The collaborative and pragmatic development and implementation of a blended learning MSc Community Systems Health Research programme in Malawi

Donaldson, Lisa, Matthews, Anne, Hussey, Pamela, Byrne, Elaine, Walsh, Aisling, Brugha, Ruairi, Mwapasa, Victor, Manda Taylor, Lucinda and Petersen, Mairead (2014) The collaborative and pragmatic development and implementation of a blended learning MSc Community Systems Health Research programme in Malawi. In: The 15th Educational Technology Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). May 29th and 30th, UCD, Dublin, Ireland.


The Community Systems Strengthening for Equitable Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (COSYST-MNCH) project is funded by Irish Aid/ Higher Education Authority (of Ireland) 2012-2015. It involves research into community systems and structures and a capacity building programme for Government and non-governmental (NGO) community development staff in Malawi, southern Africa. It involves a collaboration between higher education institutions in Ireland and Malawi and with the developmental NGO partner (Ireland and Malawi). This paper outlines the development and implementation of the MSc programme, launched in Malawi in March 2014 as a pilot project with five registered students. Initially, a model of potential technologies was designed and presented to faculty to demonstrate the breadth of learning technology options. The decision-making pathways took account of the needs and capacities of the multiple stakeholders, local technical infrastructure and the technology-enhanced learning (TEL) strategies of all the higher education partners. Appropriate tools were chosen with these factors in mind; including Articulate for the development of online learning resources, and the use of wikis, micro-blogging and other social media tools to scaffold collaborative activities and interventions. These tools were introduced online and used in the face-to-face-session during the launch of the MSc programme, which took place 10-14 March 2014 in Blantyre Malawi, facilitated by the DCU and RCSI teams, with support from College of Medicine Malawi. The aim of using the selected learning resources during the launch was to lessen technology anxiety and build digital literacy for the online portions of the programme. Student evaluations via online surveys post launch identified a significant increase in technical confidence and abilities in comparison to base-line data. A substantial challenge in this international collaborative project is balancing the quality and availability of online resources with the constraints of relatively poor Internet and technology infrastructure in Malawi. Lessons learned from this project can be divided into pedagogical, technical and institutional dimensions; these will be presented and discussed in detail . Our approach to date has proved successful and we continue to build flexibility into our course offering to offset future technical challenges.

View Item