The Institute of International Education (IIE)®, in cooperation with IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF)®, held a conference on modern teaching methodologies and excellence in university teaching from January 28-30 in Erbil, Iraq. Approximately 200 Iraqi scholars, university leaders, Iraqi government officials, U.S. Embassy officials, and international experts participated. This was the fifth in a series of conferences being held by IIE and designed to engage key stakeholders in advancing higher education discussions and development efforts in Iraq.
In June 2011, IIE hosted its first major conference in Iraq on models and trends in contemporary higher education. IIE and IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund plan to hold three additional conferences in Iraq over the next year. The next event, which will focus on assessing student learning, is scheduled for June 2013.
This project was funded, in part, through the U.S. Department of State.
Goals and Themes
The January 2013 conference and training workshop provided an overview on current thinking related to effective teaching methodologies with a particular emphasis on new strategies for improving teaching and learning in higher education settings and the use of technology in the classroom. The conference theme was selected based on prior feedback from conference participants who identified modernizing faculty approaches to teaching, as well as gaining a better understanding of how to foster student-centered interactions and to utilize various online and electronic tools and resources as areas of significant interest.
The goals were to provide Iraqi participants with an understanding of the research underpinning student-centered learning methodologies and approaches in higher education and to suggest strategies, tools and resources suitable to the Iraqi higher education sector. Through presentations, panel and roundtable discussions, as well as small task-based group sessions, Iraqi participants acquired new knowledge, perspectives and skills.
The conference focused on three major topic areas:
- Advancing a Culture of Learning
- Enhancing Instructional Design to Promote Student Engagement
- Strategies, Tips, and Tools to Use Inside and Outside the Classroom
Presentations and breakout sessions focused on topics such as: shifting instructional paradigms; exploring teaching practices that foster student engagement and deep learning; developing student learner outcomes and designing courses and syllabi that promote student involvement and interaction; and, utilizing technology both in and outside of the classroom. Activities between two U.S.-Iraq university partnerships—Michigan State University and Dohuk University and University of California, Los Angeles and American University of Iraq, Sulaimani—were examined. Both partnerships focus on curriculum design and teacher training opportunities.
The conference also included a discussion on the current state of teaching and learning in Iraq as well as observations from Iraqi scholars who have worked at higher education institutions outside of Iraq on practices they see as illustrative for the Iraqi university sector. Throughout the conference presenters facilitated participant engagement by modeling the teaching and learning behaviors being described.
Key Themes that Emerged from the Conference
- Participating Iraqi scholars stressed that identifying traditions in the higher education culture is critical when advancing new objectives, approaches and techniques. Success in moving from teacher-directed lectures to learner-centered engagement and from ‘surface learning’ (memorizing or learning for the test) to ‘deep learning’ (or learning for the sake of gaining knowledge or to explore a passioniate interest) needs to carefully take into account the expectations of students, faculty, and institutions as well as traditional assessment policies and tools.
- Educators in Iraq, similarly to educators around the world, are grappling with how to best structure and deliver courses meeting the needs of the millennial generation—a generation of technologically savvy learners who extensively utilize social media and other technologies. Participants acknowledged that in addition to pedagogical implications, Iraqi universities also contend with a number of infrastructure challenges such as internet access and bandwidth.
- In addition to technological challenges, conference participants identified further issues facing Iraqi educators including institutional and structural limitations, and resistance by some faculty and students to newer teaching styles.
- Collaboration and cooperation with institutions and colleagues in other countries is very useful to advance not only pedagogical research but also the quality of teaching in Iraq. Iraqi universities are eager to cooperate on curricular design and new teaching methodologies and approaches with counterparts abroad. The U.S. Embassy’s University Linkage Program has been instrumental in nurturing this interest by promoting opportunities and connecting U.S. and Iraq universities.
Iraqi university leaders, officials from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, and scholars presented on key trends in their country and on the challenges and opportunities associated with educational reform efforts in Iraq.
Paul Sutphin, Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, provided opening remarks at the conference. In his remarks, the Consul General stressed that higher education cooperation between the United States and Iraq are key to advancing the economic development of Iraq. To promote higher opportunities in the United States, the EducationUSA adviser from Erbil was present to address questions and provide materials. The EducationUSA advising network is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchange.
Other opening remarks were provided by Dr. Beriwan Khailany, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-Iraq; Jim Miller, Executive Director of IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund; and Daniel Obst, IIE’s Deputy Vice President for International Partnerships.
Conference sessions were conducted by expert trainers from U.S. universities who work in centers of teaching excellence and schools of education including Dr. Val Rust, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Development Education in the Department of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles; Dr. Joe Bandy, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University; and Dr. Shawn Loewen, Associate Professor in the Linguistics and Languages Department at Michigan State University. Twelve scholars from Iraq also served as speakers or discussants.
For the first time, this conference also included a taped video presentation by a U.S. expert in teaching and learning excellence, Dr. Ken Bain, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of the District of Columbia and Professor of History and Urban Education. After the video presentation, Dr. Bain participated in a live Skype discussion with the conference participants.
Linda Tobash, Director of University Placement Services at IIE, served as conference moderator.
About the Institute of International Education
The Institute of International Education (IIE) was founded in 1919. It is one of the world’s most experienced higher education and exchange organizations. IIE’s mission is to advance international education and provide access to education worldwide.
About the Scholar Rescue Fund
In 2002, IIE launched the Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) to provide fellowships for scholars threatened in their home countries. These fellowships support temporary academic positions at safe universities and colleges anywhere in the world. SRF scholars contribute to their host universities through teaching, research, lectures and other activities. In return, host universities provide professional guidance and financial and in-kind support. Scholars from any country may qualify.
The Iraq Scholar Rescue Project was launched in August 2007 with the goal to rescue Iraq’s most senior, most threatened academics—from any academic discipline—by placing them at institutions of higher learning mainly in countries within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. To date, the IIE Iraq Scholar Rescue Project has granted temporary fellowship assistance and other relevant support approximately 250 established Iraqi academics. In addition to carrying out their fellowships at host institutions, Iraq Project scholar-grantees attend training workshops, present at academic conferences, research and publish, and continue to teach Iraqi students via e-learning in order to further their professional development and prepare them, as academics, to contribute to new educational innovations in Iraq.