The Arab Open University and in collaboration with the Regional Center for Development of Educational Software held its first conference on open learning under the title: “Open Learning: Role, Challenges and Solutions” 25-27 November 2013, at the Arab Fund for Economic and Social development in the State of Kuwait.
The conference was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber al-Sabah, The Amir of the State of Kuwait.
In her opening address, Prof. Moudi Abdel-Aziz Al-Humoud, AOU Rector, and on behalf of the AOU Board of trustees headed by HRH Prince Talal Bin Abdel-Aziz, and on behalf of the entire AOU ranks of: faculty members, administrators, staff, and students, the AOU Rector welcomed all participants and guests in the hospitable State of Kuwait. Her Excellency Prof. Al-Humoud highlighted the AOU leading role in providing a blended model of face-to-face and open learning. This initiative came about to meet the local accreditation requirements in most Arab countries, which affirmed the academic role of AOU being consistent with the vision of its founder HRH Prince Talal Bin Abdel-Aziz, and the aspirations of the Board of Trustees. Such a learning model provides ample opportunities of quality higher education to all Arab male and female students whose work and family obligations deprived them of joining public or private universities adopting the traditional mode of education (Prof. Al-Humoud’s address is herewith attached).
The opening ceremony was attended by 250 people representing Arab and international organizations and universities, as well as government and non-government organizations form and outside Kuwait. In addition to the Minister of Education and Higher Education in Kuwait, the opening ceremony was attended by the Minister of Higher Education in the Republic of Sudan, Prof. Khamis Kajo Kindah, the Minister of Higher Education in the Republic of Lebanon, Prof. Hassan Diab, as well as some members of the AOU Board of Trustees, AOU Branch Directors, Assistant to the Secretary General of the Union of Arab Universities, and the chairpersons of sessions who represent high-ranking government organizations, local and regional organizations in the State of Kuwait, in addition to many other lecturers and participants from Canada, Britain, USA, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and most Arab countries including: Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, KSA, Palestine, Iraq, and UAE.
Of the 104 research papers which were received and refereed by the conference scientific committee-- of international and AOU experts-- only 41 papers were accepted for presentation. The papers were presented in 11 sessions over three days. However, the total number of participants from inside Kuwait and abroad, but without giving papers, was 110.
It is noteworthy that the participation of all AOU branches was high, with 18 papers, on the different themes of the conference.
The conference distinguished itself with two plenary presentations by two key-note speakers:
1) Prof. Tim Blackman, OU-UK Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research, Scholarship and Quality), entitled: “Innovations and Quality in Distance Learning.”
2) Prof. Frits Pannakoek, President of Athabasca University, Canada, entitled: “International Trends and Experiences in Open Learning”.
The scientific programme of the conference comprised five themes:
1) Technologies and methods of open learning
2) International trends and experiences in open learning
3) Quality assurance in open learning
4) Role of open learning in growth and development
5) Examples of good practice in open learning (case studies)
Throughout the conference, the presentations focused on the following:
- The importance of continuous development of the technologies and methods of open and blended learning through theoretical and applied research based on sound educational and psychological principles, taking into consideration the cultural aspects relevant to the Arab and other societies.
- Stressing the importance of exchanging experience and expertise with all open learning universities and institutions worldwide for the dissemination of knowledge and for developing teaching and learning. This in turn leads to motivating students and improving their performance as a key element in the teaching-learning process.
- Effective use of modern technology in communication in order to disseminate knowledge without spatial or temporal constraints to all sectors of the society, indiscriminately.
- Use of modern technology in open and blended earning to empower Arab women with knowledge and to develop her abilities and skills in comprehensive development.
- Adherence to international standards in providing quality service to students, and in all practices to develop knowledge in an effort to upgrade the learning outcomes of open learning.
- Highlighting the role of open learning in the development of individuals and societies in all sectors especially that open learning seeks to develop the abilities and skills of all individuals to help them contribute in the development of their societies.
Patronage of Conference
In addition to the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, and due to the importance of this conference on the local, regional, and international levels, the conference was sponsored and supported by renowned and leading local and international organizations such as: Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science, The Open University-UK, Kuwait National Bank, Kuwait Airways, and Wataniya Company for Telecommunications in Kuwait.
The events of first day of the conference were transmitted live to all AOU Branches. All conference events and activities were recorded by the technical team of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, and all recordings will be uploaded on the AOU website.
The conference activities received wide coverage by printed and electronic media in Kuwait, in addition to the Ida’a electronic newspaper, and the Egyptian newspaper “Al- Ahram”.
The Conference Higher Committee will choose the best papers presented at the conference and they will be published- in printed and electronic form- in a special conference proceedings, which will be delivered to all participants in the conference and to all libraries in the Arab World, and will be uploaded on the AOU website.
Training and Development on the sidelines of the Conference
On the sidelines of the conference, AOU organized two workshops which mainly targeted AOU faculty members, while making them open to other non-AOU participants. A number of AOU tutors from all branches were nominated to participate in one of the two workshops held at the AOU-HQ in Kuwait, simultaneously.
- First Workshop:
Title: “Managing, designing, and implementing blended learning for flexible delivery”, by Prof. Mohammad Ally, Athabasca University, Canada. The workshop was attended by 14 participants.
- Second Workshop:
Title: “Ideal feedback to motivate students’ participation”, by Prof. Denise Whitelock, OU-UK. The workshop was attended by 16 participants.
The evaluation of the two workshops by participants was overwhelmingly positive.