“As long as we have the faith, the desire and the resilience”: Interview with Tahani Al Dahdouh for the OLIVE Project (Part 2)

On May 22nd, 2024, Anaïs Duong-Pedica from the OLIVE project interviewed Tahani Al Dahdouh, an educator and postdoctoral research fellow at Tampere University. Originally from Gaza, Tahani’s research focuses innovativeness, digitalization and professional development in higher education. In Part 1 of this interview, published last week, Tahani talked about higher education in Palestine and the impact of Israeli colonialism and occupation on Palestinian education, online teaching and learning, and teachers’ resilience in Gaza. In Part 2, we talk about Tahani’s research on Palestinian teachers use of online teaching, transnational pedagogical development training in Palestinian higher education and her thoughts on resuming education in Gaza.

Tahani at the library at the Islamic University of Gaza. Photo: Tahani Al Dahdouh

Anaïs Duong-Pedica (ADP): What challenges and opportunities does online teaching pose for teachers in Palestinians universities? In part one of the interview, you already mentioned this lack of access to electricity, difficulty accessing the internet, and in terms of opportunity, the fact that online teaching allows to continue education in a situation of emergency. But are there any challenges and opportunities that you think about that you’ve not mentioned?

Tahani Al Dahdouh (TAD): All of these challenges were cited by participants in the article and some of them are also shared by teachers worldwide: suddenly moving to teach online and increasing the workload and the difficulty to achieve a work and life balance, because teachers were working mainly from home. But other challenges were specific to conflict areas, such as in Palestine, like the lack of resources, the lack of infrastructure, the lack of Internet and electricity connections, financial constraints, and so on.

But for me, I can see that the online teaching experience during the pandemic has brought several affordances to teachers there. As the proverb says, it was a blessing in disguise. This is also the case in the words of the teachers themselves: They said that without COVID, they would have perhaps never delved into online teaching, and people are the enemy of what they are ignorant of. During the COVID pandemic, they were forced to delve into online teaching, and they were also forced to collide with the reality, to explore different techniques and reflect on their practices to navigate what worked and did not work. For example, I can give you a quote from a teacher, when he said that “at the beginning, when we shifted to online teaching, I relied on the PowerPoint presentation that I already had prepared even before COVID.” When he started to teach using the Zoom, he discovered that this is not the right way to teach. He felt there were some issues related to student engagement and interaction. He didn’t know if the students are following him as he uses the Powerpoint slides. What happened with that teacher is that he started to reflect on the way he taught, and he started also to rebuild and re-develop the learning materials in order to make them more engaging for the students. This is how teachers also changed their behaviors, attitudes and perceptions when they experienced online teaching during COVID.

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“Education has always been a source of hope and resilience for all Palestinians”: Interview with Tahani Al Dahdouh for the OLIVE Project (Part 1)

On May 22nd, 2024, Anaïs Duong-Pedica from the OLIVE project interviewed Tahani Al Dahdouh, an educator and postdoctoral research fellow at Tampere University. Originally from Gaza, Tahani’s research focuses innovativeness, digitalization and professional development in higher education. In Part 1 of this interview, Tahani talked about higher education in Palestine and the impact of Israeli colonialism and occupation on Palestinian education, online teaching and learning, and teachers’ resilience in Gaza. The second part of the interview will be published next week.

This exchange took place when there are currently no university left in Gaza due to Israeli attacks. This is part of what Palestinian Professor Karma Nabulsi called “scholasticide“, during the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, to refer to “systematic destruction of Palestinian education by Israel.” Much of what Tahani explores in this conversation is also echoed in the “Open letter by Gaza academics and university administrators to the world” published a few days later. The open letter notably underlines the importance of online teaching in the current circumstances and highlights that “the rebuilding of Gaza’s academic institutions is not just a matter of education; it is a testament to our resilience, determination, and unwavering commitment to securing a future for generations to come.”

