In the fifth and final “Catalysts of eLearning” webinar, winner of 2014 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Innovation, Higher Colleges of Technology in United Arab Emirates shared its story about transforming education at the university.

Chief Educational Technology Officer, Himanshu Joshi, manages educational technology at Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), a University that spans 17 campuses and accommodates more than 20 thousand students from 58 countries. Through the use of Blackboard Learn™ the university has become the world’s first higher education institute to successfully replace textbooks and become paperless.

Specialising in engineering, IT and communications, business, education and health sciences, the university moved to a 100% iPad implementation and 100% eTextbook adoption, as part of a programme that was the world’s largest mobile implementation.

The objectives of the initiative were to improve student engagement, enhance faculty development and gain overall efficiency at the university. The strategy, led by the Educational Technology Division, would transform faculty development and support; learning environments, the content creation and student activity.

It was immediately clear that the programme would initiate widespread change, including the adaptation of the learning spaces and the need to create mobile-friendly, interactive and engaging content.

The first step taken was to substitute textbooks for electronic textbooks, working with publishers and their platforms to make of 150,000 eText units accessible to students through Blackboard Learn. A user friendly eText template provided students with a link to the textbook, contextualised course information and a student guide. The eText facility provided a mechanism to break apart the book and utilise the most relevant content. The teachers were able to divide the courses into weeks and with each week share text reading, videos, flashcards and links to the publishers’ platforms. The students received lifelong access to eTextbooksand the first results showed over two million page hits.

Although a positive first step, feedback from students was that the course material was still too static and they hoped for more interactivity. Through Blackboard Learn the teachers started creating assignments and assessments in a more creative manner. Partnering with publishers to co-create content and making use of templates to make it contextual, relevant and engaging, the teachers started preparing learning material that could be delivered across multiple devices. Additionally, to help ease the move to iPad implementation, HCT created an in-house app to provide a secure exam environment, using navigation features from Blackboard Learn.

Student adoption was significant with online exams on iPads going from 20 users to 6,000 users over the course of the project and the university now accommodates over 500 thousand online exam submissions a year.

Over 4,000 courses available on Blackboard Learn make use of the eText titles, which are delivered with 99.9% accuracy within 30 minutes of adoption. And a total saving of 250 thousand US dollars has been made by eliminating the administrative functions associated with conventional textbook handling.

“This gives us a good reason to invest in Blackboard technology,” said Himanshu Joshi. “We’ve seen a 383% growth in Blackboard student and teacher sessions, and a 414% increase in student self-directed study.”

In 2013 over three million eText pages were viewed online and feedback was positive. Teachers gained valuable ICT skills and continue to explore new ways of using technology to enhance learning. Student feedback has shown an increase in motivation levels with 84% saying they were more motivated to attend class and 80% reporting that their study habits have improved. Most importantly, the grades have risen, with progress and retention improvements made across the university. The HCT reported a 90% pass rate this year.

The HCT’s success to date has gained interest from other educational institutes around the world and it has organised five international mobile learning conferences to share knowledge and lessons learned.

The future will bring more opportunities to open up learning platforms and to utilise mash-ups to create engaging content, ultimately helping the university realise its primary goal to provide affordable, quality education.


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