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Takoi Hamrita

UGA-Tunisia project brings virtual university to reality

A delegation of Tunisian professors arrived at UGA last week to take part in the second phase of the UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership. The two-week workshop on e-learning brings together many UGA experts with new participants from Tunisia to focus on developing high-quality online courses and build on the training network that has been established by the partnership thus 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 keep her sensitive to growing pressures on its higher education system. As a progressive response to a burgeoning school-age population that would overwhelm its colleges and universities, the Tunisia government turned to e-learning to address the problem. As is often the case, connecting with the right expertise was the key, and through Hamrita’s energy and planning, opportunities were uncovered to bring together UGA and the newly created Virtual University of Tunisia.

The systematic approach that has developed between UGA and the Virtual University of Tunisian institutions 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 says.

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 I.

“Better sharing introduced between local resources and UGA has enhanced conduct of the whole program,” Bouzaïane says.

Pre-training activities allowed Phase II participants to benefit from the experience at UGA of Phase I participants. 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,” says Hamrita.

Faculty and staff from the College of Education’s Department of Instructional Technology, 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 in the project from its inception.

The workshop also will bring in UGA expertise to respond to specific needs identified by the ­participants such as in the area of e-learning copyright. It’s the kind of refined focus that has developed between participants from both sides over the duration of the project.

The participants from Tunisia come from an array of disciplines, institutions and professorial ranks. Active participation from the Virtual University and the Ministry of Higher Education in Tunisia and a swirl of media attention have all served to raise the profile of the partnership over the past three years. And while the partnership has expanded into a UGA-wide initiative, professors from all over Tunisia have been diligently developing and instituting new ­online courses back home. 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.

“Prior to the first workshop, I was interested in putting online some additional materials for my face-to-face students,” says 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 says of the 12 semester courses he designed for students already working in a variety of Tunisian economic sectors.