Abstracts

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Bridging the Gap, Closing the Distance: The History and Role of E-learning and Distance Education in the Higher Education Landscape in the Arab World

Adnan Badran1, Elias Baydoun2, and Mohamad Al-Zein2

1University of Petra, Amman, Jordan

2American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

E-learning and distance education have become part and parcel of higher education in the Arab world. Despite the fact that these alternate approaches to conventional learning have become increasingly popular in the Covid-19 era, their prevalence in the Arab higher education landscape dates back to the early 21st century and is associated with the increase in power, popularity, and affordability of personal computers and communication technologies. This chapter assesses the current status of e-learning and distance education in higher education in the Arab world based on a comprehensive review of the literature.  It aims at documenting their history and evolution and shedding light on their role in shaping higher education in the future.  Emphasis will be placed on their utility in professional development of blended learning and digital transformation of learning and pedagogy, non-formal learning and continuing education, in addition to conventional higher education (lecture, laboratory, studio, etc.).  Transnational education and the role of open universities will also be addressed.

A Flexible Blended Approach to Learning  

Quintin McKellar and Karen Barton

University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire, UK

In 2004 the University of Hertfordshire became a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), with a specific remit to develop Blended Learning (BL) as part of a UK government initiative to enhance teaching and learning in UK universities. This was built on the strong foundation of an excellent virtual learning environment, one of the first developed in the UK (Study Net), which had been established and developed in-house by the University over the previous decade. 

Over the next four-year period the University invested in specialist teaching rooms, a near universal wireless network and the provision of laptop computers for all academics. Academic staff were offered secondments to become BL teachers, a curriculum design toolkit was produced, and a 10-week Continuing Professional Development module ‘Blended Learning in Higher Education’ delivered. An electronic journal ‘Blended Learning in Practice’ was established, and annual international conferences on blended learning held at the University, bringing the international community of pedagogical scholars together to learn and disseminate best practice in blended learning. The support funding for CETLs stopped in 2008; however, the University was able to further promote the BL approach through its own Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre. Between 2008 and 2020 the approach to BL was enhanced through the redevelopment of the Virtual Learning Environment, from the original in-house-developed system (StudyNet), to a commercially developed system (Canvas), and by the evolution of the curriculum design toolkit to a ‘Guided Learner Journey’ (GLJ). Although the degree of blended approach to learning was variable, according to subject or professional body constraints, all modules had universally followed the GLJ principles, and by 2020 it was very widely adopted and was supported by electronic assessment methods, a substantial library of recordings, and extensive use of flipped classrooms. When lockdowns were imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, this material and methodology allowed a rapid transition to full online delivery, which exploited some excellent online resources that had already been produced, but also relied on the rapid adaption of more traditional learning material. While the universal requirement for online delivery was counter to the philosophy of a quality blended approach, it did require all academics to deliver material online and shift their approach to teaching, and necessitated the whole community to embrace some of the technologies used in the blended approach in different ways.

Over the two-year pandemic period, academics were able to improve the quality of online teaching, learning and assessment material, and as their ability to engage face-to-face with students was re-established, this material formed part of the blended approach. As we began to emerge from the pandemic our Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, and her team, determined to emerge with a better learning experience for our students than we had entered. In the UK an unhelpful political and media narrative that online delivery was bad and that face-to-face was good accompanied our emergence from Covid-19. This was in part fuelled by the selective use of survey data from post-lockdown students suggesting that 92% preferred face-to-face engagement. Not all surveys came back with such universal disapproval, including our own end-of-module surveys, which were much more positive. Michael Barber’s Gravity assist report 1 quotes 67% of students as satisfied with their digital teaching during the pandemic. The subtleties of a flexible blended approach, embracing some online- and technology-enhanced material, passed our politicians by and indeed the terminology caused confusion with our students. Through our extensive experience in BL, we know it can have enormous benefits, but it must be done well. Consequently, and after a university-wide extensive consultation with staff and students, we have introduced a set of community-led principles which are self-explanatory and avoid ambiguous terms. These will guide a universal approach to teaching across the institution. The Herts Learning Principles:– Prioritise student learning, Ensure coherent design, Offer opportunities for personalisation, Harness technology, and Build community, and provide the basis for revalidation of all courses at the University over the next three years.

