational Innovations & Director E-Learning Centre, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology)

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We’ve learned a few key lessons during the pandemic, particularly the truth of what access to education looks like across the globe. That said, for far too long as a field, we’ve held our discussions around critical digital learning change work in ways that have been siloed and limiting. In working towards solutions to break these siloes, the Online Learning Consortium conceived of the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) Global Regional Colloquies. These colloquies serve as an inclusive and collaborative format for amplifying and surfacing the most impactful and equitable practices for increasing access to education, particularly through the instantiation of quality online, blended, and digital learning. 

Excitingly, leaders from the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC), and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) have come together to bring the field the first of many IELOL Global Regional Colloquies. This upcoming Regional Colloquy, “Transforming Educational Futures Through Innovation in West Africa” (to be held from July 19-22, 2022), will be a world-class gathering of educators from around the globe to discuss the importance of flexible learning, as well as how to address the challenges of implementing sustainable programs. In addition to providing a crucial method of instructional delivery during times of crisis, online education gives programs and institutions the opportunity to expand their student base by reaching learners outside of their local geographic area. However, we (the OLC, TIEC, and KNUST) recognize that this can be a daunting task. By bringing together experts from the OLC and TIEC, and recent implementers at KNUST, this colloquy will provide strategies, best practices, and success stories to make quality flexible learning achievable regardless of your circumstances.

In addition to use cases and success stories, one of the things we are collectively most interested to amplify is our partnership, as each organization leads and supports the others in unique ways. In talking with Dr. Heather Farmakis, TIEC’s Chief Programs & Operations Officer, about the history of TIEC’s collaboration with KNUST, she shared that “KNUST has been a valued partner of TIEC and the OLC since 2020 and is also a TIEC affiliate member. As an institution with a large population of remote students in addition to on-campus learners, KNUST has worked tirelessly to coordinate its efforts to make elearning not only possible, but sustainable. From an initial core of around 30 hand-selected instructors who received TIEC’s training on flexible learning foundations, through norming the OLC Quality Scorecard for Ghana, through widening course-development training to a wider range of instructors who worked step-by-step to develop real-world flexible learning classes, we are confident KNUST is the right partner to showcase how to move from square one to flourishing online and hybrid programs.”

The team at KNUST echoed Dr. Farmakis’ sentiments of a generative partnership. According to Dr. Robert Abaidoo, Professor, Department of Theoretical and Applied Biology, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, “TIEC has been a great mentor and partner to KNUST. They have helped us to understand online learning much better. TIEC has always been there for KNUST despite all the challenges KNUST had to circumvent to see most of the success it has achieved in the space of online learning. The partnership has helped project both TIEC and KNUST at the global stage through several competitions, conferences and certifications. TIEC also helped us to expand partnership by linking us to OLC, thus opening a lot more opportunities of interacting with more experienced online faculty and management.”

Finally, though the OLC is new to partnership with KNUST, we are committed to similar futures for the field and requisite change efforts therein. “As an association with a small but mighty cadre of staff tasked with serving institutions across the globe, we know that we can only reach our goals through partnerships and collaboration with organizations that share our same mission and vision – to promote equitable access to quality education,” commented OLC’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Angela Gunder. “Both KNUST and TIEC share this vision for the future and have helped us increase access to professional learning at a scope and scale that sits in service to our organizational goals. We are better through our connections and our shared mission.”

When asked why they were excited about the July 2022 event, each organization had something different, but nevertheless compelling to share in response. In my opinion, their contributions spotlight the unique approaches each organization has taken in positioning themselves in this partnership. Dr. Gunder (OLC) said “The regional colloquies are situated to elevate context-specific examples of not only the challenges we are facing in different areas of the globe, but also the commonalities, linkages, and opportunities that we can reveal by sharing the stories of our work to advance digital learning. This in mind, I’m most excited to hear from our colleagues at KNUST on their journey to becoming a center of excellence in online learning, and learn from how they inspire the participants of the event to put into action at their own institutions in support of student success across the globe.” 

In comparison, Dr. Abaidoo (KNUST) shared that in his opinion, “The Regional Colloquy will help identify and impact knowledge to emerging leaders in online learning within the West African Region. It will further help establish champions and subject matter specialists within the region who can advocate for online learning and drive policy to promote learning opportunities for many students and faculty in the region. The champions could promote easy navigation of the online space to facilitate the deployment of digital technologies for the expansion of tertiary education in Africa.” 

Finally, Dr. Farkmakis (TIEC) said, “What is so special about this colloquy is that it will foster emerging leaders in flexible learning by providing not only training, but also networking opportunities. Teaching online can sometimes feel like working in a vacuum, but this gathering will bring instructors together to talk about the ways they are making elearning work for them and their students. It will also be a wonderful chance for administrators of these programs to see the state of the field and how flexible education can lead to improved student outcomes.” 

One thing that certainly does linger on all of our minds as we reflect on this partnership, though, is that perhaps the greatest strength of online, blended, digital, and flexible learning is the ability to connect people regardless of their location. If you are struggling with big questions on how to promote digital learning transformation at your institution, consider attending the regional colloquy as a way to collaboratively answer these challenges with the support of an international community of practice. Those participating will benefit from the generosity and wisdom of an engaged group of practitioners who are collectively dedicated to improving the educational experience of learners from across the globe and situated within a diverse set of contexts. This event celebrates the fact that none of us are alone, and that we have incredibly impactful work to do as a connected community.

For more information on the July 19-22, 2022 Regional Colloquy, “Transforming Educational Futures Through Innovation in West Africa” visit the program website. This event would not be possible without the sponsorship of the U.S. Embassy Accra. Enhanced by broad support from the KNUST Council and the Chancellor and King of Ashanti, this collaboration also elaborates a shared vision for establishing KNUST as a Center of Excellence in Ghana and West Africa. 

You can also learn more about the IELOL Global Regional Colloquy model (or reach out about hosting your own Regional Colloquy) here. Additionally, if you’re interested in learning more about opportunities to collaborate with leaders from around the world, consider applying to the IELOL Global Core Program (a cohort-based leadership development program). Finally, don’t forget to explore the Online Learning Consortium, the Texas International Education Consortium, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to learn more about these organizations and their work in advancing access to quality education.

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