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UCL’s first Arabic MOOC will bring education opportunities to refugees in Lebanon

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 21 February 2019

Eileen Kennedy

English dominates the internet. Most MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are available only in English. UCL has run many MOOCs with English language course providers such as FutureLearn. When you want to reach an Arabic speaking audience, however, you need to take a different approach. To reach as many participants as possible, UCL has created its first MOOC on the Edraak platform.

At the RELIEF Centre (for research and learning focused on inclusive growth and prosperity in Lebanon)we are investigating ways of fostering prosperity in places affected by mass displacement. Refugees account for over a quarter of the population of the small country of Lebanon. Such a massive influx of people puts extra pressure on an already fragile infrastructure, depressing wages and overburdening public services.

Education is still inaccessible to many refugees, however. Language is one of the many problems vulnerable children face. Lebanese schools teach some subjects in English and French, but Syrian students, and the teachers that have come with them, are used to Arabic only.

The Future Education research team at RELIEF is finding ways of using digital technologies to help. We are co-designing a series of MOOCs with members of the community in Lebanon to help create and share good ideas to address the pressures in Lebanon. One of these issues is how to support learners in conditions of mass displacement. Teachers have developed their own solutions, and we can use MOOCs to help them share their good ideas.

Our first MOOC is about the project as a whole – based on the ‘citizen science’ methodology at the heart of the RELIEF Centre. The course will help participants develop the skills they need to conduct their own research in the community.

When we held our first co-design workshops with community members in Lebanon about what the MOOC should be like, one thing came across very strongly. It should be available in Arabic.

Power cuts are a regularity in Lebanon. Access to broadband internet is not easy. And yet, when we started discussing online learning, everyone at our workshops and meetings was enthusiastic. When we first met with Syrian refugee teachers at the NGO MAPs in Beqa’a, we found that they had already been studying online. But the courses were all in English, and, although many could speak some English, it made it difficult. Language should not be a barrier to education, so we resolved to provide our courses in Arabic as well as English. Our partner universities in Lebanon – American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University teach in English, so that was a popular language choice too.

It has been challenging to create our MOOC. With a local video team led by Samer Beyhum  and our MOOC co-ordinator in Lebanon, Rym El Moussaoui, we took our cameras out to film community based researchers in Lebanon – including Syrian refugees who had conducted research to find out how best to support local needs. For example, Asma, a Syrian teacher at MAPs explained how she had conducted research with the families of children at her school to find out why children came to school late.

2Film crew walking waste groundThe videos in the MOOC combine English and Arabic, and are an important part of our co-design approach as they allow community members themselves to share their skills with each other.

Beneath every video is a written explanation, maybe an exercise to practice the ideas, and a prompt for discussion. We have translated every learning activity into Arabic. This runs into tens of thousands of words. Without the support of Translators Without Borders, we could never have done this.

But the language of online learning needs very careful crafting and the Edraak platform is quite tricky to get to know. We needed specialist help to create the course exactly as we wanted it in the platform. Thankfully we have had unimaginable support from two (past and present) IOE Masters students – Cinderella Al Homsi and Mustafa Ismail – and they also both appear in the MOOC practicing interview skills so participants can learn along with them. Cinderella is Syrian, with experience of both teaching and of displacement. Mustafa has been working for Edraak in Egypt. Not all the features of our two platforms are the same, so as a team we are being creative to make sure we provide a similar experience across the platforms.

Running the same course on two platforms at the same time presents us with a great research opportunity to compare the effects of the different MOOC features on participant learning experience.

The RELIEF Future Education team are: Diana Laurillard, Tejendra Pherali, Elaine Chase, Mai Abu Moghli and Eileen Kennedy from UCL IOE and Maha Shuayb from the Centre for Lebanese Studies, LAU.

You can find the English version of the MOOC here.


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