Zayed University fields revolutionary education system 

Students develop future work skills, solve real life challenges 
Zayed University fields revolutionary education system 
Dr. Michael Allen, provost and chief academic officer at Zayed University

Zayed University is introducing innovative degree programs aligned with the UAE’s Centennial 2071 plan and Projects of the 50, aimed at enhancing the education system. As a testament to its commitment to cutting-edge active learning methodologies, ZU presents the distinctive Partner Challenge Program, enabling students to collaborate with both local and international enterprises. 

In an insightful discussion with Dr. Michael Allen, provost and chief academic officer at Zayed University, Economy Middle East explores the myriad aspects that distinguish ZU as a trailblazing institution in the realm of education. 

Can you describe the new degree programs being offered at ZU?

Zayed University’s degree programs address pressing global challenges in business, technology, society and sustainability. They foster a new generation of empowered graduates, equipping them to be responsible global citizens who contribute actively to a stronger UAE, particularly within the private sector. 

Our offerings encompass four interdisciplinary majors – Business Transformation, Computational Systems, Social Innovation and Sustainability – which feature various concentrations and specializations. Additionally, we provide a diverse array of Creative Arts programs. 

Read: Adapting education to bridge the skills gap in a rapidly changing job market

All students embark on a two-year General Education program, the first of its kind in the UAE, which instills foundational skills such as critical thinking, communication and teamwork. As students progress, they delve deeply into their chosen majors. By combining general education, interdisciplinary learning and specialization, our graduates emerge with both broad skills and in-depth expertise. This synthesis of specialized knowledge and enduring skills ensures our students gain expertise applicable to both the UAE and the broader global context. 

Zayed University

 What pioneering active learning techniques is ZU applying in its teaching methodology?

At Zayed University, we have completely eliminated exams from our new programs. We believe that exams do not effectively drive or enhance learning, nor do they adequately prepare graduates to meet the demands of the modern workplace. Instead, we have adopted a system of continuous assessment methods that actively encourage student participation and engagement throughout the academic year. 

Through regular assessment in each class and an increased emphasis on projects, we achieve two primary objectives. Firstly, we are better equipped to gauge students’ progress by customizing classes to address their academic requirements, thereby ensuring structured learning. Secondly, our assessments are designed to cultivate the skills that employers actively seek, such as communication, teamwork and problem-solving. 

During classes, students undergo evaluation using a variety of interactive tools, including polls, breakout sessions, and focused activities like concept mapping and debates. 

Is ZU using AI to gauge the learning environment at the university?

At ZU, we embrace any smart learning tools that enhance the quality of education for our students. Our online learning platform, for instance, empowers faculty to gauge individual student participation duration during classes, allowing them to engage those who have been quieter, thus fostering their expression of ideas. 

Generative AI tools, including ChatGPT, offer numerous prospects within the field of education. We firmly reject the notion of prohibiting these tools, as it would be akin to forbidding a mathematics student from using a calculator. 

As educators, our duty lies in continuously acquainting ourselves with emerging technologies and ingeniously integrating them into our educational practices. Our students are preparing to step into a professional realm where AI tools are extensively employed. Thus, our role is to equip them for this future. 

While AI’s role in education is in its nascent stage, we embrace its potential. The Zai Centre at ZU, a dedicated research facility focused on Arabic language instruction, has pioneered a diagnostic tool named SARD. This tool facilitates swift and effortless assessment of a young individual’s grasp of the Arabic language. Its implementation across schools in the UAE is imminent. 

Zayed University

How does ZU’s unique Partner Challenge Program work?

This mandatory program is an exciting innovation introduced at ZU for all students pursuing our new degrees. It entails student teams collaborating to solve industry problems assigned by mentors. Throughout a semester, these teams work on developing effective solutions, benefiting from regular check-ins with mentors and support from ZU advisers. 

This program provides students with a real-world glimpse into their future careers and promotes interdisciplinary collaboration among students. The program’s success is evident through partnerships with nearly 100 esteemed organizations such as Accenture, CNBC, Cisco and the Department of Culture and Tourism. 

 How do you envision the future of work?

This poses the million-dollar question for universities: How can students be effectively prepared for an ever-evolving labor market, especially given that market demands often outpace the development of university programs? We contend that the solution lies in equipping our students with skills resistant to disruption and fostering a mindset that welcomes challenges, novel concepts, and perpetual learning. Qualities like resilience, rapid learning and curiosity will consistently hold their worth.  

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