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By Orville Williams

In plotting the map through sustained online learning – brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic – the University of the West Indies (UWI) will be depending on its Open Campus for directions.

Interim Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the UWI Five Islands Campus, Professor Stafford Griffith, made the declaration late last week, while speaking on the UWI’s Covid-19 response. While the pandemic has placed the delivery of tertiary education in uncharted waters, Griffith said the “digital campus” – with a site on Factory Road in Antigua – can chart the way forward for the regional institution.

“Fortunately, the University of the West Indies has had in place for several years, an Open Campus which is [and] has been delivering its programmes online. In fact, that campus has now loomed very large in our planning, to benefit from the experience that it has had since it was established, I think, about a decade ago. [The campus] has been doing very well and so, not surprisingly, we have called on both the experience and the expertise of the Open Campus to help us get up to speed in the landed campuses with online delivery,” he said.

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the Caribbean forced the closure of the UWI’s landed campuses (in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) beginning late March, and the continued uncertainty has left the fate of face-to-face learning hanging in the balance.

Griffith says the Open Campus will not only provide the rest of the UWI with digital experience, but also with an important framework to manage the cost efficiency of online learning delivery.

“The Open Campus has a model which it has used over the last few years. It has all the numbers which will help us to do an assessment of cost and benefit, and we now are in a position, not merely to adopt the model with which the Open Campus started, but to benefit from the experience of the Open Campus as we go forward in having a model which is very cost-efficient. That’s where we would like to focus in our online delivery,” he explained.

Griffith added that, though it is likely to mean added pressure on the university as far as getting things off the ground is concerned, there are sufficient resources in place to facilitate the transition.

“Yes, it would require additional hardware in particular and software, but I must also tell you that even though the physical campuses have been emphasising face-to-face delivery, they all have in place technologies for distance delivery. [Only] perhaps not of the same magnitude as they would have to put in place if we were to go forward with more extensive online. That is the reason why we were able to get up to speed so quickly with the shift from face-to-face to online, the infrastructure, much of it is already there,” he revealed. The UWI has found itself in the same position as thousands of educational institutions across the region and the globe – trying to balance enforced social distancing with continued learning – and with the Open Campus, it seems they have a great chance at bridging the gap.

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