Anaïs Duong-Pedica (ADP): Good afternoon Tahani. Thank you so much for accepting to be interviewed by the OLIVE project, and to answer a few of our questions on what you’ve been working on, and on higher education in Palestine. Before we start the interview, could you introduce yourself and say a little bit about the work that you’ve been doing?

Tahani Al Dahdouh (TAD): Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s my honor to be here and speak a little bit about higher education in Palestine. My name is Tahani Al Dahdouh. I’m Finnish Palestinian, originally from Gaza. I’m currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University. I studied for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) and came to Finland 10 years ago to pursue a PhD in education through an Erasmus Mundus partnership project between Europe and the Islamic University of Gaza. In 2020, I defended my article-based dissertation, which focused on investigating higher education employees’ innovativeness. After that, I worked as a principal investigator for two projects on developing digital pedagogies in higher education at Tampere University.

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OLIVE Project statement of support to the Gaza Encampment at the University of Helsinki

Gaza encampment at the University of Helsinki

We, the undersigned professors, teachers, researchers, and members of staff within the OLIVE project, partly based at the University of Helsinki, express our support for Students and Researchers for Palestine, who have started an encampment in solidarity with Palestine at the City Center Campus.

Within the OLIVE project, our goal is to work collaboratively with our Palestinian colleagues to contribute to the development and transformation of teacher education in Palestinian universities. One of our partner universities, Al-Azhar University in Gaza, was razed to the ground in three successive airstrikes between October and November 2023. Our other partner, Birzeit University in Ramallah in the West Bank, has also been the target of several raids and arrests of Palestinian students by the Israeli army. Most recently, on May 15th, 2024, Ayser Muhammad Safi, a second-year student at the Faculty of Education, was shot and killed by Israeli forces. This led to the university closing for a few days in order for students and staff to mourn their loss. A few days later, on May 19th, 2024, the occupation forces arrested Mahmoud Abdul Gawad Angas, a third year student in the Computer Science programme at Birzeit University, prompting the institution to demand his immediate release as well as that of all political prisoners detained in Israeli prisons.

The OLIVE project has built strong relations of mutual respect and trust with Palestinian colleagues in Gaza and Ramallah. We mourn the loss of lives of Palestinian students, researchers and teachers in Gaza and the West Bank. We are alarmed by the situation of our colleagues and their families in Gaza, trying to escape death and suffering. We are concerned by the fact that there are currently no universities left in Gaza. We support the right to education of all Palestinians and condemn the attacks on Palestinians and their education system. We believe that education is the most powerful tool to build democratic and just societies. This is why we support the demands of the encampment and call for the University of Helsinki to follow its own Ethical Guidelines and — in line with its commitment to promote universal human rights and defend academic freedom — join the academic boycott of Israeli universities called by Palestinian civil society. Hence, the University of Helsinki must immediately:

1) Revoke its exchange agreements with Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ);

2) Stop collaborating with Israeli universities and state institutions in research projects. These include centrally the research projects funded by the EU. Through the Horizon 2020 and the Horizon Europe programmes, the University of Helsinki collaborates at least with TAU, HUJ, the Weizmann Institute, Technion, and Ben-Gurion University;

3) Provide full disclosure of the University’s financial investments in companies that profit from Israel’s apartheid regime and the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

At the OLIVE project, we believe in peace education, antiracism, equality, and global responsibility in education, which aligns with these demands. It is worth reminding that the academic boycott targets only institutional connections to complicit Israeli universities, not individuals working at the Israeli universities. Indeed, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movements’ guidelines for the academic boycott stipulate that it “rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion” since it is “anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights.” Israeli universities, however, should be boycotted as they are “profoundly implicated in supporting and perpetuating Israel’s systematic denial of Palestinian rights” and academic freedom. This strategy is not new nor specific to Palestine. Indeed, divestment was a powerful and successful strategy that helped to end South African apartheid, which university students were influential in instigating.