The Pedagogical Ecology of Learning Technologies: A Learning Design Framework for Meaningful Online Learningd

Nada Dabbagh

George Mason University, Virginia, USA

This chapter presents the concept of pedagogical ecology as applied to learning technologies. Pedagogical ecology refers to an integrative approach for understanding teaching and learning environments as a complex system comprising multiple components and processes that influence the development of pedagogies through the lens of the theory of affordances. The chapter describes the pedagogical ecology of pre-Internet technologies, Web 1.0 technologies, and Web 2.0 technologies, and presents the Three-Component Pedagogical Model for Online Learning that is premised on the concept of pedagogical ecology. The chapter also introduces the Meaningful Online Learning Design Framework that aligns the Three-Component Model for Online Learning to the five characteristics of meaningful learning: active, constructive, authentic, cooperative and intentional.

Interactive and Collaborative Distance Learning Approaches: A Decision-making Framework for Higher Education in Developing Countries 

Wael Mualla1 and Karim Mualla2

1Damascus University, Damascus, Syria

2University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom

Distance learning in higher education has come a long way since the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990. Today, world leading universities rely on distance learning as a major source of income and a significant platform on which to deliver a standard of teaching and assessment as good as physical on-campus education. Challenges surrounding distance learning consisted of lack of student engagement, lower appetite to learn, and other interactive and collaborative concerns regarding technologies and infrastructure. While this was mainly due to the remote nature of the learning process and delivery methods, which in most cases amounted to asynchronous events, recent advancements in information and communication technologies have drastically shifted distance learning towards a more desirable option. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, an unprecedented level of remote and dual-teaching innovations were introduced and, for selected disciples, even became noticeable competitors to traditional on-campus education. This chapter analyzes modern distance-learning approaches currently utilized by major universities across the United Kingdom and worldwide. In conclusion, the research outlines a decision-making framework for higher-education management in developing countries to design and implement effective distance-learning processes, while taking into account the various academic and technological capabilities available to these institutions.

Bridging the Digital Divide in Higher Education: North African Challenges and Initiatives

Wail Benjelloun

Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco

Union of Mediterranean Universities UNIMED, Rome, ItalyUnion of Mediterranean Universities UNIMED, Rome, Italy

The digital divide refers to the uneven access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and therefore to the advantages of digital transformation. This divide may concern differences in the availability of technology and/or human capacity that create inequities between nations, social strata within a nation, educational and training institutions, and economic entities and enterprises in accessing information.  Such inequities obviously create unfair advantages for the “haves”, giving them a competitive edge over the “have nots”. Over the past few decades North African (NA) educational systems have been heavily solicited by a rapidly expanding youth population, requiring increased investment in infrastructure and staff, and creating pressure on the fragile economies of developing nations.  An initially timid interest in distance education during the first two decades of the century was reinforced by the pressing needs resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. At the Higher Education (HE) level, the fact that such distance education worked more or less effectively to prevent the loss of two academic years during the pandemic suggested to decision makers interesting possibilities to deal with the pressure. With the pandemic, the Virtual University of Tunis (founded in 2002), as well as more modest programs like the Cadi Ayyad University (Marrakesh, Morocco) MOOC development effort, became national priorities. Several NA HE ministries and universities undertook initiatives to facilitate access to ICTs in general, and particularly to internet and learning platforms. The challenge was, however, not just related to access to technology, but also of working to bridge the digital divide to provide equal access for underprivileged students as well as for those in remote geographical areas.  It also meant training faculty to create content and to take advantage of available platforms. There is a growing awareness that the future of NA HE is linked to the ability to marshal diverse learning resources and paradigms to ensure a quality education that fosters innovation, research and competitivity. Beyond contributing to facing the challenges of increasing student numbers, the mix of independent, blended, E-learning, and distance education in class coursework, and the resulting multiple hybrid formats, create opportunities encouraging students to express their full potential, thus improving prospects for employability in a region where the higher the diploma the greater the chance of unemployment. They also allow for internationalization, regional cooperation and curriculum sharing at the national level. The resulting changes in the role of faculty, in learning techniques, in institutional investments and in job market preparation are reviewed in the light of policies to bridge the digital divide, and their impact on NA HE is assessed.

