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Q&A: Inside a $3M Digital Learning Project in Pakistan

September 18, 2018

Photos courtesy of  HUM News. Watch the segment about Iqra University here

The untapped potential of academic video in Pakistan and the broader APAC region is extensive. Of the nearly 200 million people in Pakistan alone, 64 million of them are students attending nearly 200 universities and 3,800 affiliated colleges.

Leading the charge is Iqra University, a private school in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan with four additional campuses in other parts of the city and Islamabad. In October 2017, the university began its $3M digital learning project for state-of-the art smart classrooms – automated and integrated learning spaces complete with leading AV systems and Mediasite for lecture capture and video management.

Iqra University is the first in Pakistan to deploy an automated academic video program. All classes are streamed live to students online via Mediasite on any device and available for review on-demand in the university’s learning management system, Moodle. Plus, using Mediasite’s engaging quizzing and polling features, students can complete examinations online in real-time. The university is currently converting 100 classrooms into these smart rooms, quickly differentiating the school as an innovator that other schools want to copy.

We sat down with educational technology visionary Dr. Muhammad Manshad Satti, CEO and founder of IT Butler E-Services and educational technology provider EduServ, to discuss the use of academic video in the APAC region and what the future holds.

Q: Why did you start IT Butler E-Services and EduServ?

A: I am originally from Pakistan with a background in information security. I set up IT Butler E-Services in Sydney, Australia in 2003 and began working with telecom companies as an information security and management provider. We provide training via online courses to employees about information security. In 2005, we expanded the company to the Middle East. Education has always been my passion, and so we began a separate company, EduServ, in 2016 for educational institutions.

I realized that brick and mortar education isn’t the future, and teaching and learning will look drastically different in the coming years.

According to a report, “25 Million Broken Promises: The Crisis of Pakistan’s Out-of-School Children” by the education nonprofit Alif Ailaan, 25 million Pakistani children between the ages of five and 16 are deprived of an education due to geographical and/or financial barriers. I wanted to create an automated way to record courses so not only university students, but students in Pakistan and nearby countries could benefit.

Q: How prevalent is lecture capture in Pakistan?

A: It’s a very new idea. Education in Pakistan is very well done, oftentimes without a lot of tools, due to financial constraints.

Pakistani students are very smart about posting videos on YouTube and on open channels, and they often study abroad in the U.S. and UK where lecture capture is more common-place. The desire for more videos in their classrooms is evident, but school adoption hasn’t kept up with that demand. In attempts to give students video resources, universities often send CDs to students, but that’s not a viable way to reach every student in Pakistan.

I wanted to make a smart classroom where students can attend the lecture and review it on-demand, regardless of their locations. If someone can’t come to the lecture hall, he or she can join remotely.

Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission, which regulates public and private schools in the country, recommends that by 2025 schools should establish smart classrooms and adopt the cloud to lower the cost of adopting technologies. EduServ is ahead of the curve in this regard, already helping schools implement the technology to take their classes to the next level.

Q: What does Iqra University’s smart classroom look like?

A: Iqra University’s chancellor Hunaid Lakhani is very forward-thinking and consulted with me about turning its classrooms into smart rooms to facilitate online courses and give students the option to review lectures. The classrooms are fully automated and integrated, complete with a digital podium, touch screens, an AV system, auto-tracking PTZ cameras, student engagement technology like Clickers and Mediasite for lecture capture and video management.

The set-up allows for all lectures to be captured and available in the university’s learning management system, Moodle.

Iqra University also replicated this set-up in its auditorium. TV channels in our area can even stream their programs to the 400-seat auditorium, because everything is digitized, something unique to Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi. Many university leaders have visited the space to learn how they can replicate it in their own schools.

Q: What do you think are the benefits of incorporating video into the classroom?

A: We need to improve the educational standard in this part of the world, and video is the key to doing that. We are educating people to the scale of standard to which Harvard, MIT and Stanford are doing. Our aim is to produce good engineers, doctors, etc., and we need to ensure that there are no barriers to student success. Giving students access to digital courses really provides students who are at a crossroads in their education – unsure if they’ll be able to finish due to time and/or budget constraints – is the answer.

I have visions to implement smart classrooms in thousands and thousands of schools.

Q: Learning and using new technologies can be daunting to instructors. How can schools ensure the best adoption of new technologies?

A: Faculty adoption really varies at each school. Iqra University’s Chancellor, Mr. Hunaid Lakhani, for example, has a vision. All faculty are expected to learn and adopt the new technology, and therefore adoption is high.

There will always be the older instructors who are hesitant, which is why we worked with Iqra to appoint student ambassadors to classrooms. These ambassadors are digitally savvy students who work with faculty, helping them with any technology questions that arise during class time. If any technical issues arise, the students can help, avoiding any potential embarrassment for the instructors. On the flip side, Iqra also has digital education faculty leaders in classrooms to ensure students are using the technology.

The university also offers incentives to students and faculty based on how many online lectures they watch and create, respectively. These incentives are as simple as an end-of-semester party with food and music to a scholarship.

Q: What are the future uses of academic video in Pakistan and the broader APAC region?

A: I would like to do some missionary work with Mediasite to provide education to the 25 million students I mentioned earlier who live in very rural areas who can’t afford education. Using Mediasite, instructors can record lectures and anyone in the country can watch. Streaming video can put education at their doorsteps.

The University of the Free State in South Africa has really inspired me. It’s providing support in core subjects to 80+ schools within the Free State province using Mediasite. That’s reaching more than 54,000 students and 3,000 teachers each week. And what’s most impressive is that since this program began in 2011, most schools have seen student pass rates improve, with some schools jumping from 17 percent to nearly 100 percent! [Read: University of the Free State Accelerates Video Delivery to Remote Campuses with Mediasite]

Going a step further, very soon, I dream that we can even help countries under siege of war by providing free and easy access to education using streaming video.

Q: What’s the next big higher education trend?

A: EduServ has a panel of academic researchers and partner universities, like Iqra University, who are integrating our new IoT Hologram technology. Say, I’m the teacher. Using a sketch similar to my dimensions, I can be digitized using Hologram. So, students watching my lecture in a different location on a big video wall will see my hologram. The moment I raise my hand, for example, my hologram will do the same. A hologram can be in 50 places at once with this technology. Instructors will be able to integrate this into their courses starting in Jan. 2019. The evolution of technology has made tremendous contribution in the field of education.

National news station HUM News recently reported about Iqra University’s new smart classrooms.

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