Other papers and publications by the writer are available from his personal website



Uys, P.M. (2004, June). Developing eLearning Materials in Developing Settings: Reflections on the Team Development Approach at the University of Botswana. Proceedings of the ED-MEDIA 2004-World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications. 22 – 26 June 2004, pp. 4646 – 4649. Lugano, Switzerland: AACE




Developing eLearning Materials in Developing Settings: Reflections on the Team Development Approach at the University of Botswana



Philip M. Uys


University of Botswana, Private Bag UB 0022, Gaborone, Botswana

Deputy Director: Centre for Academic Development (Educational Technology)

Tel:  +267- 3552799 Fax:  +267- 3902 884

E-mail: uyspm@mopipi.ub.bw   or   philip.uys@globe-online.com




Abstract: This paper provides a summary of the results of a pilot study towards identifying a relevant and effective approach for developing elearning materials at the University of Botswana (UB). These results are based on eight representative pilot projects that were conducted between November 2002 and December 2003. The prominent team-approach for the development of elearning materials has been analysed within the context of the University of Botswana. The team-approach seems to have been effective within the UB context. Some roles, however, require a specific focus and emphasis to ensure the appropriate use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in teaching and learning within developing settings and in particular at the University of Botswana.





An effective approach to technological change needs to be developed in the context and culture of an organisation (Gunn, 1998:142; Pettit and Hind, 1992:119; Uys, 2000; Uys, Nleya & Molelu, 2001; Woodhouse, 1999). The culture of an organisation refers to “…the values, beliefs, practices, rituals, and customs of an organization” (Marquardt, 1996:24) and could be unique to an organisation.

The dominant team-approach for the development of distance and elearning materials (Bates, 1993:232; DEC working party, 1989; Garrison, 1989:98&117; Holmberg, 1995) has therefore been analysed within the context of the University of Botswana during an elearning pilot study in 2003.

The LASO model of technological transformation (Uys, 2001) being used as an overall elearning implementation framework at UB emphasises the combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches and include the use of development teams as an important bottom-up strategy.

This study is the first of its kind at the University of Botswana (UB) and was designed to lead to a relevant and effective approach for the development of elearning materials at the University.

eLearning at UB has been defined in line with the University’s vision as the appropriate organisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for advancing student-oriented, active, open, collaborative and life-long teaching-learning processes.

The University of Botswana mission and vision statement are strongly influencing the strategic implementation of elearning as it commits the institution towards increasingly technologically based learning and teaching. The vision of the University is to strive for excellence in the provision of education to the nation that includes the use of ICTs in the teaching-learning process.

This study aligns itself further with the stated objectives of Botswana’s Vision 2016 (Presidential Task Group, September 1997) of being an educated, productive, innovative and informed nation. Vision 2016 for instance emphasises that “Botswana must improve the access of all its people to information and the new technologies that are sweeping the world” and “Education must be made more flexible so that people can enter and leave the education system at different times in their lives.”



The Study


A pilot study was conducted during 2003 that is illustrative of the University context and actively sought to incorporate characteristics of teachers, learners and relevant support systems.

The rationale for conducting these elearning pilots includes testing and developing best-practice models (including development approaches) and approaches in the University and wider Botswana context, building up successful representative role-models across the campus, creating an experiential awareness of the issues and advantages of elearning and to create a written analysis of the collaborative learning that took place.

Eight widely representative elearning projects were selected in November 2002 by the Educational Technology Unit (EduTech) in the Centre for Academic Development, with input from the University of Botswana Educational Technology and eLearning (UBel) Committee.  These pilots were developed between January and August 2003 and were conducted in 2003.

The pilots varied in terms of the academic and computer literacy levels of the students, the size of the classes, the goals formulated by the subject matter experts, the media used and the delivery approaches used. All the pilots, however, focused on the experimental and appropriate use of information and communication technologies in courses.    

