Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Benefits and Challenges of Introducing a Blended Project-Based Approach in Higher Education: Experiences from a Kenyan University

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Benefits and Challenges of Introducing a Blended Project-Based Approach in Higher Education: Experiences from a Kenyan University

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Currently, Kenya is facing forestry-related challenges, including the need to improve the forestry and nature-based education curricula, and competencies and expertise in forestry at higher education institutions. While some western countries (e.g. Finland, Germany, Canada) have gone through reforms in forestry curricula that reinforce the competences of foresters for their work as versatile natural resource and environmental experts and managers, this progress in forestry education is not apparent in developing countries and Africa is particularly lagging behind (Duveskog et al., 2013). University of Eldoret (UoE) is the sole university in Kenya providing holistic forestry education at all three educational levels (B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D.) (Arevalo et al., 2014). Strengthening the use and integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) within the forestry curricula has been seen by UoE and the Forestry department as one of the key activities to addressing the knowledge gap. Especially as ICTs have the potential to contribute to sustainable development (Mansell & When 1998). However, having seen that applications and technology have often been merely transferred or duplicated from a developed to a developing context with poor results (Unwin, 2009); UoE was motivated to address and develop solutions to the forestry-related problems locally, as developing locally helps ground the work in context.

Unfortunately, the current curriculum at UoE still has challenges in instilling and giving students practical skills that are beneficial for when they graduate and enter the professional world. This is in part due to inadequate funding for forestry education, with the result that most practical aspects are not adequately addressed. Hence with the desire to strengthen the forestry education, improve the capabilities and skills of graduates, and address the various related forestry problems in the community in a sustainable way, a project-based approach was adopted at UoE's forestry and ICT departments. Central to adopting a project-based approach was to strengthen the students' abilities to think critically, to transform foundational theory into skills that are relevant in working life, and propose proactive solutions (Soundarajan 1999; Chawdurry 1999; Blumenfeld et al., 1991). As an initial effort, the project approach was introduced as an extracurricular activity among Bachelor level degree students in their 3rd and 4th years of study.

The project-based approach introduced by UoE blends problem-based learning (PBL) where the projects are organized around a driving problem (Blumenfeld et al., 1991), and participatory design (PD). PBL has been advocated as a possible approach to improving quality of education and improve student competencies (Dahms & Stentoft, 2008). In addition, it also prepares the students to better handle complex, real-life problems, and work (Coto et al., 2013). PD approaches emphasize the importance of involving target users of an artefact in the planning and design process as it helps to ensure that the resulting artefact does function appropriately (Allen et al., 2002).

Herein, we present a multiple case study in which we explore how two projects using the blended approach were introduced and implemented at UoE. The study aims to explore student experiences, the benefits gained and challenges faced.

BACKGROUND

Current teaching at the University of Eldoret

The current teaching style at UoE is the traditional chalk board face-to-face approach. In this approach there is very little free discussion between students and lecturers. Thus students hardly get to fully develop their thinking, reasoning and critiquing capabilities. Course content is most often not based on equipping students with job market competencies; a major drawback of the traditional approach. The government of Kenya has pledged increased education for all but this may come at the cost of quality and lack of relevant competencies due to challenges of poor infrastructure and resources for practical activities, fieldwork and inadequate attachment opportunities for students. …

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