University of Georgia-Tunisia partnership brings Virtual University to reality

Athens, Ga. – A delegation of Tunisian professors arrived at the University of Georgia last week to take part in the second phase of the UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership. The two-week workshop on e-learning brings many UGA experts together with participants from Tunisia to focus on developing high-quality online courses and to build on the training network that has been established by the partnership so far.

Inaugurated in 2003 with funding from the U.S. State Department, the partnership is the brainchild of UGA engineering professor Takoi K. Hamrita, a native of Tunisia whose contacts with her home country kept her sensitive to growing pressures on its higher education system. As a progressive response to a burgeoning school-age population that would overwhelm their colleges and universities, the Tunisian government turned to e-learning to address the problem.

The systematic approach that has developed between UGA and the Virtual University of Tunisia represents a new development in international collaboration. Building on the successful workshops at UGA and in Tunisia in 2004 and 2005, the partnership has evolved toward a focus on developing high-quality courses, refining training procedures and broadening the scope of training to give the participants greater input.

“We’re trying to build something that will be self-sustaining, long after the life of this project,” Hamrita said.

Developing leadership from the Tunisian side has been a key component through which participants have been able to see aspects of that sustainability begin to take hold. Participants from earlier workshops have worked tirelessly to introduce and promote the project to their colleagues while developing the courses they began at UGA.

One of those participants, Lotfi Bouzaïane, has witnessed how this second phase of the project derives from the strength of phase one. “Better sharing introduced between local resources and UGA has enhanced conduct of the whole program,” Bouzaïane said. Pre-training activities allowed phase II participants to benefit from phase I participants’ experience at UGA. Accordingly, in the more advanced phase II training, participants will learn to upgrade their online courses and prepare to assist their colleagues back in Tunisia.

“The fundamental e-learning topics along which the workshops are organized emanate out of well-established areas of UGA and state expertise integrated into a comprehensive and holistic training program,” said Hamrita. Faculty from the Instructional Technology department of the College of Education, the Board of Regents’ Center for Advanced Learning Technologies, the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Georgia Center for Continuing Education have been crucial partners in the project from its inception. In addition to the project team, the workshop brings in UGA expertise to respond to specific needs identified by the participants, such as the area of e-learning copyright.

The participants from Tunisia come from an array of disciplines, institutions and professorial ranks, are 50 percent female and include two former Fulbright scholars. Active participation from the Virtual University and the Ministry of Higher Education in Tunisia as well as a swirl of media attention have all served to raise the profile of the partnership over the last three years. Two weeks after a call for workshop participants went out this year, the partnership received 236 individual applications, from which the 22 participants were chosen.

“Previous to the first workshop, I was interested in putting online some additional materials for my face-to-face students,” remembered Bouzaïane, describing the changes in his own vision since inception of the project. “The UGA program encouraged me in conceiving and managing a new master’s degree entirely online,” he said of the 12 semester courses he designed for students already working in a variety of Tunisian economic sectors.