Catalyst Award Blog Series: Leading e-learning in Saudi Arabia: The Blackboard National License Project
The Catalyst Awards program recognizes innovation and excellence in our global community of practice. In this blog series, a selection of 2022 award-winning institutions from across the globe share their success stories and best practices.
This post was guest authored by Dr. Hazzaa Alshareef & Dr. Maha Helal, Vice Presidency of Academic Affairs at Saudi Electronic University (SEU).
Saudi Electronic University is a 2022 Catalyst Award winner in the Leading Change category.
SEU is a government higher educational institution that was formally established in 2011 as the first and only university that specializes in blended education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. SEU adopts a flexible model of blended learning by using advanced technologies in order to provide students with a diverse and integrated learning experience. The university provides excellent and qualified modern education for all society members according to the highest quality standards and best international practices. SEU offers 23 program qualifications at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, across four colleges. The university operates in 13 affiliated branches distributed across different cities in the kingdom.
The Saudi Electronic University (SEU) is the only university that adopts the blended learning teaching model in Saudi Arabia. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a few universities used Blackboard® Learn to provide several training courses or used it as a reference for their course syllabus. However, SEU forecasted the change that would happen in the years to come and took the initiative in 2013 to sign an agreement for the Blackboard National License Project, which aims to provide all government universities with Blackboard Learn licenses depending on their needs.
The goal of the Blackboard National License Project is to:
- Provide all government universities with an advanced LMS which allows them to reach their educational objectives
- Provide a cost-effective solution for the Ministry of Education
- Ensure that higher education in Saudi Arabia is equipped with the best standards and tools of e-learning in the region
- Provide high standards of e-learning to all universities equally
- Clarify the long-term strategic plan for the Ministry of Education for e-learning
Building the Unified Data Center in Riyadh
In the year 2014, SEU signed a contract with Blackboard (now Anthology) to build, manage, and operate a Unified Data Center in Riyadh. The goal was to provide a secure DC to host all Saudi universities. The DC is equipped with state-of-the-art hardware providing stable services to 30 higher education institutions in Saudi Arabia. It’s a unique DC custom built to host e-learning users in Saudi Arabia. A satisfaction survey was sent to the users of the DC and the results reported a rate of above 95% high satisfaction from customers. The DC serves the Ministry of Education’s most important requirements for retaining the data of Saudi universities locally within Saudi Arabia.
SEU’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the start of the Blackboard National License Project, SEU has managed the number of licenses given out to Saudi universities. While many educational institutions globally were massively affected by COVID-19 restrictions, the teaching process in higher education in Saudi Arabia faced limited disruption, if any.
SEU was able to instantly provide the following to all universities:
- The required number of licenses for each university
- Access to the Unified Data Center, which has been upgraded from 143 to 248 servers
- Eight billion minutes were added to accommodate the sudden increase on Collaborate usage from all universities
- The bandwidth was increased from 1 to 3 GB (a 300% increase)
- Continuous training workshops to help other universities and faculty members in utilizing Blackboard Learn
- 24/7 support services were provided to all the universities in Saudi Arabia
During the COVID-19 pandemic, about 2 million users in Saudi Arabia totally depended on the Unified DC, and it has delivered beyond the expectations of end users. This was only possible because of the highly professional team managing it, a team which kept on adding the hardware needed and expanded the concurrency for each university. Not only was the DC used to run the daily education process, but it was also being used by most universities to run their exams. This allowed a higher level of comfort for the end users.
Post-pandemic efforts in e-learning and the inclusion of private higher education institutions
As the use of Blackboard Learn increased and the level of awareness of the advantages of e-learning became more apparent to non-users, SEU decided at the beginning of 2022 to include private higher education institutes in the Blackboard National License Project, and sent a proposal to the Ministry of Education, which has been approved. This guarantees the inclusion of all types of higher education institutes and ensures all students in the country will be provided with the same high level of LMS usage. SEU expects the following impact on the higher education sector in Saudi Arabia as a result of this initiative:
- Fostering innovation and digital transformation
- Raising digital readiness to face any crises
- Optimizing the use of resources and achieving spending efficiency
- Monitoring the educational process and supporting decision-making
Furthermore, as part of this initiative, SEU has proposed that all private higher education institutes get a chance to try Blackboard Learn in the upcoming summer semester free of charge, with SEU enduring all hosting costs. In addition, workshops will be held to educate and introduce administrative staff and faculty members to Blackboard Learn to ensure they have a pleasant experience using the LMS.
Global Trends in E-Learning Forum (GTEL)
The Blackboard National License Project positioned SEU to be an expert in the field of e-learning. SEU held the first annual “Global Trends in E-Learning (GTEL)” forum and invited many speakers who are experts in the field of e-learning. The forum was inaugurated by the Minister of Education and ran through a period of three days, both physically and virtually. There were three main parts for the forum:
- GTEL Talk: where attendees were to hear from keynotes and sessions on emerging knowledge, technologies, and practices
- GTEL Workshops: where attendees can connect with peers and experts around the globe to share best practices
- GTEL Expo: where attendees can evaluate and experience future e-learning products and technologies
More than 40 speakers participated in the presence of several ministers, officials, top education leaders, innovators, and experts from across 20 different countries. Moreover, there were more than 50 exhibitors, five workshops, and six panel discussions. Anthology’s President of Global Markets, Mr. Jim Brigadier, was one of the first speakers. In addition, Anthology’s Vice President for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Mr. Oleg Figlin, was part of the panel for E-Learning Experience Design.
SEU prides itself on being the pioneer of future learning. Being the only university adopting the blended mode of teaching in Saudi Arabia, the Blackboard National License Project has enabled it to be at the forefront of e-learning. A university adopting e-learning and using the most advanced digital technologies in the education sector has set the ideal path for other institutions in the region. SEU is leading from the front on e-learning technology and is considered the lighthouse for over 2.5 million users using Blackboard Learn.