For at least a couple of decades now, university education has been awaiting some major structural changes in order to be more relevant to the needs of the learners themselves, the market, the society and the ever changing times.
While much has happened over the said period that improved some aspects of higher education, the overall picture is not pleasing.
Two things in particular were expected to happen in noticeable, tangible ways. They did not, however, despite much yearning and demand.
These are the shift from teaching to learning, and the use of multifaceted means, styles and venues of learning.
Finally, the University of Jordan (UJ) stepped to the forefront and took the lead on both fronts.
Last Tuesday, the UJ Deans’ Council, after months of intensive efforts and meticulous preparation, passed two initiatives that constitute both a radical pedagogical shift and a milestone: a new package of courses for all incoming students and the adoption of the blended-learning approach.
Regarding the former, UJ has substantially modified the package of courses students take during their first couple of years of university life.
The old package, which had been in place for over two decades, primarily revolved around the transmission of “knowledge” in a variety of fields, building on what students had learnt in school, but delivering it essentially in the same old traditional ways.
The package was no doubt relevant during its heyday, but it no longer is in today’s world. The times have radically changed, and so have the needs of learners and the learning styles.
The newly introduced package is built around an entirely different philosophy: character building, skills relevant to interactive learning where students take ownership of their learning, and knowledge necessary to survival and success in various life and work contexts.
The courses aim to empower students in three key domains: practical, intellectual and affective. They enable students to play a proactive role in learning: to work on their own and with peers, to investigate, think, analyse, question, solve problems, form educated opinions, etc.
Rote learning and passive, receptive education will be buried for good.
The package includes courses like learning and research, critical thinking, communication, teamwork, information-management, appreciation of arts and music, great books, Islam and the modern world, human civilisation, the culture of law, key environmental issues, Arab-Islamic civilisation, health, innovation and entrepreneurship, and any course deemed necessary to students.
The ultimate aim is to graduate students who are ready to excel in the workplace and to contribute to society and human civilisation constructively; students who are knowledgeable about and proud of their culture, but who are open, tolerant and respectful of the cultures of others.
Cultural skills are at the heart of the package.
Regarding the second decision, which pertains to blended learning, UJ has made all necessary preparations to start implementing it as of next semester.
Blended learning is essentially a mixture of face-to-face tutorials and on-line learning.
While UJ is adopting full on-line learning in a number of courses, it believes that, for cultural and pedagogical considerations, the blended approach is the best and most effective. Under it, students will be learning both in class and online, but interactively.
“Interactively” is the key here, as students learn best when they do things on their own and then come and discuss what they worked on with their peers and with their professors.
Like most public universities in the country whose fees have remained largely unchanged for decades and whose share from governmental support is meagre, UJ suffers from a serious shortage of funds needed to enable it to implement many of its aspirations and plans with efficiency and ease.
Nevertheless, while working on attracting funds through all kinds of creative means, UJ is intent upon taking a leap forward and starting a new era of university education, despite fund shortages.
Jordan Times: Dec 15, 2016.