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Behind OLIVE project – Faculty and facts 

The author of this blogpost is Mia Laitinen*.
Featured image credits: Ayman A Rezeqallah, Faculty of Education, Birzeit University

*Mia is a Master’s student at the Faculty of Education, University of Helsinki. Currently she is writing her thesis. For this blogpost, Mia met online with OLIVE members from Birzeit University and discussed with them themes related to the project aims.

I was kindly introduced to three participants with undeniable impact for OLIVE project. The participants are Ahmad Aljanazrah, Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at Birzeit University and coordinator for the project, welcoming the discussion and ideas concerning OLIVE; Refa’ Ramahi, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Birzeit University, who’s working on planning structures of workshops and developing practicum courses; and Abdallah Bsharat, faculty member at Curriculum and Instruction department of College of Education at Birzeit. Abdallah is supporting co-operation in the school field and the upgrading of courses.  

All the participants have worked with the project from its early stages to develop the quality of teacher education in Palestine with colleagues around the world. When sending the interview questions all the way from Finland I was curious to know, what kind of roles are needed to run an international project such as OLIVE. I have come to realize that it’s very important to include the administration level in the co-operation as well as the sense of believing in the project. This engagement can be seen in participating in activities and common projects and planning, but also as an aim to reach goals that flow at an abstract level. Such goals include equality in teacher education and sensitive learning environments.  

From a Finnish perspective, I guess that, at some level, these apply to our educational system as well. In addition, during the interviews I came to realize these are issues we’re dealing with all around the world. When adding the current pandemic situation into the plot, this turns out to be a story of global teacher hood.  

“We don’t have control over the future” – but… shift in education during the Covid-19 pandemic 

OLIVE project is future-oriented, raising the discussion about using technology in teaching, so the pandemic – even when shaking the norms of teaching – may have offered some forcing power to really elaborate on how technology can be integrated into teaching.

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Online teaching and learning environments

Possibilities and challenges for pedagogical use

Author: Marianna Vivitsou

As virtuality is a topical issue in OLIVE project, online teaching and learning environments are at the core of discussions that take place in the pedagogical cafes. In the gathering early last April, I came up with the idea to frame the discussions on the basis of types of interaction and on whether platforms and/or web services are integrated in the official curricula. Here are some highlights that emerged out of this framework, along with my reflections upon these conversations. 

The categorization is an initial one and is linked with institutional practices. Thus, the category formal online teaching environments concerns those playing an integral part in the everydayness of teaching (e.g., Moodle) and have substituted (to an extent) its conventional paper-load (e.g., by uploading digital assignments instead of their paper versions; inserting links to resources thus replacing photocopies; uploading slides instead of blackboard chalk writings and notes, etc.).  

Despite their contribution to a potentially more ecologically oriented pedagogical practice, it is questionable whether online teaching environments have kept their promise. Instead, it seems that technologies have been received as self-fulfilling promises themselves. Very often they are treated as the content of the pedagogical practice, when the interest turns to what brands we will bring into the classroom at the expense of a student-centered pedagogical use. Also what pedagogical use means in different situations.

This instrumental approach to technology integration (whether for online, blended or hybrid teaching), as research has shown, has reproduced patterns of fragmented, a-contextual learning.  

The use of Moodle groups is one example of this situation. Teachers, for instance, often comment that student exchanges in group work are lacking depth, thus limiting the narrative to superficial interactions, comments and so on. Questions that arise, then, concern the root causes of such phenomena. What are the reasons underlying content limitations? And, what can we do to overcome them?  

This is, then, a quite complicated affair that the rhizomatic use of technology makes it even more complex than we are, possibly, willing to admit. 

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Teaching STEM with technology and collaborative work

Voice Analyzer with Gas and Mirrors, Natural Sciences and Technology Museum, National & Kapodistrian University, Athens

Out-of-the-box approaches and practices for thinking critically  

authored by Marianna Vivitsou

Thinking STEM in education

The theme of STEM education is intertwining with many of the basic areas of interest in OLIVE and relates to different outputs and project activities.  

