SUNOnline, Stellenbosch University’s(SU) new short courses electronic platform, has gone live and ready to provide a seamless online learning experience to participants who need access to the more than 500 SU short courses that are annually available.
According to Carol Kat, Head of the Copyright and Short Courses Division at Innovus, a collaborative partnership between Innovus, SU’s Centre for Learning Technologies and Information Technology saw them going live with the new SUNOnline platform in May this year. This project was fully funded as an official Information and Communication Technology Council Funding Project and took approximately 22 months to complete. “After challenging development and testing phases, we went live in May 2019. From the beginning of 2020, all SU’s blended or online short courses will be available on SUNOnline, while the online component for all formal programmes of the University will still be hosted on SUNLearn (the existing Moodle-based platform).”
“I believe SUNOnline has the potential to create new knowledge markets and to attract a diverse spectrum of participants for SU,” said Carol.
With SUNOnline, a participant’st’s whole online learning experience is automated – from registration until the end of the course. Access to the platform is available to the participant once the registration and payment process has been completed, but access to the course content is only on the official start date of the course and access to the content will come to an end when the course officially ends. If online interaction is required between students registered for a postgraduate module and participants of a short courses which is being presented concurrently to both subsidised and non-subsidised participants, SU’s Centre for Learning Technology will be able to assist by providing an effective communication tool.
For this first time since SU’s Short Courses Division was established in 2007, does SUNOnline offer participants a seamless online learning environment while making a substantial contribution to the University’s fifth income stream. SU runs between 500 and 540 short learning programmes and as many as 15 000 participants enrol annually. “Our short course profile is expanding all the time; and it is important to have an online platform that is agile and be responsive to changes in the online teaching and learning environment.”
The new platform is aligned and meets certain institutional Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019–2024 requirements.
According to Carol, they are currently monitoring the short course enquiry inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org) almost on a 24/7 basis to ensure that urgent queries are dealt with immediately and assistance provided where needed.
Short Courses Division, Centre for Learning Technologies and Information Technology have facilitated hosting SU’s short courses internally as a cost-effective measure where given the high development costs and hosting fees that external online service providers charge and with often an unfavourable profit-sharing component. By facilitating online course content within a SU platform, the University also no longer has to address course content ownership and copyright issues with outside service providers,. “Both course content and related IP can now stay within SU,” says Carol.
According to Carol, there are still some challenges ahead as SUNOnline will also have to eventually integrate with the new financial and student management systems (SUNFin and SUNStudent) that are going to be implemented over the next few years.
“A system is just never complete, and the educational playing fields are constantly changing. SUNOnline, hopefully, has the flexibility to accommodate changes as and when they arise. We are hoping the benefits will certainly out weight the challenges,” says Carol
Since going live in May 2019, online courses being hosted on SUNOnline include engineering, health sciences, arts & social sciences and leadership courses–Although currently the majority of SUNOnline participants are from South Africa, Carol hopes that the platform will enable more international participation in future.
To see what the Short Courses Division has to offer, go to https://www.shortcourses.sun.ac.za/ and to have a sneak preview of SUNOnline go to: https://www0.sun.ac.za/online/courses/
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