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Using Khan Academy’s educational videos on YouTube, he was able to work through matrix algebra and differentiation, the course unit’s cornerstones, in a short period of time. Created in 2006 by Salman Khan, the Khan Academy is a not-for-profit educational project that supplies free educational videos on its website and YouTube channel.

The 2, 600 tutorials, narrated by Mr Khan himself, cover a wide range of subjects from mathematics, chemistry, biology, computer science, economics to finance, and cater to kids just learning to add as well as university students.

“It was like I was in a lecture,” Allan said. “What made it better is that I could pause to digest the material, which you can’t do in class. The guy saved me from failing.”

Innovative resources

Khan Academy is just one of many innovative and self-paced online resources now used by thousands of students all over the globe, Allan for example, to aid them in their revision. While Khan concentrates on pre-university content, a number of universities have also put their content online to be accessed freely by anyone interested.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the most prestigious universities in the world, has since 2002 shared 2,000 courses over the internet.

Other universities, among them UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins and a number of Japanese and Chinese universities, have followed suit. These resources usually include video lectures, tests and discussions of some of the content.

In advanced nations, especially the US where the trend seems to be most popular, initiatives like the Khan Academy have triggered discussions about the future of education.

Offering high quality educational material (Khan has three degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA), they will, if fully embraced by teachers and schools, free up teachers to focus on instruction and co-curricular activities. Even better, they will bridge the gap between poor schools and the more selective ones.

Ugandan challenge

Locally, our financially handcapped  and poorly equipped universities have everything to gain by embracing these groundbreaking developments. At Makerere, Prof. Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa—Deputy Vice Chancellor on Finance and Administration— is in charge of iLABS, a collaboration with MIT. The project was launched in 2002 to develop online laboratories that supplement conventional laboratories.

 “It is a framework that enables us to access equipment from MIT’s labs through the internet,” Prof. Tickodri-Togboa says of the project. Initially, the university exclusively used MIT’s labs but “two or three years later, after a lot of interaction, we started developing our own equipment.”

Prof. Tickodri-Togboa says Makerere University was able to access contemporary technology it could not afford on it’s own through the project. From Makerere, the acquired knowledge and skills have been spread to secondary schools. Pilot projects were introduced in Gayaza High School and St. Mary’s College Kisubi.

At the beginning of this year, a competition was held to determine which of the two schools had adopted the technology better.

It involved programming robots to use cranes to carry out various activities, and Gayaza beat Kisubi.

Uganda Christian University, Mukono, too, started hosting a local copy of MIT’s educational materials in 2010 and, in the same spirit of openness, invites educators from around Uganda to utilise them.

In addition to OpenCourseWare, as initiatives like MIT’s are known, a number of other online resources are in use globally. Most people visit YouTube, the world’s most popular video-sharing website, to view cat and music videos but it is also a rich repository of university lectures. Professors from elite universities like Yale and Harvard have uploaded their lectures onto the website.

Within easy reach

Although not yet available in Uganda, iTunes U distributes educational audio, video and PDF files for students within their institutions and publicly.

Meanwhile, Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Blackboard, Moodle and KEWL, software packages that administer instructor-led and e-learning courses and help keep track of student progress, have been embraced by Makerere University.

An LMS makes it possible for teachers to manage large numbers of students, fellow lectures and courses as well as utilise online forums. Online registration, which is now the preferred option at Makerere, is part of these systems.

At Makerere’s School of Computing and Informatics Technology, students can download notes using the Moodle-hosted MUELE (Makerere University E-Learning Environment) and usually have their test and coursework  results posted on the platform.