Supporting Learners to Grow as Individuals: A Key to Developing Students into Autonomous and Responsible learners
There is no more pressing mission for Palestine’s higher education institutions than to prepare knowledgeable, committed, thoughtful generations and individuals to help overcome the various challenges facing Palestine today. In addition to teaching students basic knowledge and theoretical modelling, Dr. Abdelkarim Daragmeh, an education leader and influencer at An-Najah University, is applying his knowledge and the available resources to help learners grow as individuals and to instil in them the principles of citizenship and civic service.
Dr. Daragmeh is an internationally-known expert on pedagogical methods and the scholarship of teaching, a pioneering leader among Palestinian academics, and the founder of the first and most successful Palestinian center for university teaching excellence. He has experience and connections across the Palestinian higher education sector and deep knowledge of global teaching and learning communities of practice.
He believes that higher education has a public mission that encompasses both serving today’s local communities and creating the leaders of tomorrow.Since 2011, Dr. Daragmeh has been instrumental in transforming teaching and learning across the 20,000-student An-Najah University as founder and director of the university’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). His leadership has ensured thousands of students now participate in learner-centered, collaborative classes led by faculty who participate in active conversations about the scholarship of teaching itself.
Dr. Daragmeh has developed new apprenticeship programs, academic minors, the masters' program in comparative literature, conducted formal evaluations of degree programs in varied fields across the West Bank and Gaza, and worked with complex teams to ensure reform is tied to student, community, and workplace needs.
Remarkable International Achievements
Through a variety of projects, Dr. Daragmeh has built a strong network with education experts around the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. His early-career formal education in English and study in the U.S. also afforded him deeper understandings of international educational standards produced in English than Palestinian academics who do not have such background, while his 20 years of classroom teaching experience have underpinned his understanding of the connection between theory and practice.
Dr. Daragmeh's efforts were crowned this year in leading the university teams to winning the prestigious Times Higher Education Oscar Award 2020. An-Najah University won the Oscar Teaching and Learning Strategy of the Year Award for its "Najah Community Pathways Program". This service learning program, originally initiated by a group of dedicated academic staff members, has transformed the learning and teaching experience for thousands of students, instilled important values in Palestinian youth, and completed hundreds of projects for the benefit of community organizations, e.g. building Geographic Information Systems for city councils, awareness videos for victims of child abuse, designing nutrition protocols for diabetic patients. Commenting on the educational value of the community-based learning, Dr. Daragmeh said: "I have always believed that a proper education doesn’t just teach students how to make a living but actually teaches them how to live by instilling values and morals. Engaging students in community service instils citizenship in a way that no other classroom experience can do. It ignites imaginations, engages minds and bodies and givesstudents a sense of pride and inspiration".
The Times higher Education Award finalists came from Hong Kong, South Korea, Turkey, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, which are all prominent Universities in Asia. CPP was announced winner of the Asia Award in November of 2020.
Founder of the Center for excellence in Learning and Teaching
Dr. Daragmeh is the founder and leader of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). The center offers services for the University students from all faculties and disciplines through improving the teaching and learning environments. Together with a team of dedicated fellows, Dr. Daragmeh has led education change through hosting and supporting innovation in teaching and learningfrom across disciplines.
“At CELT, we try to increase the space for the learners” Dr. Daragmeh said. We have been working on changing the role of the teacher from an instructor into a guide. We train teachers on coaching students into improving the quality of their products bydirecting themwithout interfering in their project ideas. Thus we graduallymove towards learning situationswhere students are not be passive in their lectures, but productive and active ones."
Education during Covid-19
Education during Covid-19 poses a remarkable challenge for higher education, “It is different... talking to a screen is never like talking to people ... You miss the human interaction in virtual education,” Dr. Daragmeh said. However, he added that the An-Najah University is doing its best to adapt tothe new situation, and to come up with the solutions for the technical and pedagogical challenges it faces during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, Dr. Daragmeh believes that the road to quality online education services starts by doing in virtual classrooms what we have been doing in face-to-face lectures in terms of skill-building and interaction. We do not want online classes to become replicas of traditional lectures.
Progressive learning policies for Palestine
One of Daragmeh's inspirational quotes about higher education in Palestine is this: "Higher Education Institutions in Palestine must develop progressive and forward-looking teaching and learning strategies. Our education is and should remain community-connected and a host for innovative and progressive minds”. Education institutions must believe in the power of learners and must seize every opportunity to benefit and empower them, enrich their knowledge, and develop their skills. Dr. Daragmeh closed our interview by saying: “A good future lies in the hands of our youth whom we must nourish. Our universities should remain community-connected and should act as a hub for innovative and progressive minds.'