Esther Matemba and Lelanie Smith
EERN-Africa is a community of African Engineering education researchers and practitioners established in April 2021 by Dr Esther Matemba and Dr Lelanie Smith to build capacity in engineering education research and practice. The network that engages its members through the WhatsApp group and monthly meetings, has grown organically from the two founding members to more 90 members from 21 African countries on the continent.
The network was a result of initiatives that started from a group of colleagues that met during a coffee break discussion at an online event, “The Big Engineering Education Research MeetUp”, organised by Prof John Mitchell from the Centre for Engineering Education at University College London (UCL) and Prof Shannon Chance (who was REEN Chair at the time), at the onset of the pandemic (14th of May 2020). The coffee break discussion that focused on the development of engineering education research (EER) in African countries was facilitated by Dr Mike Klassen (University of Toronto, Canada), Dr Lelanie Smith (University of Pretoria, South Africa), and Prof Aida Guerra (Aalborg University, Denmark). Dr Esther Matemba (Curtin University) was one of the participants.
The four connected and continued to work together, meeting online through Zoom to discuss ways to represent engineering education activities and develop engineering education research in Africa. They then planned and ran a workshop called “African Engineering Education Networking Workshop” at the World Engineering Education Forum in November 2020 and gained more contacts from attendees. The passionate engagements from workshop participants made it clear that not only was there a need for a community of practice in Africa but also there were many innovative and meaningful projects and initiatives already running that have just not had the right avenue or support to be brought to the international community’s attention. The group saw a need for a community of practitioners and researchers to support each other’s work and learn from each other towards developing capacity and leadership in this sector across the continent. That is when Dr Esther Matemba and Dr Lelanie Smith decided to form an informal community using a WhatsApp group and starting by inviting the participants of the WEEF workshop and others they knew in their personal network.
Over the last year many connections have been made, working on conference publications and collaborating on practitioners’ projects and the most recent initiative invited and co-wrote our first journal paper on the emergence of the CoP with 16 members of the network. This first journal paper is in the second round of review, and we have started discussion for further work. We have also recently applied for two funding opportunities through our connections and are having more conversations to enable peer learning in grant application and paper writing. This year the network turns its focus on starting and coordinating 6 special interest groups (SIGs) that were proposed from organically emerging areas of research collaboration within the network.
The network has kept its close link with the international Engineering Education Research Network, REEN through Dr Esther Matemba, who is also the Governing Board Member representing Africa. In the beginning of 2022 REEN delivered 5 free EER workshops for our group. We have also ensured representation at other regional and international entities. Recently, some members of the Network including the founders were at WEEF & GEDC 2022 in Cape Town where we got to meet face to face for the first time. At the conference, we got a lot of opportunity to promote EER in Africa to participants including organisations like UNESCO, and RAE, IFEES and Industry partners as well as members of the GEDC. We were able to make the most of having the conference in our region with some organisers being part of EERN-Africa.
All in all this initiative has broken new ground to set in place the structure to support the emergence of a community of African engineering education researchers and practitioners.