The education sector has been undergoing transformation for several years now, and the pandemic only served as a means to add some much-needed momentum. It has also allowed stakeholders to reflect on existing methodologies while simultaneously opening up exciting new opportunities, maximising efficiencies, increasing collaboration and reducing costs.
However, this transformation is not limited to the uptake of the latest product or technology. It entails the foresight to review the curriculum and on-campus facilities while preparing the students and faculty to understand the challenges that the volatile digital landscape may present.
Higher Colleges of Technology has been investing in technology for almost a decade. Being an applied higher education institution, blended learning was integrated into HCT’s curriculum long before the social distancing rules forced institutions to close campuses and assess how distance education will be delivered.
Dr. Abdullatif Alshamsi, President and CEO, Higher Colleges of Technology highlighted that the concept of blended learning is not new, in general. “In fact, regardless of the mode of delivery, what needs attention is an assessment of how we can deliver education in a way that encourages students to explore the full potential of the advances around us.”
Dr. Alshamsi added that this crisis has served as an accurate indicator of readiness among stakeholders. “It is also the right time to reflect on the mode of delivery of education and expected outcomes. Further, it has presented the opportunity to revamp the education system by gaining insight from the experiences of early adopters in the digital realm of the education sector.”
HCT has been delivering an interactive and blended learning experience way before the pandemic struck. “We were well-prepared to deal with this crisis because the Higher Colleges of Technology has been investing in digital technologies and training its faculty members to embed them within their teaching methodologies. The pandemic accelerated many of the ideas we have been advocating and allowed us to test the tools already available to us.”
The digital-native generation Z is comfortable using the internet as a tool for work, research and connecting with others. Moreover, they are quick to grasp new concepts, technologies, applications, software and devices. Dr. Alshamsi emphasised the need to revamp the education system and adopt an effective and efficient way of delivering education. “If we continue applying teaching methodologies that have not evolved much in the past four or five decades, we will lose the attention and interest of this tech-savvy generation.”
He added that real transformation can be achieved by investing in the faculty and curriculum development, added Dr. Alshamsi. “We are always looking for ways to ensure professional development of our faculty. In line with this, we have provided our entire teaching faculty with e-Teacher certification in collaboration with Blackboard, allowing them to confidently use different technological tools in their pedagogy of teaching and learning.”
HCT is continuously upgrading its academic programmes and curriculum. This means that all programmes are coupled with the professional certifications, and students do not just graduate with an academic degree but also a professional one. “HCT offers advanced education that enables graduates to work in the international labour market. By updating our curricula, we continue to meet the labour market expectation.”
While Covid-19 has adversely affected every industry and sector, Dr. Alshamsi pointed out that there have been some that have actually seen accelerated growth. Citing e-commerce and digital technologies as examples, he added that we need to work in sync with what is working for our youth today and in the coming future.
“At HCT, we strongly believe in developing Persona 4.0 which has three main components,” said Dr. Alshamsi. “The student must first and foremost have a digital persona, which means being up-to-date with modern technology. Next comes the professional persona, which calls for students to gain in-depth knowledge into their areas of specialisation. Finally, we have the entrepreneurial persona that calls for students to develop and conceptualise entrepreneurial ways of thinking.”
Technology is evolving at a breakneck pace and thus, the demands for skills in the market continue to change. Equipped with all elements of Persona 4.0, Dr. Alshamsi believes that students will be well-prepared to excel. “Our goal is to prepare the students to apply all the knowledge and skills gained for the requirements that evolution in technology may bring. HCT has always advocated an application-based hands-on approach to imparting education. Combined with the persona 4.0 concept, we find our graduates being a preferred choice in the labour market,” he added.
While most education providers were following traditional teaching methods, the current crisis has forced everyone to get out of their comfort zone. “With time, technology will advance, new jobs will be introduced and they will demand newer skills. This is why we review our curriculum and learning outcomes every year. More importantly, we question how we can deliver the highest quality of education that will not only excite our students but also prepare them for their professional lives. We take it upon ourselves to ensure that we maintain a hundred per cent employability for our graduates.
Talking about how this campus will look in the years to come, Dr. Alshamsi explained that the campuses will eventually shrink and evolve into open lab spaces. “With increased connectivity and instant access to information, learning is no longer confined within the classroom. Future campuses will serve as a means to network with other students and faculty, engage in practical sessions and even entrepreneurial activities.”
Dr. Alshami explained that HCT’s philosophy is to encourage students to develop skill-sets that produce professional learners. “Today, we are thinking about how to graduate companies rather than students. We help our students in developing technical and soft skills that will prepare them for their professional future. We are also encouraging an open lab space for entrepreneurial activities that will enable our students to convert their knowledge into a commercial product.”
He concluded by saying that while the benefits of digital tools cannot be denied, one must not ignore the importance of maintaining some social connection. “The future of education is not fully digital or entirely on-campus; it will be blended. This will allow educators to discard time- and resource-heavy practices and adopt those that can be implemented to nurture talented graduates while engaging and networking on-campus through workshops.”