Empowering STEM Stakeholders in Higher Education Institutions in Africa through Digital Collaboration: Insights from Virtual Co-Creation Workshops

June 13, 2024


Davis Muli Musyoki

Communications Officer


The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ)  in collaboration with leading regional convening leads, including the Inter-University Council for Eastern Africa (IUCEA), the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the Southern Africa Regional Universities Association (SARUA), and the Association for African Universities (AAU), showcased the power of the interplay between connectivity and digital tools. Through a series of virtual co-creation workshops, they successfully brought together stakeholders in STEM disciplines across the Sub-Saharan Africa higher education ecosystem, enabling real-time cross-border collaboration, discussion, and knowledge exchange. These engagements were part of the research framework of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC)-supported project titled “Pedagogies of Inclusion: The Nexus between Gender, pedagogy and STEM in Higher Education Institutions in Africa,” led by APHRC and UJ. 

Valuable learnings on co-creation processes emerged from these workshops, as shared in this article titled   Effective Co-creation: Lessons from Pedagogies of Inclusion Project. The virtual co-creation workshops harnessed the power of a diverse range of digital tools, including popular video conferencing platforms like Google Meet and Zoom and social media platforms such as LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter), to enhance the collaborative experience.

The research team, led by APHRC and UJ and in collaboration with IDRC and the regional convening leads, made several key considerations that ensured the effective use of these digital tools.

Prior to the virtual workshops, APHRC’s Policy Engagement and Communication (PEC) team prepared and shared digital posters about the workshops, which helped boost visibility to a wider audience. The posters were digitally shared with the regional convening leads, who in turn shared them with stakeholders in their networks. Registration forms and invitation letters were also sent out electronically to potential stakeholders.

Understanding the workshop’s audience beforehand was essential. It helped the PEC and research team determine the digital platforms that would effectively meet the diverse and unique needs of the various workshop participants. The Zoom platform, for instance, allowed for a larger capacity of participants and also supported translation services such as English and French. This was critical, especially for workshop participants from the French-speaking West Africa region.  

Conducting dry runs a day before the virtual workshops allowed the logistics team to test the functionality of the digital platforms, especially how to effectively navigate the translation channels, the plenary sessions, and the breakout rooms.  The backend of the platform also had a dedicated team on standby throughout each workshop session to quickly respond to any technical glitch that arose. The identification of areas requiring improvement, ensured a smooth and successful workshop. Having a dedicated technical team was highly beneficial in proactively resolving potential and active digital issues.

Time management during the virtual workshop ensured the team began and ended the sessions on time. The team joined the sessions 30 minutes prior to the workshop start time to ensure the smooth functioning of all technical aspects. The virtual waiting room was effectively used to hold participants, and breakout rooms were used to encourage more personable, small-group discussions on the thematic areas. The built-in timer features in Zoom allowed for effective time management during the breakout sessions. 

During the breakout sessions, four discussion questions were posted on Google slides domiciled in the Pedagogies project folder on Google Drive. The Google slides allowed the participants to note down their key discussion points in real-time and share them later during the plenary sessions.

In conclusion, the virtual co-creation workshops showcased the transformative potential of digital collaboration in empowering STEM stakeholders across Sub-Saharan Africa. By leveraging diverse digital tools and meticulous planning, the APHRC and UJ, in collaboration with regional convening leads and IDRC, facilitated a seamless and inclusive environment for cross-border knowledge exchange and collaboration, ultimately advancing the goals of the Pedagogies of Inclusion project. Key lessons learned include the importance of pre-workshop preparations, such as audience analysis and platform testing, and the critical role of dedicated technical support teams in ensuring smooth and effective virtual engagements.