GUEST COLUMN | by Richard Lakin
Recently, I visited the Dubai Women’s College High School (DWCHS), in the United Arab Emirates, to produce a content management system that will become an “eYearbook” for the students. The high school is on the grounds of the Dubai Women’s College/Higher Colleges of Technology; a strikingly-designed modern learning institution with a campus that is spread throughout lush groves of fig and palm trees in the hot and humid Arabian Gulf climate. The women college students, all wearing black abayas, sit in the shaded alcoves and tap on their iPads and MacBook Pros. It is an idyllic learning environment; a robust education technology infrastructure set in a quiet and shaded garden, surrounded by stylish, minimalist architecture.
I was visiting the on-campus high school facility on the first day of the Fall semester. The new students, all 9th and 10th grade girls, were getting an introduction to the blended learning model at DWCHS. The school uses a combination of face-to-face instruction with online courses that originate from instructors all over the world. The online component is offered in the presence of Learning Coaches, who oversee and facilitate the process. Quizzes, assignments, and lesson outcomes require interaction within the classroom — not just online.
Cody Claver, the Director of DWCHS, sees teenagers as “native” to the concept of digital learning; “The students are excited about learning in a way that is native to their way of thinking and doing. They like that a computer is becoming a tool for their learning and not just another add on inside a traditional classroom. They feel empowered and responsible for their learning. One of the first lessons they learn in an online curriculum-based classroom is that you cannot hide, you have to do the work. Smiling and being nice is not enough, you have to go through the rigor of engaging in the coursework.”
I understood immediately what he meant by “[technology is] not just another add on inside a traditional classroom.” It was clearly visible that the supplied laptops were fully integrated into the daily process of instruction to a degree that I had never seen in my many years of working in the education community.
Kathryn White, Academic Administrator at DWCHS, is part of the team that develops the blended curriculum; “DWCHS is unique in that it is a combines the learning process with technology, where students have the opportunity to study independently in their courses yet have the guidance of a learning coach to provide real time personal interaction. This ensures that technology is not a distraction in the classroom but a major part of each students learning process.”
I spoke with Dr. Howard E. Reed, Ph.D, the Director of the Dubai Women’s College/Higher Colleges of Technology. Dr. Reed is known for his passion and determination to bring better higher-learning opportunities to the Middle East. A twenty-year resident of Dubai, he is as candid as he is committed; “Education in this part of the world is not very effective. They struggle to get schools that make a difference to young people and give them the tools to be as good as they can be.”
Dr. Reed is recognized throughout the region, as well as throughout the world, as a relentless advocate of education technology; “We want to revolutionize education here in the Middle East by setting a higher standard. We’re saying students can be better students and better graduates, if we have a better learning process that involves better technology, better thought, and more flexibility. With the mix of online courses and face-to-face instruction, we can connect students with the best instructors around the world.”
All academic supposition aside, what I heard most from the students is, like most teenage girls, they thought that learning on a computer was very cool. If you’d like to look in on DWCHS, here’s a link to their blog: http://dwchighschool.wordpress.com/
Richard Lakin is the co-founder 18 rabbits digital media. Named after the Mayan king (695-738 AD) who supported the arts during his reign in Central America, 18 rabbits digital media promotes social entrepreneurs, international development, educational institutions, NGOs, corporate social responsibility, non-profits, and community outreach projects through a strategic program of multimedia and internet distribution.