By Ioanna Moriatis | This story appeared in the July 2017 edition of AUC Today.
“The future is blended,” as Global Focus magazine put it in its article on the growing role of technology in education.
Blended learning, a mix of online and face-to-face instruction in the classroom, has become the new buzzword in education because of its student-centered approach. A meta-analysis report published in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education found that “classes with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended), on average, produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction” and that blended learning “had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.” Recent studies have also shown that with blended learning, students tend to be more engaged, with 59 percent of teachers reporting that students were more motivated to learn in a blended learning environment (Blackboard K-12).
Taking up recent global trends in education, AUC has committed itself to enhancing the digital experience of its students. President Francis J. Ricciardone has made technology a central focus as the University re-evaluates its strategy moving forward.
Among the blended and online learning initiatives that have recently been launched are two projects in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE), enabling AUC to become a regional hub in digital learning and education through its international partnerships and pioneering initiatives.
“As one of the top universities in the region and the best University in Egypt — a country with the highest youth population in the Arab world — AUC can be one of the most important players in promoting blended learning in Egypt,” affirmed Samar Farah, research manager and acting online learning manager at AGFE.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is an educational approach that aims to combine digital tools and online education with traditional face-to-face instruction in the classroom. “Unlike web-enhanced learning for which students meet face-to-face 100 percent of the time, AUC defines blended learning as replacing a percentage of class time — around 30 to 50 percent — with online instruction,” explained Aziza Ellozy ’64, ’67, professor of practice and founding director of AUC’s Center for Learning and Teaching.
The use of technology in the classroom is spreading rapidly across universities and higher education institutes. A 2014 study conducted by the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research concluded that “more students than ever have experienced a digital learning environment. The majority say they learn best with a blend of online and face-to-face work.”
Ahmed Tolba ’97, ’01, associate provost for strategic enrollment management and chair of AUC’s Digital Education Executive Committee, stressed that blended learning is not meant to compartmentalize the academic experience into distinct digital or in-class elements. “Blended learning means that the component of online and digital education is increased to support face-to-face interactions, not to divide the two and decrease a professor’s workload,” said Tolba. Blended learning, he added, can actually be more challenging for instructors to implement because it requires focused preparation.
Though challenging to implement, blended learning can augment the academic experience significantly, allowing for more focused attention on the needs of individual students. The introduction of innovative technological tools and teaching methods in the classroom can also help instructors better measure and monitor student progress, making sure students are acquiring the knowledge and skills they need and identifying any learning gaps they have. “If done effectively, blended learning methods can create space for more flexible, self-paced, personalized learning and assessment tools. This is especially valuable in large university classrooms, in which faculty members have little one-on-one time with students,” noted Farah.
AUC the opportunity to “widen the pool of students who can access its programs by offering new and more affordable pathways to higher education for those who would not otherwise be able to attend the University.”
The initiative can extend its reach to students who are off campus, don’t have time to commute or are part-time students. “Online and digital learning can open possibilities to reach students we weren’t able to reach before,” said Ellozy.
Financial barriers currently prevent many young students in the Arab world from obtaining an education from a top university in the region or elsewhere. Building programs for blended learning represents an opportunity to begin weakening these barriers, allowing for more equalized access to education. “On an institutional level, blended learning provides possibilities for universities to admit a larger and more diversified number of students, including students who cannot come to campus on a daily basis such as young mothers and refugees,” explained Farah. “This is especially relevant in the Egyptian context, where using blended learning could help address challenges in a sustainable and effective way.”
AUC as a Digital Learning Hub
AUC is not new to blended and online learning techniques. In the past several years, the University has made great strides toward incorporating blended learning approaches into course curricula and integrating them into the academic experience for students.
Most courses at AUC incorporate the use of some online management system such as Blackboard. Fifteen blended learning courses have already been designed, and 24 are in progress. Additionally, the University has been able to deliver four purely online courses taught by AUC faculty members, referred to as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), available to the public in partnership with Edraak, an initiative of the Queen Rania Foundation.
With these projects and several other initiatives in progress, Tolba noted that
“We are already among the top universities in the region when it comes to blended and online learning.” The Digital Education Executive Committee now hopes to continue advancing AUC’s position in the region. “What we need now are partnerships,” he affirmed. “Maintaining ourselves as a part of the global network allows us to stay up-to-date. We want to identify ourselves as a strong and established leader in this trend of digital learning.”
AUC is often perceived as a portal or gateway, acting as a point of connection for various regions. It is because of this unique position that AUC’s involvement in trending, innovative educational strategies can signal a call to action for other universities and stakeholders in the region. “As a leader in higher education in Egypt and one of the first to invest in blended learning, the University should work with accreditation bodies to accredit quality online learning courses and can raise awareness among top private sector companies of the value of this new teaching and learning model,” said Farah.
To read about AUC’s conference with MIT on blended learning, click here.