Technology

What USB is doing to ensure teaching and learning continue during COVID-19

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What USB is doing to ensure teaching and learning continue during COVID-19

  • JUL 15
  • Tags COVID-19, studies, teaching, technology, remote learning, blended learning

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The COVID-19 pandemic has required universities around the world to explore online learning. The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) is no exception. Although not new – the USB has been developing its Blended Learning format since 2015 – even more digital platforms have been investigated since then.

Prof Martin Butler, Head of Teaching and Learning at USB, says the business school has introduced new technology platforms and online learning conventions for lecturers to ensure that students are able to complete their degrees in the minimum given time – without compromising on the quality of teaching and learning.

“Online classes have been designed by learning experts for delivery via various multimedia platforms. We are using technology to take the teaching and learning to the student. Currently we are using quite a few digital platforms, including Teams, Zoom and the Learning Hub,” he says.

“There are also ample online resources available to support students’ learning journey,” he adds.

USB’s lecturers have also been trained to deliver a world-class virtual learning experience prior to the pandemic and currently there are online learning conventions happening to ensure that the new Blended Learning format provides an optimal experience for USB students.

“We went on a massive remote teaching development drive to get the lecturers to use the new technology platforms effectively and to facilitate the teaching successfully. We want to ensure engaging and interactive classes for the students via the remote online classes,” Butler says.

He says the Zoom Advanced training session has especially been popular, in which breakouts, polls, sharing screen and desktop, and student interaction via chat were discussed. He says from feedback sessions that were held, 92% of the students found the remote online classes average to excellent.

“Most students have indicated that they are comfortable that they will be able to complete their studies in this manner. There has also been a 90% plus class attendance to date (June 2020).”

Comments from students include:

  • “The class is amazingly interactive for an online platform.”
  • “…manages to combine very interesting exercises so that I even forget we are online, and the online participation has been even better than in class.”

Butler says they have also been recording classes so that students can watch it again if they were unable to join at a specific time. “We realise that our students are people who need to work from home, with children, and they sit in front of their computer the whole day.

“This isn’t the time to sweat the small stuff. Lecturers have been encouraging five-minute breaks after every 45 minutes of class to help with online fatigue. Our students’ needs are different, but we have tried really hard to accommodate everyone and to still provide them with a quality learning experience,” he says.

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Experts discuss 4IR impact on South Africa

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Experts discuss 4IR impact on South Africa

  • AUG 01
  • Tags Women, Technology

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a new period that expands the impact of digital technologies in new and unpredictable ways – changing the way we live and work. The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) hosted a panel discussion around the impact that the 4IR will have on South Africa at the School’s popular Leader’s Angle event, which took place on Thursday, 19 July 2018.

The event was held at the FNB Portside Building in the Cape Town CBD and MBA head, Martin Butler, who is passionate about innovation in technology, was the facilitator.

Alison Jacobson, co-founder of The Field, a purpose-led organisation dedicated to equipping leaders and their organisations to navigate our digital future, said new truths are defining everything.

“Everybody always talks about how ‘it is fine, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to take out the routine, the rules, and the repetitive-based work; that it can’t do empathy or human creativity’.

“But I have watched a video of an AI painting that was beautiful art, because it analysed patterns of how people appreciate art and what we like and then according to those patterns produced art that is beautiful to us,” she said.

“The empathy factor, the ‘oh don’t worry what we’re going to be left to do is all the human creative stuff’, is very much up for grabs,” she warned.

Here’s what she had to say:

Dr Albert Strever, senior lecturer at the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University (SU), was part of a research team that produced a report for the Western Cape Agriculture Department where they investigated mega trends affecting agriculture in the Western Cape.

Dr Strever said that this sector is now moving to a system of smart farming. “Precision agriculture and smart farming is not only positioning technology; now it’s artificial intelligence (AI) and it starts where it is implemented in your farming management system,” he explained.

