At the end of last year in one of my Honours subjects, called The publishing environment, we were required to write a research report on any topic which interested us. Any topic? Seriously…couldn’t it be a bit more specific!? But hey, that’s actually great, because this means that there are no limits. Although I could write about anything, I thought it would be most appropriate and beneficial to do research on a topic which is something that I deal with and something that will need a bit of research. So what I chose was to look at the ways in which e-learning technologies are being implemented at universities in South Africa. Now that sounds very broad, and therefore I have limited it by doing a comparative study, looking at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of Witwatersrand (WITS).
Just to give some clarity, e-learning is learning activities which are based on any electronic format. The reason why I chose this topic is because of the fact that the rapid growth of technology is now allowing universities to re-structure and re-design the way in which they teach information to students and is also changing the way in which students absorb such information. In terms of using technology to its fullest potential, my research indicated that South Africa appears to be somewhat behind other more developed countries.
I am not going to give you the full in-depth analysis of my findings, but I will however share some of my findings in short. One issue concerning implementing these technologies at South African universities, is the lack of access to such technologies, and funding. With many of the universities support and training are lacking when it comes to implementing new technologies. Another issue is the shortage of funding for an appropriate technology infrastructure which is necessary to ensure the sustainability of these ideas, and to ensure that such infrastructure will assist in educating both lecturers and students on the use thereof.
Are there any ways in which e-learning technologies can be implemented at universities in SA? Yes, and here they are:
• The infrastructure must be in place before e-learning can successfully be explored;
• lecturers should successfully adopt e-learning methods; and
• lecturers must receive the appropriate support when it comes to training
A reason why implementing some e-learning technologies is not as much an issue at the North Caroline State University, is the fact that they receive ample funding both from government and industry. The NCSU researchers’ motto is to "...advance knowledge, transfer technology, and discover and develop innovations that solve some of the world’s most pressing problems”. They are definitely a university which makes extensive use of technology, which is illustrated by the fact that students will not be able to acquire a qualification from NCSU without interacting with technology on a daily basis. This is however not as simple in South Africa, because of limited bursaries and funding for students, and the fact that poverty is a very large problem in South Africa.
Are there any threats for academic publishers out there? Yes, most definitely. They need to accept the reality that content needs to be offered in a variety of formats in order to ensure that they do not become redundant. The fact is that publishers still own a very valuable commodity namely their content. The challenge facing them however is how to package the content in the digital era.
The fact that universities want to have control over their own destiny and are looking at open source products and models such as Moodle should be quite concerning to publishers. Academic publishers are mainly dependent on universities to prescribe their books. The fact that lecturers are beginning to look at how they are lecturing their courses by seeing how technology can benefit them can be a concern, but also an opportunity for publishers.
Lecturers want to lessen their workload and technology can definitely aid this – but if they are not made aware of how and receive the necessary training they will keep on doing things the way they are doing it. Publishers need to understand the importance of educating both the lecturer and student to ensure the successful implementation of new products and technologies in content delivery. The traditional academic publisher will eventually disappear and be replaced by those who took heed of the voice of the rapidly changing market place and embraced technology.
The threat of self publishing within universities is a big concern for traditional publishers. Your client can become your competition in the digital age due to the advantages self publishing offers. Publisher’s no longer offer the advantage of a distribution network of physical goods in a world where content is instantly available online. It is for this reason that publishers need to realize that they are in dire need of reinvention seeing as the actual service and product they are offering will need to change. Content remains king – publishers however will not hold the monopoly over it for much longer. It is thus imperative that publishers offer the content in a manner that a university cannot do on its own. The publishing company of the future may very well become a hybrid between a software development company and content aggregator. The question now remains whether a business model as archaic as the Gutenberg press itself will be able to revolutionize itself before it faces extinction.