Online and Blended Learning Delivery of Higher Education Programs in the Arab World – A Case Study from Oman and Sohar University

Hamdan Al-Fazari

Sohar University, Sohar, Oman

Not very long ago online and blended learning (a combination of face-to-face and online) were regarded with considerable suspicion in Oman, and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, (Formerly the Ministry of Higher Education)   refused to recognize any online and distance taught programs. Omani students wishing to benefit from online and distance learning by studying abroad, were refused permission, and they had to travel abroad to study conventionally taught programs. Yet, although this was the case in Oman, online and blended delivery of higher-education  programs was practiced to a limited extent in some Arab states. Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in the academic year 2019-2020, however, there has been a massive shift to online and blended learning, not just in Oman and at Sohar University (SU) but across all the Arab states. Online and distance learning are now accepted as convenient pathways to learning for busy or remotely located students and they have proved to offer an exceptionally productive opportunity for sharpening research and independent thinking skills (Fazza and Mahgoub) [1]. Even so, it must be stressed that higher education institutions in Oman, and particularly SU, only recently adopted the blended learning system, in the academic year 2019/2020, due to suspension of classes because of COVID-19. Accordingly, blended learning has been delivered by different educational and communication platforms. For example, SU used the educational platform Sohar University Learning Management System (SULMS) for uploading the teaching materials and Microsoft Teams platform for communication of online classes. The discussion forum on SULMS was another important tool to promote knowledge transfer among teachers and students (SU Website) [2].  Online and distance learning has also allowed for the hosting of programs from foreign universities, and elective courses, while those courses that are university requirements, and courses with large student numbers have also been found to benefit from the online delivery approach. Of course, higher education institutions  that wish to implement online and blended learning delivery need to have a well-designed websites, learning management and communication platforms, and appropriate assessment procedures that meet the programs’ learning outcomes and ensure the academic integrity of such delivery. In conclusion, online and blended learning programs are now welcome in Oman. There are obviously both advantages and disadvantages to the approach. The perceptions around online learning in Oman and SU are now positive, as recent experience suggests that they are able to provide students with final learning outcomes that reflect the level of knowledge and skills expected of graduates.  However, for the approach to be the most effective educational model, it needs to ensure that academic quality and integrity are met to the highest standards in the most appropriate learning and teaching environments. 

Enhancing Collaborative and Self-Paced Learning in Traditional and Distance Education Settings

Emad Ebbini

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA

Higher education in the twenty-first century has been undergoing drastic changes in terms of the forms of interactions between educators and learners. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the pace of these changes, but the experiences of different institutions varied widely. While E-learning was already being widely adopted and incorporated into traditional classroom models, most educators made minimal use of the capabilities of available E-learning platforms. The need to switch to remote learning in March 2020 encouraged more educators to embrace E-learning tools to enhance student engagement. Online learning management system (LMS) platforms such as Canvas could be used to provide learning materials and activities that may supplement a face-to-face or blended course or deliver a fully online experience. In particular, assessment tools such as assignments and quizzes could be used to provide instructors and learners with instant feedback to assess individual and classroom performance in real time. Textbook publishers also provided learning and assessment tools that can be integrated with LMS platforms to enhance self-paced learning. Another important feature of LMS platforms is the ability to foster discussion and collaborative learning opportunities for students by supporting discussion boards and shared document applications such as Google Docs. 

While the above LMS features have existed for years, the move to online and hybrid learning have increased adoption to the point that it allows educators to incorporate them fully going forward. This applies equally to institutions in the Arab World, given that our institutions have the necessary infrastructure, and our students are well-equipped with the skills to take full advantage of the learning opportunities provided by modern LMS platforms. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that we need to encourage and nurture a new culture of learning based on strong ethical standards and a positive attitude towards collaborative learning. It should be emphasized that such values are needed at all institutions worldwide and are not limited to one region or culture. For example, even among the leading universities in the United States, there is significant variation in the adoption of these values. 

