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Redefining Education in Egypt: AUC Pioneers Blended, Online Learning

Ioanna Moriatis
October 1, 2017

In collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE), AUC, along with the American University of Beirut (AUB), is taking the lead in promoting online and blended learning across the region.

“What AUC tries to do here in Egypt is explore new ways of learning, new ways of serving, new ways of advancing knowledge and its transmission,” said President Francis J. Ricciardone at a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges of implementing online and blended learning strategies in Egypt.

AUC Provost Ehab Abdel-Rahman moderated the panel, made up of key figures in the field of educational innovation: Egypt’s Minister of Education and Technical Education Tarek Shawki; Vijay Kumar, associate dean of digital learning and executive director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab at MIT; and Maysa Jalbout, CEO of AGFE.

At the center of the discussion was an emphasis on “disrupting” current educational practices in Egypt and introducing a true “appetite” for learning. “We have to redefine what education is, establish the culture and the joy of learning,” Shawki said.





Why Online and Blended Learning?

“I think the real potency is educational transformation,” opened Kumar, discussing the immense impact that online learning initiatives can have on education. MIT has witnessed the wide-reaching potential of its own online and blended learning projects.

Both Jalbout and Kumar view online and blended learning as a key step in widening access to education. Kumar noted that widening access does not only refer to an increase in the number of students who can use educational resources, but also signals a diversification of those who can be reached. “What I see happening through these efforts is that we are able to address the learning needs of different kinds of audiences in different ways,” Kumar said.

Jalbout similarly sees the potential of transforming access to education, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa region. “We, as a foundation, are focused on providing access to education to the highest achieving students in the region who don’t have access to resources to go to great universities like AUC and AUB,” stated Jalbout. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and online learning is definitely the invention that we need to be able to reach a wider number of students across the region.”

The implementation of these strategies is not a question of choosing to study either entirely one way or another, and the benefits are not limited to certain fields. Rather, Kumar noted that “combining on-site with online is much more valuable,” and the value of blending is rooted in the potential to customize for any type of course.

Leading Regional Change

AGFE saw great potential in collaborating with AUC because of its investment in quality education and engagement in the use of technology in the classroom. “Given that AUC is a leader in Egypt, it can also be a leader in collaborating with other universities in the region,” said Jalbout.

Situating itself as a hub for creativity and innovation, AUC has made strides in enhancing its own implementation of online and blended learning approaches. Abdel-Rahman emphasized AUC’s commitment to exploring pioneering educational strategies, highlighting Aziza Ellozy, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT), and her new role as associate provost for transformative learning and teaching.

AUC has already trained 68 faculty members in designing blended courses, delivered four blended courses and introduced five Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The University is currently working on designing more than 15 blended courses this year, among a number of efforts being made to further incorporate blended learning approaches into the University experience.

The panel discussion served as a useful segue into a three-day online and blended learning design camp, where the University collaborated with MIT, AGFE and AUB to redesign two of AUC’s courses, Introduction to Biology and Ordinary Differential Equations, as well as two AUB courses. The aim of the camp was to effectively integrate online and blended strategies and infuse elements of MIT’s modules into AUC and AUB curricula. The teams from MIT and AUB were composed of instructional designers as well as faculty members to engage in these design discussions.

“The design camp was quite a unique experience,” said Ellozy. “We were all able to learn from one another. Our AUC faculty worked in collaboration with MIT and AUC faculty to design lesson plans, presenting to peers and receiving detailed feedback. This has also spurred many ideas to continue this movement and explore further collaboration with MIT and AUB in the future.”

Implementing Online and Blended Learning in Egypt

Shawki discussed several plans that the Ministry of Education has set in motion to completely revamp Egypt’s educational system. Among the many projects underway are the expansion of the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, a digital library consolidating a range of international content, and the introduction of a new online managing system. At the core of this shift is a push to reshape the community’s perception of education.

Both Shawki and Jalbout have observed reluctance toward online and blended learning throughout the region. Many governments are not accrediting online learning, hesitant about the quality of this approach. “The problem with Egypt is not technology, curriculum or assessment,” asserted Shawki. “It is just really redefining education. All of this will go nowhere, unless we really convince people that it’s all about learning. We cannot fix [Egypt’s current education system] past a certain threshold. We’re not going to fix this car. It’s always going to be an old car. Let’s just get a new car.”

Another major challenge is managing the enormous size of Egypt’s education system, made up of more than 22 million students. Within such a large system, the challenges of implementing innovative strategies are numerous. Shawki added that the Egyptian government cannot be alone in promoting these major changes, underlining the importance of collaborating with NGOs and the private sector.

Jalbout raised the issue of developing access to technology for the underserved population in Egypt. Another hurdle is the fact that most online content is produced in English, making it difficult to reach students in the region who do not speak the language. Jalbout, however, feels encouraged by the efforts in progress to overcome these obstacles.

“We think that the challenges are plenty, but they are not insurmountable,” she asserted. “Technology is allowing us to dig deeply into where students are having challenges and provide them with support in real time so that they are able to overcome those learning challenges as opposed to being discouraged.”