Tips for online educators in the GCC - Gulf Business
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Tips for online educators in the GCC

Tips for online educators in the GCC

It’s paramount for faculty members to develop a virtual presence, says Zakiya-Abdul Samad

Imagine a classroom where students from around the world share knowledge and experience; where collaboration is standard; and where students and teachers can give and receive constructive feedback, contribute equally and share success.

Welcome to online education: an increasingly popular way to learn that places importance on global perspectives.

Before I was attracted to teaching online, I had been teaching at traditional education institutions for about 15 years. I have found that the two experiences are different from each other. Currently I am a lecturer in finance and accounting at a college in Saudi Arabia, where I work with students in a face-to-face setting, building trust and confidence among my scholars in a two-way dialogue.

Yet my experience as an online faculty member with the University of Roehampton is intriguing and inspiring, as I work on building a similar type of relationship with my highly motivated students – who could potentially be located anywhere in the world. The best part of being engaged with the online students is that they are professionals with considerable experience in their own field.

Till recently it was impossible to imagine such a level of collaboration and commitment to learning and achieving outside bricks-and-mortar educational establishments. But with the improvements in technology and the integration of the advanced online communication medium, online learning has transformed in recent years to adapt to changes in lifestyle and the ways we now digest information.

Student demographics and approach

Online programmes tend to draw a more mature age group of students looking to develop their careers by moving their learning online so it can coexist with work or family commitments.

The approach to online learning is also more holistic. Unlike a traditional classroom, in which the professor lectures students, online education offers a much more collaborative learning environment. Instead of a lecture hall, students and faculty members engage each other in discussion through various online formats, including message boards and forums.

When a forum discussion is held over a set period, students and faculty members respond at a time of day that suits them, wherever they are in the world, and they can exchange ideas and perspectives from their peers. As a result of this collaborative approach, barriers between students and faculty members often disappear.

Establishing persona

It’s paramount for faculty members to develop a virtual presence when teaching online in order to build trust with students, many of whom are eager to get to know the person behind the computer. Many online faculty members write regular blogs to keep students engaged, often posting on a subject of interest rather than on the course they are studying. This allows faculty members to develop a personality, which can be reinforced through visual tools.

Many online faculty members also host video chats or develop short bite-sized YouTube lectures that allow students to consume information on the move and in a different way. Video has been particularly effective in the GCC region where, according to Google, residents consume more YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world.

A personalised approach

In a traditional classroom or lecture-style class, all eyes are on the professor and it’s easy for a student to slide from view. In an online classroom, there is no back row and students cannot hide behind a computer. They are drawn into conversations as part of the discussion forums, where they need to regularly comment and provide their perspective on their classmates’ ideas, and support their ideas with cited research. In this type of collaborative environment, it is easier for the faculty member to draw the more reserved students out rather than leaving them alone if they don’t want to participate. And students can connect with their online faculty members instead of having to wait for traditional office hours. With students located around the world, email and video chat are frequently used in one-to-one sessions for advice and answers to questions.

Social learning

The growth of a more “social” approach to learning is also allowing remote educators to collaborate with new global territories to gather insights into the challenges surrounding education.

When the Dubai School of Government conducted a recent survey of 4,000 participants – teachers, students and parents – it found that in higher education, social media is creatively being used as a platform for innovation in terms of idea-sharing, and as a facilitator for communities of expertise and practice that breaks down informational silos and hierarchies.

Virtual classrooms are building knowledgeable citizens of the world in new and progressive ways, and from my experience, this brave new world allows educators to reach out to students through a totally different approach. And even as teachers, online education adds tremendously to our knowledge base and practical application of concepts in different parts of the world.

Zakiya-Abdul Samad is a faculty member for the University of Roehampton, London Online management programmes


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