Together with ethical and collaborative educational values, modern LMS platforms provide the tools to take full advantage of accessibility of information to encourage students to be life-long learners. This changes the dynamics of the teaching and learning processes, especially in terms of the role of the educator as a sage, providing sound judgement rather than being solely an authority in the field of study. While there is no conflict between the two roles, the balance between them is a skill that every educator needs to aspire to achieve in light of the students’ needs and their abilities in a given setting. 

In this chapter, we describe experiences with the above-mentioned LMS features and their incorporation into face-to-face, hybrid and distance-learning settings. Their applicability to higher education in the Arab World is discussed with examples from leading institutions in the region.

Fostering a Community of Inquiry in Online Learning in a Lebanese Higher Education Context

Ghania Zgheib, Sara Salloum and Mathilde Azar

University of Balamand, Koura, Lebanon

In Lebanon, economic and political issues have influenced the education system and limited the integration of current trends in education. Yet, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, online education has become a must and the new normal. Accordingly, attention to providing quality online teaching and learning has become essential, as poor online learning design may lead to misperceptions about this modality, when in truth educational institutions should be taking advantage of the affordances and the possibilities of online learning particularly for university students. An important feature of quality online learning is establishing an inquiry-based approach, like the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, as such an approach contributes to an enhanced online learning experience. The CoI framework is a constructivist approach which postulates that effective online learning entails the development of a community that supports meaningful inquiry as well as deep and critical learning. This framework emphasizes high levels of student engagement, collective meaning-making, and knowledge construction within online learning experiences.  It helps create a collaborative environment that entails open and purposeful communication through the development of three essential and interdependent elements: social, cognitiveand teaching presences.

Although all three presences should be considered in a balanced manner to get an effective and higher-order online learning experience, cognitive presence is quintessential for realizing a community of inquiry since it involves tasking learners to collectively explore a problem, an issue, or a phenomenon. Through iteration between discourse and reflection, learners construct meaning and develop understandings. Notwithstanding the potential symbiotic relationship between technology and inquiry learning, research shows limited leveraging of technology for promoting active inquiry. Social presence allows the learners to interact with one another, express their thoughts, and develop their interpersonal relations and networking in a suitable learning environment. Teaching presence enhances the learners’ cognitive and social abilities through instructor assistance to achieve meaningful and worthwhile learning outcome.

In this chapter we use Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as a research framework to better understand and address facilitators and barriers to enhancing cognitive presence in online learning in the Lebanese higher-education context. CHAT is a transformative approach to understanding human endeavors (e.g., online teaching and learning) as a goal-oriented purposeful activity, within which contradictions emerge and can become a driving force for change.  As such, CHAT provides rich opportunities for analyzing what appears to be mediating or hindering an activity; accordingly it is being increasingly used to guide research in educational technology. The chapter draws on findings from the literature and from a current study in the Lebanese higher-education context to identify best practices for particularly promoting cognitive presence as a main contributor to establishing a community of inquiry. 

Distance Education: Is it Any Longer a Paradigm of Choice? The University of Jordan; a Case Study

Nathir Obeidat1, Rida Shibli1, Mohammed Khasawneh1, and Nael Thaher2

1University of Jordan, Amman, Jordan

2National Agricultural Research Center, Amman, Jordan

Traditionally, lecture-based learning had prevailed for centuries, resulting in the conventional academic system which became the paradigm of education adopted in various countries around the world. Over the years, however, especially with various levels of advancements in science and technology, this paradigm gradually started to shift in the wake of a need to accommodate the role of the primary constituent (the student) of such an educational paradigm, paving the way for a newer paradigm allowing for a more pronounced role with improved learning outcomes in the learning process of its recipients. Hence, a new system of learning, a student-centric paradigm (otherwise known as an outcome-based paradigm of education) started to emerge, thereby leaving room for recipients to have a more active role in the educational lifecycle. Here, although this new system became more appealing to many, such a new paradigm was only being adopted by academic institutions that were seeking to stand out in delivering a product to the job market with more-pronounced and well-defined roles. In the interim, all existing paradigms were also very keen to make the learning material available to their recipients well beyond the boundaries of the classroom and the hosting institution involved. In this, many academic institutions of higher learning had already started to leverage the ubiquity of the world wide web and the underlying digital solutions that were evolving to deliver teaching material in electronic form and make it readily available to the recipients involved, anywhere, anytime (24/7).

