Athabasca University professor named Commonwealth of Learning Chair
Athabasca University’s reputation for distance- and online-learning expertise is well deserved, and one prominent researcher has added a prestigious new accolade to his already impressive CV.
Dr. Mohamed Ally has more than two decades of experience as a distance and online educator and researcher with Athabasca University, with a list of publications to his name that’s longer than your arms and legs put together. He has now also been appointed a Commonwealth of Learning (COL) Chair.
“This will allow my research and ideas to have an impact on a large number of the world’s population,” he said.
Commonwealth of Learning
The COL is an intergovernmental organization created in 1987 by Commonwealth Heads of Government, with the purpose of sharing open learning and distance-education knowledge, resources, and technologies. It is the world’s only intergovernmental organization solely concerned with the promotion and development of distance education and open learning.
It is committed to promoting equitable access to quality lifelong learning for everyone, on the basis that access to learning opportunities will lead to progress in achieving sustainable development.
Ally will be the second AU professor to hold the COL Chair position; Dr. Rory McGreal held the position from 2011-2018, and said his relationship with COL was constructive in helping support his efforts to promote open education in developing countries.
“I am sure that Dr. Ally will also find mutual collaboration with COL of benefit to his research in mobile learning in pursuit of his educational development goals,” McGreal said.
After experiencing enormous undergraduate classes while earning a bachelor of science degree, Ally was inspired to learn more about how technology could improve the learning experience.
“The first-year undergraduate courses had over 500 students, and I don’t think that’s good for learning,” he said. “I wanted to use my undergraduate experience to help improve learning systems using educational technology.”
He went on to earn a master of arts in educational technology from Concordia University in Montreal, then a Ph.D. in educational psychology (instructional technology) from the University of Alberta.
Ally’s extensive research portfolio focuses on the use of emerging technologies in open and online learning, and he plans to focus further efforts on research related to how fourth-industrial-revolution technologies—artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and big data—can make learning opportunities accessible to more people around the world.
He said these technologies must be used for good to benefit humans rather than harm humans. For example, rather than develop “killer robots” there should be development of “helpful robots.” Also, rather than using artificial intelligence to monitor individuals it should be used to educate individuals for sustainable development.
In online learning, artificial intelligence can supplement the role of tutors in an online-learning environment, so that learning can be personalized for each learner. Another example is the use of robotic technologies to allow learners anywhere in the world to access specialized laboratories that might not otherwise be available to them. Also, the use of telepresence and hologram technologies can be used to experience high presence virtually and improve the interaction between tutors and learners and between learners.
In addition to being able to help a broader range of learners, the COL chair position will also provide more opportunities for international collaboration.
“The COL chair will give me access to a large number of participants to conduct research and will allow me to disseminate my research results to a large number of citizens around the world,” Ally said.