UFS receives grant from Oppenheimer Memorial Trust

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The School of Accountancy, the Department of Communication Science, and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE) at the University of the Free Sate will be benefiting from the grant of R1, 3 million from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.

All three entities will use the funds to support their emergency remote teaching and learning initiatives.

Head of CENSARDE and acting head of the Department of Consumer Science, Prof. Johan van Niekerk, says they plan to design an up-to-date online education management system with the funds.

He believes teaching should be adaptive, with an increased focus on online teaching – to mitigate the current Covid-19 challenges and ensure continuous student access to learning programmes without major interruption. They will train eight personnel members to develop their subjects into new online courses.

Head of the School of Accountancy, Prof. Frans Prinsloo, says they will use the funds to develop a ‘ChatBot TaxChat’, which will form part of the school’s strategic initiative of leveraging technology to enhance teaching to its students. The chatbot, a software application hosted on WhatsApp, will be used to conduct online chats using a chat service.

According to a statement by the UFS, Prof. Prinsloo believes that the development of the chatbot will also contribute to the digital acumen of both staff and students in the department, which is a crucial skill in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Lecturer in the Department of Communication Science, Rentia Engelbrecht, explains that she is exploring instant messaging technology (IMT) as part of a research study to reach all students in the time of asynchronous online learning.

She will use the funding to buy data for first-year Communication Science students and students enrolled in the Higher Certificate in Humanities taking Communication Science.

“This will allow all students to participate in the WhatsApp classes and in research interviews, reflecting on their experiences during this time of distance learning.”

Engelbrecht believes the study will provide useful information on students’ needs in online distance learning in general, and particularly on the use of online distance education in times of crisis. More specifically, she hopes that the study will address the shortcomings of the online platform caused by the digital divide in South Africa.

Sazly Hartzenberg

sazly@centralmediagroup.co.za