By Sisanda Nkoala: The FutureAbility Project, a partnership of nine institutions, is about to pilot new online courses in visual communication. 

The pilots are being developed as phase two of an ongoing project to find ways of making online teaching more attractive and accessible. Institutions who are interested in participating in the piloting can complete their details here.

The project’s full name is “FutureAbility Project – Digital and Transversal Skills for Online Teachers” and has drawn together universities, research centres and cultural enterprises from Hungary, Greece, the UK, Italy, Sweden and South Africa.  The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is the only African institution involved. 

Phase one involved research into the experiences of educators with remote teaching, with a particular emphasis on visual communication courses and those using visual methods. These were particularly strongly affected by the shift to emergency remote pedagogies during the Covid19 pandemic.

Initial research took place during the second half of 2021, and involved a desktop study, focus group discussions and a survey of around 300 participants. One of the key findings, as depicted in the figure below, is that most of the respondents argue that the key challenges they faced teaching visual communication and teaching using visual methods were a lack of student motivation, various technical problems and digital literacy.

Furthermore, the study found that using online teaching exclusively is detrimental for courses that rely primarily on practice, as with visual communication-based courses. It diminishes the quality of interactions. As such, many professionals and students see blended forms of teaching as the best option. The full findings, entitled “Report on the digital readiness and on the use of visual methods in Higher Education in Hungary, UK, Greece, Italy, Sweden and South Africa”, can be accessed here.

The current phase of the project involves the development of open education multilingual resources in the form of online courses that will address some of the gaps identified in phase one when it comes to the skills needed to teach online. After the pilot phase, the last phase of the project will see the courses rolled out to a broader audience. This is scheduled for later this year.

Sisanda Nkoala is a senior lecturer in the Media Department in the Faculty of Informatics and Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa.