- By Carolyne Linet Awino Onyango, Research Fellow and PhD Candidate, The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, KENYA
If you had sought my opinion in March 2016 as to whether you should enrol for any online training, I would have strongly advised you against it. I would have given you multiple reasons, like how you will miss out on the crucial face-to-face interaction that enriches learning, among others. Over the years, I have given such a response to tens of my high school and university students. Ask me the same question today and I will be the first to cheer you on to take up any online course offered by any credible institution at the earliest opportunity.
It all began with a re-tweet from @ResearchAfrica on March 30, 2016 bearing an announcement by AuthorAID (@authoraid) for an ”Online research writing course for developing country researchers” that was to start on 1st April 2016. Being a sceptic of online training, I had let many such opportunities pass me by. However, this one caught my attention; I liked the tweet and went on to download the course details. I thereafter alerted my peers as I sought familiar company for this soon-to-be new learning experience. The majority procrastinated; when I next checked on them, the deadline for enrolment had elapsed.
I eagerly looked forward to the commencement of the training, albeit with some cynicism, because I already had some pre-conceived notions about online and distance e-learning. Being a psychologist, I advocate for wholeness in communication encompassing the warmth in live voices, face-to-face social interactions as well as the interpretation of complete meaning arising from verbal and non-verbal cues. It is now some days since the course ended; and I now vouch for online training, thanks to my wonderful debut online learning experience taking the AuthorAID Online Research Writing Course.
I learnt many new things: pardon my numerous confessions, but I had never seen nor heard the word MOOC before the training! Neither did I know that ‘retraction’ is a noun to watch out for in academia! How about my registration with ORCID? I could go on and on, but let me not wash my dirty linen in public.
What intrigued me the most is this part: I had identified certain journals I had seen some professors’ articles in, even gleefully sent my articles to some of the listed editors, and was hoping to have several articles published before the end of the year so I could also earn myself a promotion, or so I thought. The training enlightened me that I was actually on a downward spiral to oblivion. I could taint my reputation and credibility as a scholar by publishing in predatory journals...Aha! Could this possibly be why some of my exemplary professors’ most excellent proposals never attract any grant at all? To save fellow scholars in my university, I have prepared a seminar paper and given it the title “Of predatory journals, plagiarism and why scholars should be alarmed”. Through the seminar, I hope to answer the questions ‘What are (and are not) predatory journals?’, ‘Why should scholars steer away from them?’, ‘Why should plagiarism scare all researchers?’, ‘How can I disentangle myself from the web of self-plagiarism and predatory journals?’. I hope even my professors, and other senior academic staff will find time to listen to my humble presentation. Of course I will use the material from AuthorAID online training on Research Writing!
The course facilitators were extremely helpful and patient, sometimes tolerant. They answered even the most naïve questions in the most interesting ways. I always found myself acknowledging “I had never thought about it that way” when I read their responses to participants’ queries. Even questions that could have provoked not-so-nice responses received honourable answers, spiced with extreme courtesy. I looked forward to the discussion forums the most (leave the quiz section alone...who likes to take tests anyway). The quizzes were never a guess-work affair - you would have to take the lesson before attempting a quiz, or you would not make the grade! I will never forget the jubilant smiley emoticon after beating the pass-mark...with an honest reminder that scoring 100% does not mean you know everything! Or the sad emoticon regretting each time I failed to reach the pass mark, whenever I attempted any quiz after skipping some parts of the lesson (as my naughty students would do) when my internet was slow. Truly a participant had to prepare thoroughly in order to comprehend even the discussion forums, or you’d find yourself asking a question that had been answered in a previous section. Oh! And did I mention the peer assessments? Time and space fail me here; I could list everything! On average I spent five or six hours each week attending the training, mostly on weekends. With fast internet, I guess I should have taken a shorter time.
The majority of participants were very generous with what they shared; knowledge on plagiarism software, referencing software, what worked how, several how-tos, even offering links to sites that provide free e-books on diverse topics and many more...what a wealth of information in just six weeks! It was also most fulfilling to read the same dilemmas I struggled with expressed by participants from Bangladesh, Lesotho, Uganda, Nigeria, the Phillipines, Bolivia, Nepal, India, Sudan, Malawi, etc, from all manner of disciplines, nano-technology, pharmacy, environment, you name it. We had some hyper-active participants who did everything way ahead of everyone else and shouted about it, even displaying snapshots of their quiz grades. No sooner had the administrators released the following week’s lesson than they completed a few moments later! To some extent this motivated me to soldier on.
With the commercialization of higher education in most parts of the world today, this course would probably have been broken into three or four three-credit units. Perhaps I would have learnt XYZ 1001 Ethics in Research - 3 credits; UVW 1002 English for Academic Purposes - 2 credits; RST 1003 Writing Your Research Paper - 3 credits; POQ Publishing Your Research Paper - 3 credits. Perhaps I would have paid a handsome $600 for each of the three-credit courses or more depending on the latest world university web ranking (read reputation!) of the university, and $400 (or more) for the two-credit one, excluding administrative costs. I would have had to buy the assigned reading texts among other compulsory expenses. I estimate I saved not less than three thousand US Dollars by taking the training after investing my time and cost of internet service. In short, I appreciate that someone sat and constructed this course and proceeded to offer it to me free of cost.
The course also taught me to respect deadlines; the course administrators were on top of their game! I got constant reminders of pending tasks, and deadlines were crucial, more like do-or-die to me. After a tough day at work, I would burn the midnight oil, just to do my reading and complete pending tasks before the system locked me out. Pondering about these benefits pushed me to tweet on May 19, 2016, ”I am extremely grateful to @INASPinfo and @authoraid for the just concluded online training on Research Writing. It was just superb!” Indeed I truly am.