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UAE: Varsities take the iPath

iPads are helping carve a new path through higher education at the UAE’s federal universities where 14,000 incoming foundation programme students have been equipped with the tablet computer.

The Higher Education iPad Initiative was officially launched on Sunday at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), Abu Dhabi Men’s College by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.

The vice-president of Worldwide Education Apple, Inc. and representatives from federal institutions Zayed University and UAE University (UAEU) also attended the inauguration, which took place two weeks after classes— and students’ iPad usage— began.

The move towards implementing mobile technology in university education was initiated earlier this year by Shaikh Nahyan. “He basically realised that we need to take the next step,” said Dr Jace Hargis, Director of HCT Abu Dhabi Women’s College and a member of the iPad Steering Committee. “The UAE has always been progressive in education, with WiFi and laptops and so he looked at this device as another mobile learning environment. He knew that we were ready.”

Apple representatives came to the UAE to review the universities’ wireless infrastructure and strongly concurred, related Dr Hargis. The iPad Steering Committee then shifted its focus to iPad content and pedagogy, exploring how students and faculty could incorporate the tablet computer into both academic and social pursuits on campus. The technology functions not only as a straightforward, teaching tool —for example, as a graphing calculator or a library of e-books— but also as a networking mechanism, allowing students to collaborate in their studies outside the classroom.

“The main idea of the iPad initiative is that the students are interested in this device, and this will help them learn,” said Afraa Al Shamsi, UAEU Chief Technology Officer and chair of the Committee for Infrastructure Implementation. “Even students who don’t participate in the class start participating.”

With guidance from Apple and input from US universities that had already adopted the technology, Al Shamsi and her colleagues oversaw the upgrade of the universities’ wireless networks and software installation on the iPads. Apple specially authorised the UAE’s federal universities to acquire their choice of applications and distribute them independently, without students having to make individual purchases.

“In the Middle East, we are the only ones they have given this facility,” said Al Shamsi. “I think we will be the model not only in the UAE, but in the Arabian Gulf, in the region.” (Khaleej Times)

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