Bringing a distance learning model to Ethiopia

Nicole Kraft
Assistant Professor of Communication

Share this article

As Ohio State continues to build inroads with partners in Ethiopia, a team of educators and distance learning professionals are helping to build a superhighway, explains Nicole Kraft, assistant professor of communication.

The iPads were lined up on the table, sleek and black in their cases, a white, square power cord adaptor neatly stacked nearby — like a marshmallow awaiting a s’more.

Cory Tressler of the Office of Distance Education and eLearning prepared to guide our audience through the power and performance that are the iPad and iTunes U. It was just like the similar boot camps I had attended – with some glaring differences.

Our audience was made up entirely of academics from the University of Gondar; the 70-degree temperatures belied it was December; and horse-drawn carts on our commute to work let us know we surely were not in Ohio any more.

We were, in fact, more than 7,000 miles away in the African nation of Ethiopia, for an incredible, week-long trip to launch the next edition of the Digital First Impact Grant with this year’s recipient, Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

I have been working with Tressler and Wondwossen about the same length of time, though in vastly different capacities.

Tressler was my mentor through my first iTunes U course development trip to Apple, which led me to 10 public and private courses (with two more on the way in January) and a pair of iBook textbooks. Our partnership developed even further when I won the inaugural Digital First Impact Grant to use iPads in my news writing classroom.

Wondwossen was a charming lunch companion at the Patterson 2013 lecture, which led me to join his Ethiopia One-Health Task Force soon after to advise on matters of health communication.

I was thrilled when those worlds converged and Wondwossen made his first iTunes U course – and even more so when he applied for – and received – the second Digital First grant, this time to conjoin learning between Ohio State and Ethiopia through the iPad and iTunes U.

L to R: Cory Tressler, Nicole Kraft, Kevin Kula, Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes

Then came the August phone call that asked I join Tressler and ODEE’s Kevin Kula to launch the program in the Addis Ababa and Gondar regions of Ethiopia.

I could not get a visa quickly enough.

We split our time between universities in the two cities, disseminating 20 iPads to the local academics and administrators, and training each recipient on the secrets held by each device. In between, we worked on:

  • Messaging for a rabies vaccination initiative launching this summer;
  • Discussing the benefits of the Carmen system with their IT professionals;
  • Admiring the amazing tech infrastructure in Gondar;
  • Touring classrooms and veterinary facilities; and
  • Sharing gifts from the Columbus Crew to orphans at the Mary Joy Development Association.

The seed for the Ethiopia and Ohio State partnership was planted and nurtured by Wondwossen, and it has, in the four years of the task force, grown into a wildflower meadow of engaged faculty and staff from across continents, nations and universities. Every summer educators and students from the health colleges, as well as social work, embark on weeks-long trips to the east African nation to share and receive knowledge – and build an academic bridge that grows stronger every year.

And the ODEE digital engagement in this effort has now made our bridge into a superhighway, as we provide Ohio State quality materials in the comprehensive learning environment that is iTunes U.

Less than a month removed from our return, we have gotten over our jet lag, disseminated our gifts of Ethiopian coffee and already begun planning how we might maximize the relationships we developed.

The summer institute is just around the corner, and the potential to enhance our university’s course offerings even more is just beginning.

We have a lot of work to do.

About the author

Nicole Kraft
Nicole Kraft -
Assistant Professor of Communication

Nicole Kraft is a former journalist and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University. In addition to freelance writing for magazines, Kraft utilizes the latest technology in her news writing and editing courses.


Buckeye Voices — Commentary from The Ohio State University