Various roles in each pilot development team were identified based on the literature and former experience of staff within EduTech. The role of the sponsor would be to provide necessary funding, while the project manager in each pilot would be responsible for the overall management of the pilot project. The subject matter experts (SMEs) were to provide the actual content, while the instructional designer was to provide educational guidance to the SMEs (also called content experts) through the design and development process. A media developer was to create online media within the learning content management system (LCMS) while the graphic designer would create the necessary graphical elements. An editor would suggest changes by working through the materials on request while gatekeepers would bring relevant info from outside the project into the development process. Library staff would assist the SMEs on request with finding relevant resources while the research assistants would engage in relevant work as required by the SMEs. University students would ultimately provide important feedback on the final product.

These pilots received preferential support from EduTech as well as research assistance that was funded through an internal grant.

The SMEs signed an agreement at the outset to work as part of a multi-disciplinary development team, to create a written statement of intended outcomes and planned approaches and to create and present a written analysis in collaboration with the other members of the multi-disciplinary development team at the conclusion of the pilot.

The basis for the findings of this study includes the written reports of the subject matter experts, the input of the instructional designer, graphic designer and media developer as well as comments by the members of the pilot teams at the completion of the pilots on the effectiveness of the different roles within the development teams.





The role of the sponsor was carried out by the Office of Research and Development and the Deputy Director: Centre for Academic Development (Educational Technology) in providing funding for research assistants. The wider environment has been identified as very important such as support by the head of department of the SMEs and the support of the Manager, Educational Technology and Deputy Director: Centre for Academic Development (Educational Technology) of the media development team. The wider environment also included the provision of a computer facility by EduTech to the SMEs and their students, as needed, as well as the provision of training to pilot team members. One SME pointed out that lack of interest of academic departmental colleagues in the pilot was a discouraging factor. An SME indicated that a number of formal project reviews chaired by the Deputy Director: Centre for Academic Development (Educational Technology) could have been helpful.

The instructional designer and the SME acted as project managers in respective pilots. The role of project manager is critical to ensure operational coordination of the various roles and team members.

Subject matter experts (SMEs) in most pilots did not only provide content, but were also trained to develop materials electronically based on templates. The SMEs also managed their research assistant and supported students. In some cases a traditional approach was followed where no Web links were provided, but only references to library resources. Other SMEs invested significant time in the development of content and in analysing external websites. In one pilot a course development team (CDT) of SMEs and a separate course implementation team (CIT) of SMEs were used. The CDT developed the content of the online course, while the CIT used the developed course in their teaching. This, however, led to a difficult transition regarding ownership and familiarity. The size of these teams might have actually slowed down the development process.

The instructional designer is another key role that provided educational guidance to the SMEs during the design and development process. The instructional designer provided extensive support in each pilot for developing the course concept, structure and content. The role of the instructional designer during these pilots was extended to include project management, providing training in online materials production, training students and creating online materials. In some cases the guidance needed to be stronger so that SMEs would not have to depend completely on electronic media in their courses but would have accepted a blended approach.

The role of the media developer is to create online media within the LCMS. As the online media developer was still growing into this position during the pilot study, this person focused on assisting with uploading materials into the LCMS, with setting up online quizzes and in some cases reviewing the development of online materials. The instructional designer, graphic designer and research assistant were involved in this role in developing the materials with the SMEs.

The graphic designer created the graphical elements of materials such as banners, icons, video material and templates. The graphic designer responded to guidance by the instructional designer in developing graphical elements that supported the pedagogy of the respective pilots like anchoring the instruction around a cartoon figure that featured throughout the course.

Some form of editing in suggesting changes in text, layout and navigation was in most cases performed by the instructional designer and research assistants.

The most prominent gatekeepers were the SMEs and the instructional designer who brought relevant information from outside the project into the development process. The gatekeepers facilitated the inflow of wider organisational dimensions of the University into the development processes. In some cases this supported experimentation with elearning based on the freedom of academic staff to experiment with new didactics. This inflow, however, also inhibited the work of some SMEs as one commented “It was not possible to develop and use quizzes for test and examination because the routine of paper-based examination used by all other faculties had to be used.”

