CourseraHow Turkey’s universities are mastering digital transformation

How Turkey’s universities are mastering digital transformation

A roundtable of senior leaders discussed best practice for addressing challenges and opportunities related to teaching, assessment and internationalism

The Times Higher Education and Coursera roundtable “The digital transformation of universities in Turkey: Equipping students with the skills of tomorrow” took place on 8 October 2020, 24 hours after the country’s Council of Higher Education announced new measures to combat Covid-19, renewing Turkey’s focus on digital and blended learning.

A panel of senior leaders from Turkish HE discussed how their institutions had moved their teaching online. Many responded quickly when the pandemic hit, such as Abdullah Gül University, which assembled a task force responsible for aligning the university’s AGUWAYS online core curriculum with Zoom and an online lab system. The task force also distributed donated tablets and computers to support students with limited access.

As well as access, the noted challenges to digital transformation also included scaling digital courses, retraining staff, digital assessment and data security.

Sule Satoglu, vice-rector at Istanbul Technical University, flagged the institution’s desire to find “service providers where data is stored in Turkey”. Satoglu also raised the difficulty of managing expectations about digital assessment, noting that “most students didn’t want to open their cameras during final exams.” Gonca Günay, vice-rector of Istanbul Bilgi University, added that their students were “getting grades that were 20 per cent better than last year”, but that the reasons for this were currently unclear.

With regards to retraining staff, Abdullah Atalar, rector at Bilkent University, explained that he coached himself and then his faculty to teach by Zoom. A system of “concurrent” or “hybrid teaching” was instituted, where some students were inside the classroom and the majority were watching remotely via Zoom. The teaching day was extended, too – mornings were hybrid hours, afternoons for face-to-face sessions and evenings were online-only. “Attendance rate was even higher than normal, something like 95 per cent,” he added.

Hybrid teaching was noted as being particularly useful for the medical sciences and STEM subjects. Günay described how Bilgi University sends out kits for lab tests so that “the students can use them at home to do experiments at the same time as the professors”. Bilgi also holds sessions where teachers share new ways of teaching and best practice.

Collaborations with industry, such as internships, have migrated online too. İhsan Sabuncuoğlu, rector at Abdullah Gül University, predicted that the pandemic will mean collaborations between universities “such as with teaching and learning centres” will grow, and that it has already “created a new and good habit for us”.

However, the coronavirus has disrupted Turkey’s expansion into the international student market. Ayse Ozkan, director of global education and partnerships at Istanbul Aydın University, hopes to see pre-pandemic numbers return. Meanwhile, digital transformation has brought “a tremendous opportunity to have [internationalism] embedded in a curriculum.”

Coursera’s Covid Response Initiative, a toolkit for online learning, has been used by more than 10,000 programmes across 6,000 institutions globally, as learning management systems continue to play an increasingly important role in refining universities’ digital transformation in Turkey and around the world. Mike Damiano, director of Coursera for Campus EMEA, praised and thanked the higher education community for its efforts and collaboration, saying: “what we’ve seen over the last six months is nothing short of amazing, in terms of what the community has done in supporting learners throughout these challenges”.


Roundtable attendees           

Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
Abdullah Atalar, rector, Bilkent University
Aylin Aydin, professor, Istanbul Gelişim University
Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer, Times Higher Education
Melih Bulu, rector, Haliç University
Özge Andiç Çakır, instructional technologies co-ordinator, Ege University 
Betül Çotuksöken, vice-rector, Maltepe University 
Mike Damiano, director, Coursera for Campus EMEA, Coursera
Gonca Günay, vice-rector, Istanbul Bilgi University
Bahar Güntekin, program director, Istanbul Medipol University
Kerry Houchen, partnerships director, Coursera for Campus EMEA, Coursera
İrfan Kırıştıoğlu, vice-rector, Uludag University
Caroline Fell Kurban, director (CELT), MEF University
Ayse Ozkan, director, Global Education and Partnerships, Istanbul Aydın University
İhsan Sabuncuoğlu, rector, Abdullah Gül University
Sule Satoglu, vice-rector, Istanbul Technical University
Gökmen Zararsız, data management and analytics, Erciyes University

Watch a recording of the roundtable discussion above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

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