Connecting the Classroom to a Global Platform
When Amina Akhter was completing her studies in computer science and engineering, the software industry in Bangladesh was in a relatively early phase of development. So after graduation, instead of seeking a programming position in the business world, she decided to combine her technical and problem-solving skills with her passion for teaching. In 2010 she joined the faculty of the Asian University for Women (AUW), an ambitious higher education institution in Chittagong, Bangladesh, whose students come from 16 countries in Asia and represent diverse cultural and religious traditions.
“AUW is a small place, but so vibrant,” Ms. Akhter said in a recent interview. “Teaching a diverse group of students with high motivation, alongside faculty from all over the world, makes this a very different experience than what I might find at another institution.” In 2016, AUW decided that all of its students should gain some exposure to computer science during their undergraduate years, a goal Ms. Akhter greeted with enthusiasm. “We want all our students to have some skills in programming,” she said, as that would open more career paths for graduates and help prepare them for the ways in which technology may shape societies in the future.
Ms. Akhter was designing an introductory course, but she wanted her AUW students to strive for high-quality learning. “Why don’t we introduce the global standard for this type of course?” she asked herself. Using a MOOC (massive open online course) would connect her students to the same content offered to students at Harvard University. Harvard’s Computer Science 50 is designed to provide an “introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming,” according to its course description, and it became the basis for CS50x, one of the most popular MOOCs on the EdX platform.
From Ms. Akhter’s perspective, a MOOC can enrich course content, but it shouldn’t replace the role of the teacher or the in-class interaction students need to turn new information into problem-solving and learning. “We adapted the course for the AUW campus,” she explained, “by having students watch the lecture in class together, followed by a discussion session. Watching the lecture together and then discussing it helps us catch if the students understand the content or need more help with a component. Then students do three hours of lab work over the course of a week. And, to keep students motivated, extensive office hours are offered.” Students submit their assignments for online grading through the MOOC, but Ms. Akhter and her colleagues also instituted an on-campus assessment to measure students’ learning.
And the results to date? “Initially, when we were offering CS50, I was not sure about the outcome and how successful we might be,” she said, “and frankly, all of our students found the course challenging.” Yet she is proud that all 107 students from the first two sessions of the course successfully completed it, and she is convinced that students take away more than programming skills from the course. “Our students can have live conversations with students throughout the world,” she said. “This gives them a greater sense of confidence and takes them to a different level – and it shows them that geographic distance doesn’t matter as much.”
The information below is adapted from a presentation Ms. Akhter made at a United Board Faculty Training Workshop in Jabalpur, India, in October 2018. Her presentation was titled “Designing Pedagogical Models for Integrating Digital Platforms.”