Leading change through a 360° process design – Istanbul Okan University


For the past 16 years, the Catalyst Awards program has honored innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community. In this series, a group of 2021 winners from across the globe share their success stories and best practices.

This post was guest authored by Emel Koç, Director of the Learning Application and Research Centre at Istanbul Okan University.

Emel Koç has focused most of her research on educational technologies and artificial intelligence and has authored and co-authored articles and reports on those areas for various consortiums. Mrs. Koç has experience managing digital learning academic, technological, instructional, and pedagogical processes in higher education.

Istanbul Okan University is a 2021 “Leading Change” Catalyst Award winner. 



Istanbul Okan University has led a transformational hybrid education initiative, using a 360° process design in the academic, professional, physiological, social, and intellectual fields. Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate have aided the integration of educational technology tools to allow different elements such as AI or more advanced learning algorithms to adapt in the online learning structure, including taking care of retention centers, using analytics, and allowing for continuous and incremental development of the courses.

Closest Education

If we explore the global paradigm shifts in terms of modern occurrences that shape the new structure of the world, these 3 events come on top: (1) the tilt in political balance due to September 11, 2001, (2) the global financial markets in 2007, and (3) the COVID-19 pandemic’s biological fracture in 2020. This is followed by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, and the inevitable ecological breakdown due to climate change.

One way to define the COVID-19 pandemic crisis is to call it the “Black Swan VUCA world.” In his book, “The Logic of Scientific Research”, Karl Popper describes the analogy of the “black swan” as “waiting for the unknown” by referring to the theory of “Principle of Falsifiability”. The abbreviation of VUCA also refers to the increase of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in a new generation world. In this new world, where the frequency of witnessing the unexpected is increasing, all organizations, and especially higher education institutions, are more affected by external environmental factors. In such an environment, higher education institutions must gain agile management competencies and establish mechanisms to improve students’ ability to adapt to the changeability of the learning phenomena.

We believe that education is a lifelong journey and to be successful, we need to have the ability to redesign an education system to suit the learning styles of our changing student demographics. In this context, the university has provided the most appropriate solutions for lifelong learning journeys.

First, educational technology applications have been a priority development area for the last two years. Through our investment in mobile education applications, we have been able to offer online educational opportunities to our students. We also created competence areas to engage students in their learning journey and provided opportunities for them to learn through research, planning, and designing their lifelong journey. Learning culture is constantly changing, therefore, it was vital to implement educational technologies in our foreign language program, career life program, and some compulsory courses, allowing our students’ compliance with the system to increase and facilitating the implementation of online supported educational applications in our faculties and colleges.

Following these developments in our educational technologies, Istanbul Okan University prepared alternative roadmaps to counter COVID-19 effects. We put these roadmaps into practice gradually. Through O’Learn Learning Management System (created by combining our own brand with Blackboard), we were able to continue our education activities without interruption. This required us to keep the infrastructure of education active and alive with our faculty and college education technology coordinators.

We closed our campus on March 16, at the beginning of the pandemic and started the “Closest Education” program through our learning platform on March 23. Since then, we have offered 5,383 lessons to 15,479 active students, and 200,603 virtual live collab sessions (synchronous and asynchronous) – In a period of two months, we reached 16,000 hours of live courses and virtual live classroom recordings were viewed 53,000 times. Small and large exams were held 27,043 times. We were proud to provide the “Closest Education” program to our students and all our university members.

This success has been the pride of our university. We have briefly summarized, below, what our university has accomplished in this period.

Training provided to academics

Our university has 11 years of experience in distance education and in 2018, we implemented the use of a learning management system with online supported hybrid (blended) learning models.  

  • Face-to-face and online live trainings are regularly provided to academics based on faculty, college, and institution.
  • The Blackboard Collaborate platform is used for online virtual interactive courses at our university. Until May 23, 2021, when online courses started, a total of 500 academics were trained.

Information and support activities for students

  • Our Learning Center team created video narrative help pages and interactive guides for students who will use the learning management system.
  • Guides and directions were updated and published in line with feedback from students.
  • Direct support was provided through e-mail communication channels, which allowed support teams to provide regular answers to students.
  • We maintained close contact with our students. 150 student meetings were held based on faculty, college, institution, and department.
  • As a COVID-19 measure, academics and students who were on leave were contacted immediately to gain information about their status and needs.
  • We provided room, board, and online education access to 100 international students who could not return to their home country. We provided consistent information through our social media channels.
  • Online psychological counseling support was provided through Psychological Counseling and the Education Center.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Applications

  • To ensure all education and training applications were carried out synchronously and asynchronously within the learning management system, an educational technologies community consisting of academics within the faculty, college, and institution was created.
  • Using agile management, our university has carried out COVID-19 measures by following an extensive and flexible authorization policy. Preferred technological tools and applications provided interactive communication and real-time feedback mechanisms, to allow for the continued engagement and active participation of students in online courses.

Exam Applications

  • Browser lock-down and exam monitoring tools were provided as an optional opportunity for online midterm and final exams.
  • Using a student grouping method, we assigned different homework, projects, case studies, and exams to our students. Instructors were able to choose alternative methods to grade exams, whether it be separate exam questions for each student or allowing students to have ‘take home’ exams.
  • SafeAssign was used in courses by students to upload exams, homework, and projects. Documents were evaluated using anti-plagiarism measurement tools.
  • Project and thesis presentations, as well as proficiency oral or written exams, were held online and could be recorded.

Material Supports

  • AI-supported digital platforms from Pearson-McGrawHill were used through open access.
  • Coursera granted unlimited free access to 5,000 users until July 31, 2020. Our academic and administrative staff, and our students, benefitted from the opportunity. Each member could take unlimited courses or certified programs, and those who successfully completed would receive free official certificates from Coursera.

Online Foreign Language Department Applications

Flipped learning method was implemented for prep students.

Online Entrepreneurship Applications

Applying the closest university motto to life, the university continued to bring students together and paired them with successful business partners operating in different sectors. This was done through an online entrepreneurship conference and students took entrepreneurship exams every week.

Online Career Center Applications

  • As a part of the University’s graduation requirements, we continued to offer career and life lessons to students online. These courses are where different disciplines are taught to the students to help shape their path.
  • Through online seminars, we provided access to The CEO and Human Resources managers of leading companies to our students and alumni. Through online career day events, our students were able to conduct online interviews with different companies.
  • Co-op and internship applications continued to operate online under the coordination of departments.

Online Career Festival

An online career festival was organized to support high school students that were about to take university entrance exams. Students also attended online lectures and trial exams. 18,240 high school students were positively impacted with this initiative.

Final Thoughts on Distance Education after the Pandemic

At Istanbul Okan University we will continue to develop our new education model after the pandemic as well as our virtual interactive online education experience. We anticipate that hybrid (blended learning), flipped learning, and peer instruction practices will become widespread. The methods implemented with online education support students’ readiness before classes and prepare the ground for active learning during the lessons.

It is irrefutable that online learning is the future and will undoubtedly replace face-to-face learning. Mobile platforms have allowed more people to benefit from online learning, and this has created vast amounts of data. Machine learning has given personalized solutions to the course content with use of this data. In the future, it will not be surprising to see more elements in the online learning structure such as virtual reality and/or augmented reality, or more advanced machine learning algorithms to democratize learning even more. Finally, in order to expand the use of online supported education applications, we will enable the use of artificial intelligence supported course platforms within our university.



For more information visit our Catalyst Awards Page.