Digital Universities Conference Explores Future of Higher Education in MENA
ABU DHABI—At a conference on digital universities that opened here on Monday, speakers explored topics like what universities will look like in the aftermath of Covid-19 and the digital change it accelerated in higher education, and how ready universities in the Middle East and North Africa are for a full transition to digital learning.
The three-day conference, called THE Digital Universities MENA 2022, was organized by the British company Times Higher Education and co-hosted by Khalifa University of Science and Technology.
Speakers agreed that “college teaching will never be the same again” after the Covid-19 pandemic and that “there is no going back” to previous methods fully.
Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, education minister of the United Arab Emirates, described the pandemic as “a blessing in disguise” because it thrust universities almost overnight into digital education.
“That push made everybody more open to digital education, including regulators, students and faculty,” Falasi said in an opening speech. Before Covid, he said, his ministry had been looking at ways to allow for 10 percent or 20 percent of instruction to be via digital education across the Emirates, but the advent of the pandemic forced 100 percent digitalization.
Falasi called for rethinking teaching methodologies, stressing that online education could be supplementary to on-premise exchange between students and instructors.
“Core education is still, from my point of view, predominantly class-based, physical education. By having the choice of online learning, one misses out on the most important part of the process, which is interacting with professors and classmates, and building a network,” Falasi said. “We have to find what the right solution is.”
A Catalyst for Innovation
Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at Times Higher Education, praised the higher-education sector, which he said has shown in the last two and a half years fantastic resilience, great agility and, most of all, innovation.
“The rush to deliver remote online education to tens of millions of locked out students was fraught with difficulties and hampered by many missteps. Nonetheless, teaching was delivered and learning was protected throughout a terrible health and social crisis.”Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at Times Higher Education
“The rush to deliver remote online education to tens of millions of locked out students was fraught with difficulties and hampered by many missteps,” Baty said. “Nonetheless, teaching was delivered and learning was protected throughout a terrible health and social crisis.”
The pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation, he said.
“In so many ways the pandemic and the forced move to remote online teaching has actually improved teaching practices and students’ engagement, while giving us new experiences and innovations that we will ultimately build on,” Baty said.
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He added that laptop screens “are not barriers for interaction. By teaching online, faculty can introduce their students to a larger world of scholars beyond their own campus, substantially broadening their learning opportunities. … Definitely, there is no going back to traditional college teaching.”
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Also see Technology & Online Learning, a collection of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on the use of technology in education and the issues it raises.
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