Interview: Abdullah Al Mosa
How can local universities increase the use of technology and e-learning in the classroom?
ABDULLAH AL MOSA: E-learning is growing faster than ever before in the Kingdom, especially as a greater emphasis is being placed on its development by the Ministry of Education (MoE). All universities now have access to learning management systems (LMS) such as Blackboard, giving each institution free access to programmes and hosting, thereby encouraging greater incorporation of technology in the classroom. I think this is an excellent step and puts us on the right path for developing e-learning capabilities not only at universities like SEU, but more traditional ones as well. The uptake has been strong, with nearly all universities now employing LMS in one way or another.
Local universities are also working with their foreign counterparts to develop e-learning curricula, such as our relationship with Colorado State and Franklin University in the US. The private sector is also contributing to content development. In this way, expertise from different areas is being harnessed to ensure the systems and curricula in use are properly synchronised.
As technology plays a greater role in the classroom, it is important that professors keep up to date with developments. Older technology like PowerPoint is less attractive to the new generations, so they will not be as responsive. You need to employ the latest technology in order to become more interactive and appealing to a generation that is very tech-savvy and tech-focused.
How can higher education institutions strike a balance between knowledge with real world skills?
AL MOSA: We need to emphasise “KSA” – Knowledge, Skills and Attitude. Focusing solely on knowledge is not sufficient, as these other two areas are often more important determinants of success after university. Knowledge is everywhere thanks to Google, so this is the minimum level we should be delivering.
The skills and attitude components are what allows students to better search for, process and analyse this knowledge, enabling them to apply this in a practical manner. Essentially, we should be teaching know-how. If you are studying accounting or medical informatics, practice is key. Much of the technical knowledge and expertise should be learned through practical experience – in most fields this means work experience.
As educators, we should be training students on how to find the knowledge they need and best employ it. Knowledge is not static – as a professional you constantly have to update and upgrade your knowledge. So the most beneficial thing we can do for our students is teach them how to learn and think for themselves. This is how you foster the quality of know-how.
What role is the private sector playing in the Kingdom’s universities, and how can the higher education system better prepare students for success?
AL MOSA: The key is creating a system where universities offer different programmes, styles and levels so students can find the best fit for their circumstances and needs. One of the long-term goals of the MoE is creating a variety of universities (e.g., teaching, research and online), because every student is different. Each university has its own inherent strengths and should specialise rather than trying to be good at everything.
The private sector is playing an important role, especially in terms of non-profit universities, which cater to many top-level students. They are focused on positive outcomes, developing expertise and setting their students up to succeed. However, students come to university with different levels of preparedness and a wide variety of desired career paths.
To cater to all of these needs we need to create a truly complementary education system. Instead of redundant course offerings and overlap, we should have a mixture of more tailored approaches from each university. In return, this will foster greater benefits for both the universities and the students. I am seeing this shift starting to take place, and I believe that higher education in Saudi Arabia is now on the right path.
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