Subsequently, the revolution that had impacted all ongoing developments on the internet and the evolving speeds in data transfer were inherently primary drivers for software developers and technology fostering companies to kick off far-reaching efforts for more advancements in the educational arena/s involved. As a result, these market players all made efforts to develop a multitude of novel platforms that enabled various recipients of the respective learning paradigms to have access to learning materials, rendered in electronic form, from across the web. Moreover, synchronous interactive learning paradigms were made available that brought the classroom activity to places convenient for the learners irrespective of their actual physical localities.

In this chapter, we demonstrate a dichotomy between the different conventional learning paradigms and those that were being supported by the evolution of the internet and the underlying electronic infrastructure which made distance learning a more appealing option of choice towards the late 20thcentury. We describe how the latter assumed a more concrete role in the early 21st century as a new era of pandemics started to evolve. We assess the role of each learning paradigm under consideration and how it evolved, describe opportunities and challenges for digital transformation at academic institutions, in general, but more specifically at the University of Jordan as a model example, and comment on the impacts that it fostered along the way. We offer a rundown of the various educational paradigms involved in this case study, outlining the ensuing levels of associated governance that went into play at the university, leading ultimately to one that is setting the stage for the university to transform its educational infrastructure and academic offerings into a program that is fully digitized, smartly presented and readily available to its various constituents, and is commensurate with the 4th  industrial revolution and the 21st century.

Hands-On Distance Learning in Engineering: Wishful thinking or a practical reality?

Isam Zabalawi, Hassan Salti, Fadi Al Khatib and Helene Kordahji

Australian College of Kuwait, Safat, Kuwait

As lockdown periods persisted, universities had to adapt and switch all their courses to remote teaching, including workshops and lab classes. Faculty had to redesign their practical courses so that they can be taught online while ensuring students still acquire the same experience and skills as if they were onsite. 

Engineering education is one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields that incorporates: educational content, lab-based work, design, and simulation-oriented activities. It is known to deliver hands-on, design oriented, critical thinking, as well as team building and collaborative problem-solving skills. 

Active learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning and research-based learning form the foundation of this education. These pedagogies refer to a broad range of teaching strategies that engage students as active participants in their learning during class time with their instructor. Students are also involved in real-world research and personally meaningful projects.

Accreditation agencies such as ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) require, as part of their accreditation terms (such as the General Criterion No. 3 on Student Outcomes), the higher-education institution to demonstrate that their program of study allows graduates to apply the knowledge, design a system, conduct experiments, analyze and interpret data, solve complex problems, work in teams, and conduct experiments in real life.  

With education becoming more globalized, concepts of distance-learning, open universities, and virtual labs are becoming more popular. Whereas online delivery of theoretical knowledge has been proven to be as effective as traditional face-to-face delivery, the effectiveness of conducting lab sessions and achieving all their intended hands-on practical skills in an engineering education framework is still debatable because of the traditional need for the direct operation of instruments. 

In fact, virtual labs have been developed with the use of 3D models, computer simulations and software. These labs, to an extent, aim to imitate traditional labs and create similar experiences for students. Some argue that certain disciplines cannot completely alter their lab experiences to being virtual. Conceptual knowledge gained from lecture-based classes can be built-on through virtual experiments and modelling but as they advance in their course, authentic real-life hands-on learning is required to equip them for an engineering workspace. 

Several overarching challenges have been identified with respect to teaching engineering remotely. They can be divided into two categories, academic and psychological. From an academic and pedagogical perspective, there seems to be a lack of student engagement and participation. The absence of hands-on learning limits students’ creativity as problems and solutions are programmed in certain ways. Skills that student develop are weaker; moreover, a dearth of instructors who have expertise in technical advancements, and no access to lab tools and other technical difficulties are all handicaps. From a psychological perspective, there is a lack of student motivation and personal support, misinterpretation of non-verbal behaviors, and instructors’ resistance to change. 