The research assistants did a variety of work as required by the SMEs. Research assistants in the respective pilots evaluated, gathered and analysed data, helped with electronic presentations, developed databases, created online materials, supported students during course delivery and recorded videos. This role was much appreciated by academic staff that carried out the pilot projects with minimal or no release from their other duties.

Subject librarians were very willing to assist the SMEs with finding relevant resources, but in many cases this role was carried out by the academic staff themselves or by the research assistants. Supporting academic staff in this manner is part of the responsibilities of subject librarians at the University and academic staff will be encouraged to seek the direct support of the respective subject librarians in finding appropriate materials.

Students were not actively involved in the development process until the point of their participation in the actual delivery of the courses. The flexibility of the elearning materials especially within the LCMS, however, did allow for later changes as required.





The wider environment in which an elearning development team operates has been identified as very important such as support by supervisors, adequate access to computers by students and the provision of training to team members.

        Various multi-disciplinary roles are necessary within an elearning development team. Team members, however, should have the freedom to support and build each other up according to their strengths.

Some roles require a specific focus and emphasis to ensure the appropriate use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in teaching and learning within developing settings.  The SME and instructional designer roles proved to be pivotal.

The role of the sponsor is necessary for the provision of necessary funding, wider support and overall project control. The project manager is necessary to ensure operational coordination of the various roles and team members. Close cooperation between the SME and instructional designer is vital in the development process to ensure continuity if there are availability issues.

Subject matter experts (SMEs) were integral in the development process by providing content, but also in developing materials electronically. Developing settings calls for a partnership model where materials are developed with and even by SMEs due to the relative scarcity of expertise. SME development teams could be effective if these are small. The separation of development and the implementation teams led to difficulties that can be avoided through a single SME team working together from the outset. The concept of involving additional academic staff members with the SME during development can strengthen continuity and capacity building.

The instructional designer played a pivotal role in the design and development process. It seems that the instructional designer in a developing setting needs to provide clear guidance to SMEs to put in place contingency plans where there is a possible overdependence on electronic media. An instructional designer in a developing setting will also encourage SMEs to consider a blended approach where a variety of media is used to counter dependence on electronic media.

The role of the media developer is critical but might be able to be carried out by various other roles within the team including the SMEs. The graphic designer is seen as a very important role to make the elearning materials more user-friendly and to support specific pedagogical concepts. The role of the editor can be accomplished by peer review of colleagues or perhaps using students to pilot the materials during the first run of the course and provide necessary feedback.

The gatekeepers play an important role in facilitating the inflow of other organisational dimensions into the development processes and thus ensuring that the development process integrates well with the organizational context. The substance and importance of this role needs to be discussed in more depth during the development process so that there can be deliberate efforts to acquire relevant external information.

Providing research assistance to SMEs might not be possible during the continued implementation of elearning, but release from other duties as well as more direct involvement of subject librarians and students should be considered to assist academic staff to venture into elearning activities.

Recognition should be given by the University to the efforts of early adopters in elearning to encourage these SMEs to continue their elearning activities and also to draw others into the appropriate inclusion of ICTs into their courses.

There should be consideration for a project approach to the development process to keep everyone focussed, as was the case with the pilot projects, and not for a general support approach. A project approach could provide better support to academic staff engaged in elearning. A number of projects could for instance be selected per year that would receive dedicated support.

More can be done to support the SMEs emotionally and provide recognition through for instance a Staff Newsletter.

This study could also contribute to the development of appropriate approaches for elearning material development at other organisations in Botswana since UB is one of the leading organisations in elearning in the country. The appropriate development of elearning materials at the University of Botswana could provide wider access and increase the quality and relevance of tertiary education in an emerging information society.

The positive learning experience that the team development approach within the pilots provided, and the reality that this University has merely taken the first steps on the elearning route is well captured in the following comment by a SME: “We worked as a team and everyone was keen to see that the product was good. For all of us it was the first experience and so the product has areas which we now can see need editing or improving upon”.





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The elearning pilot study at the University of Botswana was partly funded by the Office of Research and Development at the University.