Today, I had the pleasure of visiting two university classes hosted by a Jordanian professor, Ms. Saba Kawas. The first class was and Introductory Practicum in the Graphic Design class at the University of Jordan School of Art and Design. The second class was a Design Theory class at the American University of Madaba.
Usually, when you carry out observations at different institutions everything is different -- the classes, instructors and students all vary. However, Saba teaches at two very different institutions, so we actually had the joy of seeing the same instructor in two different higher education contexts. I thought this was a great opportunity to compare public and private universities for my teacher.
The University of Jordan
The University of Jordan was founded in 1962, and is the oldest, and most prestigious university in Jordan, located in Amman. The campus is quite lovely, with cyprus lined trees, and relatively good resources for a public university in Jordan. There are roughly 32,000 students enrolled at the BA level in the University of Jordan -- the School of Art and Design is one of the newest programs.
In this photo, Saba is talking to students after the lecture.
You can see the computer lab and the group of girls clustered together.
The students in the University of Jordan are generally considered the best in Jordan because it is very competitive and prestigious to get in. However, the school of Art and Design is also a special program -- it is not necessarily particularly competitive in terms of the exit exam (tawjihi), but there is a special application program to get in the program, where students are asked to submit samples of work.
In Saba's morning class, there were only 10 students in class, a number of students were missing because they are involved in an extracurricular activity at the same time, but the class is capped at about 15, because it is a practically-oriented class. There are 6 girls and 4 boys, and of the girls, most are wearing the veil (only one is not). The girls and boys sit around the computers, but generally are grouped by gender with girls on one side of the room and the boys on the other.
The lecture is 90-95% in Arabic, with some Aamiya and Fusha mixed, but all the lecture slides and terms are presented in English. There are plenty of computers, but they range from brand new Macs and relatively nice PCs, along with some old Macs that look like they are from circa 2005. When the lecture is over, the students are left to continue working on a project (which is to design a letter that doesn't exist in English) in line with a particular font.
American University of Madaba
The American University of Madaba is a new university in Jordan -- it is private, and has been started through an endowment from the Catholic Church (Jerusalem Dioses). The university has only about 400-500 students as of now, and had less than 300 students last year in its first year.
The university is a non-profit universtiy, which means that it is not trying to make money for its investors, but it is able to (and does) charge tuition, and offer admission to students even if their tawjihi scores are not particularly high. Their standards for some subjects are in fact very low (like 65).
As of now, AUM is actually loosing money, and will continue to do so, until it reaches a minimum baseline of the number of students to become financially sustainable (around 2,000).
|Saba presenting to students at AUM in Computer Lab.|
In Saba's classes at AUM, we observe two classes. Saba still tends to lecture (when explaining specific/precise information) in Arabic -- however, she speaks in English more frequently in this class. The lab has very nice, brand-new resources -- including about 20 brand new huge Mac computers, and a screen and powerpoint projector. AUM also has Wifi available, which UJ does not.
There are only about 11 students who come to the first class (although apparently 17 are enrolled, and some just do not attend class). Unlike at UJ, Saba actually takes attendance in this class. We sit in on a Design Theory class, and students are all expected to have prepared a presentation (with power point) on the Gestalt theory.
In this class, there are only 2 men and 9 women, and of the women only one is veiled.
This class has another Instructor in the class, who is in charge of the computer lab -- he instructs students in using programs/skills. The students in this class are very talkative -- and often talk over Saba, which Saba later tells us she finds very disrespectful but doesn't know how to reign in the students other than resorting to techniques used in middle school. It is true that students often interrupt each other, and Saba when she is trying to explain things, which did not happen at all in the UJ campus, where students were generally very quiet, even when Saba asked questions. At one point, she asks a disruptive student to move up to the front of the class (as if this were a high school or middle school class) because he continues to talk and interrupt.
The students are giving presentations using PowerPoint, and their presentations are half in English and half in Arabic -- at one point, Saba explains that if the students are more comfortable speaking in Arabic, they are welcome to do so. So one of the girls giving a presentation switches to Arabic and is clearly more comfortable. However, many of the others speak quite well in English and are comfortable giving their presentations in English.
In the second class, we sit in on a technical class, where Saba is teaching students how to use Ae (After Effects -- to make 2-D animation). Again in this class, there are only 3 male students and about 10 females, and only one female is veiled.This class is pretty much 95% in Arabic (although Saba explains a good bit in English and uses a lot of English terms). I think that because the work is very technical, she tends to use Arabic more because of the difficulty of learning both what to do in the new program and the new terms for the new concepts.
One interesting conversation occurred when the students are asking for book and information on Photoshop and Ae (Adobe programs) -- they are asking for books that explain the program and the terminology -- the girl explains there is a lot of new information and steps for the students to absorb. Many students begin to grumble under their breathes about not having access to the program at home or not having computers at their homes (but in reality, I would guess that most students have computers at home, as some even bring their laptops with them).
At one point, Saba gets very upset about the fact that the students are complaining. The students say that not all of them know how to use computers well, but Saba counters that she teaches students from the minority groups, and those from small towns and villages, but that they are able to teach themselves. There is certainly a bit of tension in the class at that point. At one point, she brings up the work of a student who she says had never seen a computer before coming to the University of Jordan (the students say of course she had, but Saba insists that the girl had never used the computer before). Saba says -- "you have no excuses, none at all." She shows the students a short video animation by students at UJ (which are very well done!) and insists that these students were only second years, and this is their mid-term (after 4 weeks). Then she continues to lecture the students about how they are talking all the time and that it is because they are talking that they cannot listen -- that in fact, they are going very slowly (step by step) to work in the new Adobe program.
Both UJ and AUM are both good universities, in their own ways -- they both are trying to hire very talented faculty who have PhDs. As is consistent with a lot of my research onto the rise of private universities in the Arab world, private universities do have better resources in many cases (as is apparent in my photos), but the public universities are still considered to have the higher quality (more academic) students. Yet, at the same time, because private universities do charge relatively high tuitions, they are also serving a quite wealthy (even elite) students. In Jordan, this means that English is on average better developed at many (not all of course) students -- particularly those who would choose to got to AUM.
Both universities are quite well resourced, and the classes I visited are practically oriented -- not simply lecturing and memorizing. This may have a relationship with the subject (which is a very hands-on class). However, my experience today does go against a lot of the rhetoric that insists that Jordanian universities are not practical and all theoretical.