Al-Ississ Pioneers Free Online Courses in Arabic with Edraak

Representatives of AUC recently finalized an agreement withEdraak, a Queen Rania Foundation initiative, to include AUC in a select group of regional universities that will develop some of the first Arabic courses for the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform. MOOCs are free, interactive, web-based classes spanning a wide range of topics and featuring prominent professors from top universities worldwide.

According to the partnership agreement, Edraak will provide the technological and instructional resources to upload and maintain the courses online, while AUC will provide single course releases for up to two faculty members per year for course development, as well as graduate assistants to be online teaching assistants. In addition to seeking original courses from AUC, the American University of Beirut, and other top Arab universities, Edraak will work in cooperation with EdX, a joint project between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to translate some of the most popular courses from the widely used MOOC platform into Arabic. Courses that AUC faculty members develop for MOOCs/Edraak are not awarded University credit.

Among the first courses that went live isArabs: Where and Where To, designed and taught by Mohamad Al-Ississ, assistant professor of economics in the School of Business and School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The course, which began on June 10, is focused on current development challenges facing the Arab world and its future trajectory. It will address a multitude of topics in economic development: the demographic challenge and youth bulge in the Arab world, youth unemployment, inequality of opportunity and income, poverty, trust and social capital in the Arab world, growth diagnostics, institutional realities and challenges facing the region, as well as women’s equality and gender rights.

“In a nut shell, the course is focused on equipping learners with a deep and in-depth understanding of the status quo facing the Arab world and ways to address it,” said Al-Ississ. “We also have snippets of hope, addressing areas that we see as optimistic, areas that we need to capture, such as the youth being more aware of their rights, flourishing entrepreneurship, Internet accessibility, the increase in age at a woman’s first marriage and rising levels of education.”

Al-Ississ developed the course specifically for the MOOC platform. It’s designed, he noted, to appeal to a broad swath of non-experts, “with no prerequisites,” and also relies on the latest data published online. Moreover, the course was designed with Arabic language instruction at the forefront, unlike, Al-Ississ explained, other courses he has created at AUC or Harvard, where he is currently a visiting professor. Doing so presented some challenges. “My professional language of economics is English, so I had to re-educate myself in the discipline in Arabic because you want it to sound native. You don’t want it to sound translated or back translated.”

In addition, Al-Ississ found that many of the course readings were only available in English. “We’re using materials that would be used at any top-level university, but to make the material natively available for the audience we had to sign an agreement with the publishers and translate them into Arabic. It was a huge effort,” he said.

Current enrollment figures for the course are in the thousands, and Al-Ississ expects this number to continue to grow. “A good proxy number to indicate the demand for this initiative is the current count of followers on theFacebook page,” said Al-Ississ.

For Al-Ississ, who has also been serving in an advisory role to Edraak, the mission of the initiative is critical at this juncture. “This is an effort to help improve the status quo and be an agent of change, especially in my area of expertise in economic development. Of course, I’ve been able to achieve that at AUC, but the reach is limited because we can only access the students we have. So the idea is that we need to make this high-quality education at AUC available to people beyond the walls of the University and available to people in Arabic, natively, who I believe have a high demand and thirst for education.”

Photo caption: Mohamed Al-Ississ is among the first to teach a Massive Open Online Course in Arabic