So much has been reported about the Palestinian Territories recently. Even so, when the British Council invited us to visit Palestinian universities we did not know what to expect. The purpose of our visit was to set up study exchanges and meet colleagues from Palestinian Higher Education. Essentially, we wanted to find common ground between ALT and Palestinian universities.
Two years earlier John had worked on a case study for the JISC which involved e-tutors from Middlesex University and colleagues from the British Council and the Islamic University of Gaza. This work led to two video conference (VC) forums: one in 2004 and the second from ALT-C 2005. Fast-forward to 2006 and Martin Daltry, Deputy Director at the British Council’s East Jerusalem Office, hosted a visit for ALT to universities in the Palestinian Territories between 11th and 13th June. Whilst there John and Seb participated in a third VC Forum from Ramallah, which was hosted by Birzeit University (see Figure 1 below). At this third VC, John and Seb gave presentations about Change Management in the United Kingdom’s Reusable Learning Objects CETL and about ALT.
Figure 1: Video conferencing between Birzeit University in Ramallah, the Islamic University in Gaza, and An-Najah National University in Nablus
Other activities on our trip included a:
- VC with the Islamic University of Gaza;
- visit to the Palestine Polytechnic University’s Friends of Fawzi Kawash IT Centre of Excellence, in Hebron (see Figure 2);
- meeting with colleagues at Bethlehem University;
- visit to the Al-Quds Open University in Ramallah.
Figure 2: Students demonstrate English Language learning materials developed by a team of teachers and students at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron
We met heads of centres, heads of quality, learning technologists, directors of technology, lecturers and students. Our general impression was that colleagues are using learning technology to provide flexible learning opportunities and to promote commerce. In particular, we found out about:
Our overwhelming memory is of colleagues who are achieving great things despite the acutely difficult circumstances. These include isolation, the economic crisis, political and military conflict, a day-to-day life beset by having to pass through checkpoints, and a physical landscape dominated by the wall currently being constructed by the Israeli Government, by the “settler roads” (from which most Palestinians are excluded), and by the continuing spread of Israeli settlements.
- outstanding outreach work in refugee camps;
- extensive use of Moodle, which seems now to be the most commonly used VLE in the Palestinian Territories;
- the beginnings of a JANET-like academic infrastructure connected to London at 45 MB/s (see Figure 3);
- learning resources authored using Flash 8;
- large-scale, internally developed student information systems.
Figure 3: Imad Hodali, Director of Al-Quds Open University, and Saada Shalabi Head of Networks and Systems, Al-Quds Open University, and the 45 MB/s connection between Palestinian Universities and London
It would be good to go back soon and we hope to see some of our newly discovered colleagues at ALT-C 2006 this year; the energetic British Council may be able to help in this respect. Finally, we expect that some planned developments will provide opportunities for colleagues in the ALT community to actively engage with colleagues from Palestinian universities. This will move us on to the next stage, where ALT can find and maintain common ground with university colleagues in the Palestinian Territories.
We are grateful to the JISC, JISCinfonet, the Higher Education Academy, Ufi/learndirect, Learning Skills Council and Becta for helping ALT to ship large quantities of e-learning related materials, including USB memory sticks, for use during our visits, and, in particular, to the British Council for its generous support in hosting our visit and funding accommodation and travel.John Cook
President of ALT
ALT Executive Secretary