These include, among others, the need to establish virtual peer mentoring teams to strengthen exchange of ideas and learning from one another, to define new practicum strategies and set a framework for shared teaching in the OLIVE partner universities. Undoubtedly, this is a complex situation. Yet, this is not the only kind of complexity that approaching STEM education presents.  

As it spans across major fields of science, research and teaching, considerations arise concerning the epistemologies and the pedagogies that should underlie the effort to introduce a working model of STEM (i.e., an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in education. In addition to that, although science, technology, engineering and mathematics related occupations are expected to experience rapid growth in the years to come, STEM does not seem to be for all.  

Recent studies show that gender gaps and other divides and inequalities in the professional domain are rooted within expectations, stereotypes and structures established and observed early in the education continuum. In alignment with these, an introduction to a collection of articles with a focus on participation barriers, Nature Research and Scientific American point out that many groups are underrepresented in research including women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and socially disadvantaged populations. Far more action, therefore, needs to be taken in institutions and scientific communities. 

Taking these insights into consideration, in the pedagogical team of OLIVE we departed to set some commonly agreed principles aiming to frame the basis of joint work. At the same time, we recognized the need to think and act differently and in ways that would align with out-of-the-box approaches and practices. «Out of the box» is a metaphor that signifies new, creative ways that are go beyond established (here, teaching) practices and look into the multiple dimensions of phenomena with a critical eye.  

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Teaching, assessment of learning, technology and other entanglements

Favorite street on a cloudy day by anim@vit

Co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou & Hanna Posti-Ahokas

How does digital learning challenge our thinking around assessment? 

Assessment is a multi-dimensional and highly debated topic in higher education research and practice. The Olive team gathered in its first pedagogical café to discuss assessment with the aim to think how the digitalization of learning challenges practice. The new ways of teaching and learning require new ways of assessment. How to respond to the change in a way that makes assessment work towards it intended purpose of supporting learning?  

Assessment in focus 

Assessment is multi-dimensional and highly debated. For a start, it draws parallels with research, as when we set off to construct an assessment tool, we should take care that we assess what needs to be assessed. Validity, therefore, is one significant criterion of the assessment process. Second, assessment seems to be often confused with evaluation. While evaluation is product-oriented, assessment is process-oriented. In education, evaluation concerns the outcomes of a course, a lesson or a project, where learning has taken place. Contrary to this, assessment concerns the process that leads to learning outcomes. The fact that what constitutes a learning outcome (or not) is itself a highly debated area makes even more pressing the need to revisit assessment and evaluation as intertwining and overlapping concepts.  

In this complexity, it could be helpful to think of what the focus of our assessment is and what the purposes of assessment are 

In the small group discussion during the pedagogical café, one recurrent theme was how the use of technology in teaching and learning relates with assessment. While it was agreed that the new ways of teaching require new ways of assessment, the path towards renewed assessment practice is not a clear cut one. The functionality of technology and fairness of online assessment have already manifested as obstacles after moving teaching and learning onto digital and technology-supported environments. These may be considered as implications of more fundamental issues around assessment.  

Assessment should be connected to the learning objectives and expected outcomes. However, learning is not always measurable. The instrumentalist, exam-focused culture of assessment does not necessarily capture/support deep understanding. Large student groups may also have influenced the use of instrumentalist approaches. However, as Gandini & Horák (2020), among others, point out, it is essential to seek ways to integrate into technology-supported assessment personalised feedback for students. In this way, we will be able to highlight areas they need to work on and give suggestions, and, thus, guide them through their future learning. In addition, personalised feedback opens up the whole process of assessment and allows the students to get deeper into its logic. Based on this understanding, students can be better equipped to modify their own approaches and practices in the learning process.  

The way forward? 

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