Learning and Teaching in the Digital World: An International Conference at An-Najah

By Laura Wert

On Sunday, 3/30/14, An-Najah National University held a conference on the subject of learning and teaching in the digital world, and how new developments in this realm can influence education in Palestine. In attendance were several international representatives as well as leading Palestinian educators. Focusing on such subjects as the current state of e-Learning in Palestine, employing the digital world to improve quality of education in the region, models and ethics of e-Learning, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, and the intersection between digital learning and sustainable development, the conference aimed to provide a comprehensive discussion of new technology’s effects on academia.

The conference included a presentation by Professor Lawrence Ragan of Pennsylvania State University on the ways in which e-Learning is transforming the educational system worldwide. Professor Ragan emphasized the potential of e-Learning to expand access to education, improve student-teacher communication, and ultimately restructure traditional academic methods.  He emphasized the need for a continued focus on quality of professors and minimizing costs to keep education available to as wide an audience as possible.

Next, Dr. Nele Leosk presented on Estonia and this nation’s superior provision of internet access and speed in comparison with the rest of the world. Dr. Leosk focused on the development of such services as online birth registration, “e-school,” “e-health” and how electronic involvement in the democratic process and shaping policy via the online world.

In addition to the conference’s international speakers, there were many local contributors who highlighted key aspects of e-Learning as it relates to development in Palestine. Eng. Aref Husseini urged continued efforts to harness modern technology in order advance education, and encouraged educators to prevent academia in Palestine from falling further behind the rapid technological advancement of today. He emphasized the importance of encouraging critical thinking and the integration of students’ lessons with real-world applicability, and challenged Palestinian educators to find ways of bridging the widening gap between education and technology.

In addition to these discussions of technological advancement and its ramifications globally and locally, there were many papers and research projects presented at the conference. They spanned such subjects as the role of e-learning in skill development for Palestinian youth, the effects of blended learning  on communication skills in Jordanian students, student attitudes toward e-learning at An-Najah, and awareness of and obstacles to e-learning in the Gaza Strip, to name a few.

This conference addresses a contemporary issue of utmost importance.¬† Reliance on web-based technology is increasing rapidly in the realm of higher education, and is widening students’ access to information and learning materials. It is essential for the Palestinian educational system to take advantage of the e-learning resources available today; education, as a cornerstone of social and economic development, must be encouraged and promoted at every possible opportunity.