“That’s the challenge. It is one thing to put a tractor with positioning technology on the farm, but it is another thing integrating it with your financial system,

Here’s what he had to say:

The discussion was concluded by Prof Thomas Thurner, CPUT’s Research Chair of Innovation Society, who spoke about consequences and strategies for Industry 4.0.

“I don’t see big threats coming our way. If we have robots who can take brainless tasks away from us, we should embrace that.

“Our challenge starts with what happens afterwards? We need to come forward and develop utopian visions of how a society could look like embracing those technologies because they come either way,” he said.

Here’s what he had to say:

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Empowering SA’s Blue-Collar Female Workers with Technology

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Empowering SA’s Blue-Collar Female Workers with Technology

  • AUG 01
  • Tags Women, Technology

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Female blue-collar workers have traditionally lacked power in their employment choices, as marginalised and predominantly uneducated workers, but Fourth Industrial Revolution technology will allow women to participate in jobs that used to exclude them due to their perceived lack of strength, stamina and education level.

However, to unlock this potential, businesses need to provide women with opportunities and skills to embrace technology in order to earn a decent livelihood, says Dr Lize Barclay, Senior Lecturer in Futures Studies and Systems Thinking at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and contributor to the 2018 South African Board for People Practices (SABPP) Women’s Report launched today (1 August).

Although South Africa has seen a rise in employment of women from 1999 to 2016, with women employed on the skilled technical level (including junior management and as ‘foremen’ and superintendents) rising from 40% to 46%, the semi-skilled level rising from 39% to 42.8%, and the unskilled level rising from 29% to 40.7%, the career prospects of female blue-collar workers and their associated pay is still at the lower-end of the market.

“Working in predominantly male-dominated jobs and industries, with the exception of the clothing and textile industry in South Africa, women in blue-collar positions often hold jobs that support entire families on a single income. There are still high levels of segregation around gender with regard to which jobs are ‘acceptable’ for women to perform, with slow progress being made in enticing women to artisan jobs with financial and career potential.”

Dr Barclay says the current definition of blue-collar workers as people with low or no skills who perform manual labour and predominantly work with their hands on assembly lines, as cleaners, or doing maintenance will change with the on-set of the opportunities the Fourth Industrial Revolution holds.

“Although the saying goes ‘a woman’s place is in the home’, for many centuries the home was the centre of production for families. Food, clothing production, pottery, spinning and weaving, preservation of food, brewing of alcohol, making jewellery, and farming were tasks women proudly fulfilled around the world. The role of women as wives, producers, and providers varied from one culture to another, as it still does today.

Where the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions threatened the roles, responsibilities, and livelihoods of blue-collar workers, with women being particularly vulnerable, the Fourth Industrial Revolution appears to be threatening white-collar workers above all, while unlocking potential for blue-collar workers, and females in particular, to carve a new future for themselves.

Dr Barclay says the Fourth Industrial Revolution need not be feared and businesses should rather re-think employment structures as we know them and harness the opportunity of technology to empower women in realising greater potential and adding more value in the workplace.

“The growing demand for ethical, sustainable, and responsible businesses and products opens up possible opportunities for women to again actively contribute to the manufacturing sector of South Africa as artisans and innovators.  Women would be able to for instance, run a microfactory with 3D printing as a sub-contractor for a bigger company, or they can make craft cider by hand for a craft brewery.”

“Jobs that used to exclude women due to their perceived lack of strength and stamina will be accessible for women due to wearable tech, drone assistance, and support by the Internet of Things. This would broaden the choices of employees available to employers. Women will be able to use mixed reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality to train, design, assemble, change products and processes, and communicate with a bot, supervisor, and co-workers from anywhere in the world.”

Dr Barclay says technology as the support system for female blue-collar workers could boost sales, enhance accuracy, limit downtime, and open up possibilities for more customers and products.

“Women who are already blue-collar workers may need to learn to code, as that will become a skill similar to typing (looking back to women’s employment opportunities from the 1960s to the 1980s). They should be made comfortable with technology and be assured that they are not destined only for ‘pink-collar’ positions, but for a world of well-paid artisan jobs available to them.

