Leveraging Pedagogical Innovations for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education in the Middle East Context
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Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016. Background and Purpose Over the past 20 years, educational research across all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines has revealed traits common to many of the most successful pedagogical innovations; those that feature learning contexts that enable rich peer interactions and learning tasks that present students with real-world, ill-posed problems produce the most substantial learning gains in their students. Further refinements to pedagogies in the West increasingly come from research into related affective factors: motivations, expectations, and self-efficacy. This state of affairs raises important questions for the developing world. Mainly, how will pedagogical innovations and educational reforms, designed for Western cultures, function when implemented in a novel context, particularly in the Middle East? Design/Method/Approach This chapter closely examines the case of Khalifa University (KU) in Abu Dhabi and three course reform projects designed to introduce such pedagogical innovations to its largely Gulf Arab student body. These three are: (1) the Engineering Problem Solving Course offered by the Departments of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, (2) the University Physics I course offered by the Department of Applied Mathematics and Sciences, and the (3) Introduction to Biomedical Engineering offered by the Biomedical Engineering Department. All three were implemented in experimental formats, making significant to exclusive use of project-based learning, collaborative learning, and problem-based learning, respectively. Although the general core of the pedagogies used in course reform was mainly adopted from well-established Western educational models, the instructional strategies including the open-ended, ill-structured problems were specifically designed to custom-fit the KU and the UAE culture. Results/Anticipations In the case of KU, we find that problem-based, project-based, and collaborative learning modalities can be implemented with minimal modification to their core features. Our research results show that learning gains or favorable attitudinal gains in the three pilot courses studied are all improved relative to the traditional, lecture-centered version of the same courses and with the same student body. While there is still a gap between these and similar Western counterpart courses, there is evidence that the differences are likely due to pre-instruction factors, particularly second-language issues, and not to the effect of the particular pedagogy or implemented instructional strategies. Conclusions This result is not a recipe-for-success in similar institutions in the Gulf or broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Every institution has its own idiosyncrasies, which must be anticipated by educational innovators on the ground, but anticipation of such factors and adaptation to them is possible. Rather, we provide a proof of principle that contributes significantly to dispelling the beliefs that alternatives to traditional, lecture-based instruction are impossible to implement in particular cultures or that they could never be fruitful for student learning in the Gulf Arab context.