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2020, May 6 NU now

Innovative Learning Hub and Distance Learning at Nazarbayev University

2020, May 6

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Starting on April 6th, Nazarbayev University began to offer classes in online mode for all of its students. Faculty deliver classes using a range of university learning resources such as Moodle's BigBlueButton, Zoom, Qualtrics, narrated PowerPoint presentations, online journals and e-books, traditional textbooks, and support from the Innovative Learning Hub.

The Innovative Learning Hub, a unit under the direction of the Office of the Provost, is an open space platform that provides resources and support to develop innovative approaches to learning and teaching for NU faculty. Also, the Hub offers multimedia guidance on how to design courses, teach and assess in online and blended modes.

“Our faculty is the number one priority and we are here to help in developing student-centered learning,” - stated Aiman Khamitova, Senior Manager at the Innovative Learning Hub.

The main aim of the Hub is to support the development of high-quality multimedia educational content and provide training focused on enhancing the curriculum and developing digitally-talented educators.

The Innovative Learning Studio, a part of the Hub, comprises two soundproof rooms. The largest room, where most equipment is located, contains a green screen and is particularly suitable for video interviews. The smaller room is used for audio recordings, since it has a shorter reverberation time. The Studio is fully equipped with professional audiovisual equipment, ready to help any NU faculty materialize their online or blended learning projects.

"We usually transform traditional courses into blended courses or online courses. The tools and resources we use depend on the needs presented by individual faculty and the topics addressed in their courses. We make use of different styles of mixed media to enhance courses on a case to case basis," commented Ricardo Bragança, Graphic Instructional Designer at the Innovative Learning Hub.

The Hub aims to be an incubator for educationally-innovative practices, where NU faculty can experiment in order to enhance their courses.

Responding to the needs of the University, Dr. Anna CohenMiller, Assistant Professor at Graduate School of Education, shared her insights from her work with the Innovative Learning Hub about integrating this new technology. She first wrote a short piece about how to jump into online teaching, then created a follow-up document with practical tips for online learning.

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"To support teachers facing a move to online learning, with a handful of founding members, we launched the Higher Ed Learning Collective. The Collective now includes over 25,000 members, representing over 100 countries, with over 400,000 posts, comments and reactions, and over a hundred members in Kazakhstan" – Dr. Anna CohenMiller.

CohenMiller’s work promoting opportunities for collective support and sharing ideas about the future of higher education at NU and internationally, remain relevant for instructors in many disciplines. Her tips and resources have even been hosted by international outlets, and in repositories for sociology and education.

Additionally, some NU faculty are creating content to be enjoyed by a larger audience. Besides sharing their knowledge with just NU students, some have recorded online courses and published videos on their YouTube channels. For example, after delivering lectures to his students, Dr. Marek Jochec – Associate Professor, Academic Director of the Master of Science in Finance Program at Graduate School of Business – also made a series of videos that explain financial topics in Russian.

Many faculty members of the School of Engineering and Digital Sciences are also actively using online tools. For example, Dr. Tohid Alizadeh has created several YouTube channels dedicated to his courses. One of them was created for Industrial Automation course and included short video lectures explaining PLC programming using CODESYS. This channel attracted a lot of international attention (over 5000 subscribers and more than 750K views) and was recently mentioned by the CODESYS company as one of the useful resources:

Another example is the YouTube channel of Dr. Vipin Kizheppatt who provided tutorials related to his course “Embedded Microcontrollers”. Of particular interest his series on the topic Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA).

One difficulty posed by the switch to online mode, is addressing how students can learn the hands-on practical skills they typically develop by working in laboratories. Although, there is no true substitute for individuals learning how to do experiments themselves in the lab, Dr. Mehdi Bagheri is one NU Faculty member who tried to answer this challenge. Recently Bagheri’s students were given an assignment to analyze the data and write a laboratory report after watching him conduct a Harmonics experiment:

During these challenging times, Nazarbayev University and its faculty hope to be a model for how to successfully implement distance learning tools, helping students to utilize their potential and adapt to the ever changing world. 

It is noteworthy that all important and updated information is available at the University’s COVID-19 website.

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