AUBURN – Over the past year, James Groccia, director of Auburn University’s Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, has been helping Saudi Arabia transform teaching methods in its universities through methods in use at Auburn.
Groccia, an associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Education, has formed higher education partnerships within Saudi Arabia as part of that country’s efforts to improve the performance of instructional faculty and campus administrators.
Last year Groccia, who was then president of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, attended a conference in Sheffield, England, on behalf of the organization. There, he made several presentations on academic training, and those presentations led to an invitation by King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to host a series of workshops for the school’s faculty and administrators.
“The higher education system in Saudi Arabia and in the Arab world is growing exponentially,” Groccia said. “Officials recognize that they cannot rely on current methods that have been successful in the past. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills gained through active and engaged learning and innovative teaching are seen as essential outcomes for future educational and economic development.”
Speaking to department heads and academic leaders from several Saudi institutions, Groccia discussed the importance of staff development, active learning, building academic portfolios and enhancing educational productivity and quality. After these presentations, Saudi officials asked him to organize a series of training programs across the Middle Eastern country.
The AU faculty member said he was surprised during one of his early trips to discover that his book, “On Becoming a Productive University: Strategies for Reducing Cost and Increasing Quality in Higher Education,” which he co-edited for publication in 2005, had been translated into Arabic and was known by Saudi Arabian education officials.
Groccia said his efforts are intended to help Saudi Arabia make the transition from importing foreign workers for health, banking and communication to developing its own people for those careers. With the nation’s education policies changing, he said Saudi officials recognize the need to expand higher education so more disciplines and training can be offered to more people and more broadly to women. He noted that the change represents a cultural as well as educational shift in thinking.