An observational study was performed at California State University, Long Beach, to understand the challenges students experienced while studying online during the pandemic. The results identified several issues that negatively influenced the educational experience for students and faculty, these included logistical/technical problems, learning and teaching challenges, privacy and security concerns, and lack of sufficient hands-on training. The study also indicated that there was a lack of engagement in class, difficulty in focusing, and Zoom fatigue.

In addition, the unfamiliar software that students may need to use virtually also presents a challenge as it can make the lab work more difficult and frustrating for them. Some universities have adopted a system of home experimental kits. There is, however, a lack of supervision while performing the experiment and operating the kits. Even though virtual labs have gained momentum during the pandemic, they are not as engaging as real-life labs. Lack of teamwork, group discussions and direct interaction with the mentor are some of the challenges faced by virtual labs.

On the other hand, some practitioners believe that gaining theoretical knowledge is more important than any specific lab skill. With online labs, having access to the educational process outweighs the disadvantage of not being at the lab physically. Lab skills can be learned in internships or during job training. Most lab procedures are done once and never used again. 

To counter the difficulties of distance learning, some universities chose to introduce assistants with the instructors for the online sessions to ease the process and supervise students’ activities. While teaching online, there are no visual cues that indicate if a student is confused, bored, or inattentive. The instructor must apply several techniques and competencies such as cross-questioning to engage students through virtual communication. The curriculum taught online may also need to be adapted to fit this type of learning. For instance, to ensure students can grasp the conceptual knowledge, lecturers had to adopt active-learning styles to engage students, such as: introducing case-study-based learning and increasing the number of assessments such as quizzes. However, it is argued that cheating and plagiarism are difficult to control online; as a result, a major portion of the grades were assigned to summative assessments that include task-based simulations, presentations, case-studies, group projects, open-book questions, and online interviews. 

To teach engineering online successfully, three important criteria need to be met: 1) the quality of online courses should be comparable to or better than the traditional classroom; 2) the courses should be accessible from anywhere at any time and 3) all topics of the discipline should be available. These three attributes of quality, scale and breadth form the basis of the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) organization which is committed to making education available anywhere and at any time. According to Sloan-C, quality online learning has explicit metrics that gauge the progress in online education. They are centered around learning effectiveness, student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, access, and cost effectiveness.  

Despite all the published literature on the pros and cons of online teaching and its challenges in engineering, to the best of our knowledge, no thorough and detailed studies have been published showcasing how traditional engineering courses with lab components have been converted to online courses without compromising the quality of education. This paper will attempt to answer two fundamental questions: Is it possible to acquire hands-on practical skills in a distance-learning environment? How can engineering education be implemented remotely but effectively? A case study by the Australian University will be presented as an action example.

The Impact of Online Learning on Career Performance among Practitioner Engineers

Hoda Baytiyeh

American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

Information and communication technologies have reduced the divide between students, professors and companies, increasing opportunities for employment and collaboration among professionals. However, this open-world approach has also increased the pressure on fresh employees to meet global demands. One of the main challenges for contemporary education is to equip students with the requisite skills for career performance and sustainability. 

This study explores employed engineers’ perceptions of how an online professional diploma impacted their career performance. The program in question is a ProGreen diploma offered by three universities—two in Lebanon and one in Egypt. The objective of this unique program is to support the professional development of practitioner engineers and architects by enhancing their technical and decision-making skills in the area of green technologies. While the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accreditation criteria include a set of soft skills that would prepare engineers for the challenges of the professional world, academic institutions are expected to meet specific educational objectives as specified by these ABET criteria. 

The present study does not evaluate the ProGreen diploma in terms of those criteria, rather it refers to them in exploring the impact of the program’s online context on the engineers’ career performance, including technical, interpersonal, and personal skills. Based on these three indicators, the study explores the skills acquired by engineers in an online learning context. Specifically, the study addresses the following questions: (1) What skills do engineer practitioners acquire through the online diploma? (2) How are the acquired skills interrelated? (3) How do the acquired skills affect the engineers’ career performance? 

