x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Online education must be monitored, say academics at Dubai conference

Academics from around the world have addressed the challenges to online education, or elearning.

DUBAI // Academics from around the world have addressed the challenges to online education, or elearning.

In a world where technology is fast seeping into the world of education, academics are facing a number of challenges to ensure quality of online programmes remains as high as conventional ones as well as overcoming negative perceptions of elearning.

At the International Council for Open and Distance Education Standing Conference of Presidents' annual meeting, Dr Bader Aboul-Ela, director of the Commission for Academic Accreditation at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, cited a lack of educational resources in Arabic, technical readiness and the perception of elearning in academia.

"This perception is due to the bad example of sub-standard online programmes and the rise of diploma mills," he said.

Referring to the rise of diploma mills, which give out fake or worthless degrees, Sheikh Nahyan, the Minister of Higher Education, said: "We must emphasise ethical behaviour and insist on integrity of processes and people and not lose sight of our responsibility as institutions of higher learning."

Dr Aboul-Ela said pitfalls of online education included the authenticity of students' work, their engagement and drop out rates.

Sheikh Nahyan said the UAE's experience of elearning, not only at its only accredited online university, Hamdan Bin Mohammed E-University, where the conference was held, but at colleges such as the Higher Colleges of Technology, where some classes are delivered between a men's college and a women's college remotely, has been "both effective in offering good courses and sufficient in saving resources".

At some of the 17 colleges in HCT, there are not the resources to have separate teaching staff at the men's and women's campuses so conference learning has been introduced to save resources at the federal colleges.

"We are determined to use elearning wisely," he added. "The success of elearning relies on teaching, low cost and better content. It must be good education."

Dr Aboul-Ela said what's lacking in the region is insightful accreditation to oversee such online learning, traditional criteria now "outdated" for the world of elearning.

The UAE was the first country to address this, producing its own set of standards in 2004 which is online for anyone to access.

"I believe the same accreditation body can oversee traditional and online learning but the standards and criteria will be different," Dr Aboul-Ela added.

mswan@thenational.ae