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Ankabut creates hyper-connected ecosystem for UAE education

United Arab Emirates education network implements cloud-based software to improve students’ access to resources

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Middle East: CW Middle East: UAE faces IT recruitment challenge

The United Arab Emirates’ education network, Ankabut, has linked up multiple education systems in the UAE and abroad through a learning management system (LMS) to enable students to stay connected to resources wherever they are.

With the adoption of Brightspace’s cloud-based LMS, academic institutions joined up by Ankabut have not just been connected to global online learning resources, but have also seen improved student performance, reduced carbon footprint and parents more involved in their children’s education.

Ankabut is the UAE’s Advanced National Research and Education Network (NREN) that offers academic institutions in the Gulf state connectivity to other education networks around the globe. As well as connecting universities and institutions of higher learning, Ankabut also links up schools and public institutions across the UAE.

Launched in 2006, Ankabut has the primary objective of opening up information exchange highways between academic institutions in the UAE and the rest of the world.

Today, it provides connectivity to 33 academic institutions within the UAE, spanning K-20 (primary and secondary), higher education, vocational training centres and research institutes.

Within the UAE, Ankabut provides high-capacity, high-speed broadband connectivity between educational, research and eligible non-profit organisations. Internationally, it liaises with government-approved parties in neighbouring countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to determine collaboration on services.

Ankabut was looking to implement a single, uniform learning management system across its member institutions, which would not only benefit faculty members and 100,000 students, but also make it easier to build bridges between the institutions and learning resources around the world.

As a result, it embarked on a project to unify disparate legacy learning systems across the UAE. This reduced the costs of ownership of systems and infrastructure, while allowing students to remain connected.

Reduce carbon footprint

Ankabut also wanted to reduce the carbon footprint of the country’s education sector and improve parental involvement in the education of their children through monitoring tools.

It wanted a single-point, cloud-hosted platform that would provide a device-neutral communications platform and easy-to-use dashboard for parents to monitor their children’s school performance.

Fahem Al Nuaimi, CEO at Ankabut, said the organisation had realised that having multiple and often disparate learning tools across the UAE’s campuses was hindering connectivity to global resources.

Ankabut decided to clear this hurdle by implementing D2L’s Brightspace Learning Management System (LMS), said Al Nuaimi.

“A uniform LMS across different learning centres wouldn’t just allow educators to better deliver learning through cross-faculty collaboration, two-way feedback channels and comprehensive performance analytics, but would also open the door to a more connected learning experience for students,” he said.

Al Nuaimi said that in today’s digitally enhanced online environment, access to lectures and other learning materials should not be limited to the classroom.

Parents sidelined

Obsolete learning systems also sidelined parents, he said. “Before the Brightspace LMS implementation, there were some systems that allowed parents to monitor the academic progress of their children, but these were not user-friendly. They did not allow parents to easily log in and see, at a glance, what was going on in their child's day-to-day academic life.”

According to Al Nuaimi, the Brightspace platform provides an easily accessible, dashboard-style interface to monitor, at a glance, how a student is performing.

“This system has completely changed interactions between parents and their children on the academic front,” he said. “A simple dashboard shows parents all the information they need to get a real understanding of how their child is doing, thereby allowing them to offer targeted help.”

Another problem, said Al Nuaimi, was that each institution had its own network and servers, which increased the carbon footprint of the UAE’s education sector. “Along with the increased impact on the environment, such systems were also burdening the institutions with unnecessary capex [capital expenditure] and opex [operational expenditure],” he said. “You would see everything from open source systems that have limited capacity, capability and availability, to very expensive, out-of-date systems.”

Serious barrier

The wide mix of tools that were being used by students and faculty members at different learning centres was proving a serious barrier to connecting them to each other’s resources, said Al Nuaimi.

“The Brightspace implementation is a first for this region, where learning centres within the UAE can now connect to online learning resources no matter their location, and they can do so with minimal disruption,” he said.

The cloud-based architecture of the new LMS, which Ankabut is providing on a free trial basis to learning centres across the board, has encouraged high adoption rates among UAE institutions, with 78 campuses and 100,000 students now connected to online learning resources from around the world using the Brightspace LMS.

Al Nuaimi said the use of online learning materials and feedback tools had drastically reduced the amount of paper used, and the centralised cloud architecture had reduced the consumption of electricity by learning centres for on-site servers and other IT infrastructure.

Cloud computing had also reduced the cost of ownership, he said. With no need for certain equipment, and its administration and maintenance, organisations were seeing a reduction in costs.

Bigger budgets

For academic institutions, this translates into bigger budgets for other, often underfunded departments. “With the implementation of an online LMS, which is hosted in the cloud, learning institutions have seen a dramatic reduction in their costs,” said Al Nuaimi. “Our total cost of operations has gone down by 60%.”

Once rolled out, the Brightspace LMS provided the standardisation required to enable a hyper-connected ecosystem of institutions, educators, students and parents.

“Students no longer have to be on university premises to communicate or to have access to learning resources,” said Al Nuaimi. “Essentially, they can now carry their classrooms in their pockets. This also fits perfectly with the increased proliferation of the bring-your-own-device [BYOD] trend in the UAE’s learning centres as students can now use their mobile devices to access online learning resources.”

Member institutions have praised Ankabut for the leap forward facilitated by the unified system. “We have had an excellent response from member institutions,” said Al Nuaimi. “Faculty members have also noted that student performance has improved considerably.”

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