To answer these questions, working engineers who have earned the online diploma responded to an online survey based on the ABET criteria for technical, interpersonal, and personal skills. Exploratory analysis identified four factors that were highly correlated with an impact on career performance: independent learning, self-efficacy, social awareness and transformational leadership. Among these professionals, the most valued of these factors was independent learning. The results also indicate that both independent learning and self-efficacy contribute significantly to career advancement. Participants were satisfied with the impact of this online diploma on career performance, and on their social awareness and leadership skills. These findings highlight a need for instruction that can bridge the gap between schooling and practice in terms of currently neglected key skills.

The Implementation of Online Medical Education in the Arab World

Mayssoon Dashash

Syrian Virtual University, Damascus Syria

Researchers in the Arab world believe that online medical education is ineffective due to the modest infrastructure, limited technical capabilities, problematical virtual learning environment, and weak technical skills. In fact, if certain factors are considered, online medical education, despite limited resources, can hold promise for health professionals in the Arab world, who have heavy workloads as well as daily commitments and challenges during their practice. It can update theoretical knowledge, improve procedural skills, and support face-to- face training, provided it is designed, developed and evaluated by home health educators who are familiar with community conditions and needs. 

This chapter reports several factors that can strengthen the quantity and quality of online medical education in Arabic countries and improve its effectiveness despite limited resources. It will emphasise the critical role of scientific content and educational materials in the effectiveness and usefulness of online education so long as they reflect the needs, language, environment and culture of the community of the health professionals who participate in the online education. The chapter will also provide students, researchers, health professionals, academic members, course developers and decision makers with further insight about the best method for designing and delivery of online education in the Arabic World.

A qualitative and quantitative analysis that explores the experience of some Arabic health professionals during their participation in online medical courses will be presented. In addition, personal, technical and country challenges that can prevent the successful implementation of online education in Arabic countries, will also be discussed. Recommendations that can improve understanding, and inform policies for improving the quality of Arabic contents and practices for online education will also be suggested.

Transnational Distance Learning and Building New Markets for the Arab World

Adi Arida

Univeristy of Al-Fujairah, Fujairah, UAE

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions in the Arab world are facing new and unprecedented trends that are rapidly changing the global higher-education landscape.  While transnational education (TNE) is becoming increasingly popular as a way of providing an internationally recognized education, the temporary shift from traditional, face-to-face teaching and learning to distance education is a challenge for all to provide an experience similar to that to which the student was previously accustomed (face-to-face).

In the TNE programs, the emergency replacement of traditional classrooms with virtual ones has also raised significant challenges in terms of student equity and pedagogy. However, given the current transient crisis in higher education, the TNE program can be the cornerstone of rebuilding the international education system.

This chapter will discuss the challenges facing TNE programs and discuss future opportunities and impacts in teaching, learning, and student support through the emergence of the e-learning and distance-education landscape.

The Future of the Online Learning Experience 

Waleed Albaddad

Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, Dubai, UAE

When the global pandemic shut the world down in 2020, and working from home, where possible, became the new normal, the world faced one of its biggest challenges, namely, “What are we going to do with education in these exceptional circumstances?” Schools and Universities closed doors and shifted to online teaching, and most of the learners heard the term Distance Learning for the first time. Educators were required to become experts in this within a very short time! At first, many faculties sought to replicate online what they usually do in a classroom, and they were looking for the tools and technology to do that. However, they soon discovered this was not a practical strategy. What the faculties then began to realize has been known to us in Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) for some time: we were already celebrating the 13th anniversary of launching our first fully accredited online program.

This chapter will briefly review what we at HBMSU have learned during the past 20 years and describe the changes that have occurred in the EdTech and E-learning industry, focusing on higher education in the MENA region during the past five years. There has been extraordinary growth in, and adoption of, education technology, with global EdTech investments reaching US$ 20 billion in 2021 and anticipated to reach $1T by 2027, and we therefore discuss what these investments have brought to learning. 