“Furthermore, women involved in events and organisations that promote women in technology should also remember the blue-collar women involved in mining and the manufacturing of hardware, and not only include female designers and start-up owners. HR and line managers should learn from the hipster economy and focus on sustainable, ethical, and responsible practices and include female blue-collar workers in their marketing, public relations and strategic decision-making, and provide decent choices and remuneration.”

Dr Barclay however points out that it’s not only the responsibility of business to up-skill their blue-collar women workers but in order to attract and retain them, industries need to consider the working conditions specific to women.

Equality is a fragile concept. On the one hand, women deserve equal pay for equal work, but also differentiated treatment to ensure their comfort while pregnant, the food provided, and while commuting to and from their workplace. White-collar workers have made giant leaps in this regard to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment for women, however for many blue-collar workers the gap is even greater.

Dr Barclay said that the food that blue-collar workers can afford to eat at home and bring to work is often unhealthy, which has led to a rise in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood sugar, cancer, and obesity. In addition, meals provided in canteens are often meat-intensive and fatty. Women have different nutritional requirements to men, and employee food providers should consider moving to more plant-based menus that focus on micronutrients and not calorie intake alone.

“In South Africa, female blue-collar workers use taxis, trains, and busses to commute, and it is usually the last kilometre to or from the taxi drop-off, bus stop, or train station where they are most vulnerable to attack. Businesses need to realise the risks and offer protection from attack and rape, especially when they work night shifts. It’s not a time to discriminate but rather to embrace the skills set of females and the value they can bring to organisations during this time of positive transition towards working and living with machines.”

The 2018 SABPP Women’s Report focuses on the life and work of women blue-collar workers in South Africa. The report, compiled in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and the University of Johannesburg, is available to download by clicking here.

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We will continue to pursue innovation in government

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We will continue to pursue innovation in government, says Premier Zille

  • MAR 28
  • Tags Leader’s Angle, Helen Zille

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The Western Cape Government continues to pursue innovation despite various legislative and other constraints in the system. This is according to Premier Helen Zille, who was addressing the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) Leader’s Angle event earlier in March.

Premier Zille was delivering an analysis of the recently tabled provincial budget including how it is formulated, its implications for the provincial economy and the complexities surrounding the process.

Despite various challenges including the recent drought which had severely impacted the agricultural sector, the Western Cape Government was determined to find innovative solutions that would create an enabling environment for economic growth.

“Even though our population has grown with more than a million people over just ten years, our unemployment levels have dropped. It is still much too high at 19, 5% but we are the only province that has an unemployment level of under 20% despite massive population growth.”
– Premier Helen Zille

Premier Zille however pointed out the obstacles to innovation in government. Rules and regulations designed to prevent corruption, often had the unintended consequence of stifling innovation.

Premier Helen Zille

“If you don’t stick to the rules you don’t get a clean audit and when you try something new to be innovative and it doesn’t work, then you also don’t get a clean audit”, said Premier Zille.

“So the incentive is to just stick to what you have always done and never try anything new,” Premier Zille said.

The tender system also militates against innovation because of the need to curb corruption.  “There are prescribed processes to go through, and a contractor can only respond if they are compliant with the tender specifications.  If a product is new and offers a different solution to an old problem, the tender specifications will rarely be flexible enough to accommodate a new approach.”

Premier Zille also highlighted the impact of the current drought on the economy.

Under the provincial disaster declaration the Western Cape had already almost half a billion rand to mitigate the water crisis.

“Education, health and social development’s budgets were protected but human settlements took a big hit to try and balance the budget with the drought and revenue from national government,” Premier Zille said.

According to Premier Zille, economic growth remained the top priority in the province, amid a difficult climate nationally.

“Even though our population has grown with more than a million people over just ten years, our unemployment levels have dropped. It is still much too high at 19, 5% but we are the only province that has an unemployment level of under 20% despite massive population growth,” said Premier Zille.

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