We will also review the changes we made to our instructional approach, as well as strategies employed to adapt to the rapid changes and the transformation from synchronous sessions to well-designed learning experiences that hold great potential for the teaching of science and research.

What are we expecting to change in the coming five years, and how will new technologies like Web 3 and 4, and the use of AI and Virtual realities, affect our learners and faculty? What kind of pedagogies and instructional approaches are we expecting to have? How far are we today from creating a fully adaptive learning experience?

We will also review our vision campus unbundling and the new credentials (Micro-Nano)

Beyond Digital Learning Modalities and Tools: Centering Learners’ Socioemotional Wellbeing in the Context of E-Learning in the Arab region

Maha Al-Freih1 and Maha Bali2

1Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

2American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt

The higher education sector in the Arab region is undergoing significant transformation, especially in the area of online and digital learning. The COVID-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call to higher education institutions, pushing leaders and decision makers to build on the momentum for change and reposition digital learning as central to their strategic plans and future success. However, while Arab countries succeeded in ensuring continuity of education using distance and online technologies and platforms, these initial solutions were mainly devised to overcome the physical separation imposed due to public health concerns, with less attention being paid to the social and emotional ramifications of this shift on learners and instructors alike. This chapter is our attempt to enrich the current discourse surrounding digital learning in the Arab world and reflect on recent developments in research and practice surrounding adult learners’ social, emotional, and psychological well-being as we attempt to reflect on the following questions: What might centering learners’ emotional and social wellbeing look like within the context of distance and E-Learning in the Arab region? What are the skills and literacies needed by instructors to enable them to create human-centered learning experiences? And finally, what are the challenges facing instructors as they attempt to apply these practices, particularly in Arab universities? We will make connections between relevant notions, theories and practices emerging from Arab cultures and educators, as well as considering the application, in the Arab context, of Western and non-Western approaches,  such as humanizing online learning, ethics and pedagogies of care, Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, compassionate design, equity/care matrix, trauma-informed pedagogy, culturally relevant pedagogy, Universal Design for Learning, learner agency and self-determined learning, engaged pedagogy, and critical digital pedagogy.  

It is during these times of significant change that we need to reflect on our priorities and purpose, and bring to the forefront the voices, needs, and the lived experiences of those our higher education institutions and systems exist to serve: the learners. This simple exercise has significant implications for the progress of digital learning in the Arab world, as it provides the space for our human values such as care, social justice, compassion, equity, community, and empathy to shape our conceptualization and expectations of digital learning, creating a humane experience served by technology, rather than being guided by it. 

The Future of the University in a 21st Century Economy 

Elie Al-Chaer

Law Offices of Elie D. AlChaer, Dallas, Texas, USA

Universities have played a seminal role in the economy of the past century, a role that paralleled, to a large extent, the needs of nation-states, industrial production, and corporate management. In the twenty-first century, the structure and function of the contemporary University are changing rapidly in trying to keep with knowledge-based economies and the demands of the times. Historically, the integrity of the modern University has been linked to promoting and protecting the idea of a national culture and catering to the local workforce. Now that the notion of the nation-state is in decline and the nature of the workforce is morphing, universities are increasingly turning into transnational corporations, and the idea of a national culture is being gradually replaced by a discourse of “excellence” driven more by global market forces and profit margins than by thought and thought processes. This change was further escalated by the coronavirus pandemic, which, in many instances, appears to have devastated higher education. Some colleges and universities across the world were forced to downsize or close their doors totally by the end of 2020. Others appear to have adapted rather quickly and made emergency investments in online technology to keep up with the mandates of the pandemic, and by the end of 2021 appear to have emerged much stronger than before.

This chapter takes a close look at the different roles the University has played historically, and reviews the changing role of higher education over time. It contemplates whether the University has reached the twilight of its social function or whether a new age is dawning with a renaissance of higher education. Certainly, higher education is not the only sector in which stakeholders are faced with the possibility of creative destruction that positively disrupts the way things are done. But while experiments with enhanced online instruction may offer opportunities for efficiency, the most important opportunity presented by the pandemic is distance education and the chance to rethink the political economy of the entire higher education system and reshape it to fit the challenges of the twenty-first century.