Disrupting Israeli Higher Education

Written by Yuval Shraibman, CEO at Tel Aviv University Online & Digital Leaders Israel Programme Alumni

Photo caption: Taken at 2017 annual Israel EdTech Summit

It’s no exaggeration to say: It’s an open question whether students will even physically go to university in two or three years’ time. Around the world, governments and elite universities are introducing dramatic changes into their education systems. If Israel is to remain relevant, it has to adapt. So we are aiming for nothing less than the total reinvention of the Israeli education system. The next frontier is digital personalised learning, and it will transform universities as we know them.

Hybrid Learning
At the Tel Aviv University’s Centre for Innovative Learning, we are harnessing technology to tailor education to each individual. Until now, the traditional university format has imposed a one-size-fits-all approach on students. Digital innovation helps us to unlock the inherent potential in every student. We aim to achieve this by implementing a hybrid model of education, including both digital and personal elements. Tel Aviv University has invested enormous resources in producing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These are not recorded lectures, rather academic courses that were rewritten and tailor made for the digital media, comprising engaging visual material, filmed in professional studios and fine-tuned by high-end editing. Once the transfer of knowledge is made via digital media, the time spent in class can be leveraged to create more interactive sessions, which will enhance the learning experience. The state of the art will be to find the right combination between digital and ‘frontal’ teaching.

Thus, technology is finally starting to disrupt the archaic “Factory Model” of education, which is still common-place worldwide. Yet, what the technological revolution is truly facilitating is the enhancement of the personal interaction between the learners and the teacher. Our next stage will be to explore how to deliver the same material to people with different learning styles, making the digital side of hybrid learning even more personalised.

Levelling the Playfield
We also use those digital tools to expand and diversify access to Tel Aviv University. Due to our MOOCs, we are rendering high-quality academic content accessible beyond the brick and mortar walls of the ivory tower. We are encouraging High Schools across Israel to integrate our academic MOOCs into their syllabi, so that they can turn into “Online Academic High-Schools.” Students will be exposed to academic-level content delivered to them on a digital platform, equipping them both with academic and 21st century learning skills from a young age. The teacher’s role will become even more meaningful, orchestrating the class’ learning process, build the necessary bridges, and turn the classroom into an engaging in-depth learning experience.

The pilot project that was conducted in over 30 High Schools across Israel generated positive reactions. Thus, we decided to scale up by working with municipalities to create “Academic Cities.” TAU’s aim is to help levelling the playfield: provide all high schoolers in the country with the opportunity to be exposed to academic content; to develop a sense of academic capability and resilience; to receive academic credit; and to render the ambition of higher education more realistic for one and for all.

We understand that ‘building incentives’ is the name of the game, and as a matter of fact, Tel Aviv is the world’s first university to use MOOCs as part of its BA/BSc admissions process. This is a genuine revolution as it offers an alternative to the highly discriminatory practice of Standardized Tests (SATs). We believe that our MOOC-based Admissions Track will result in a more diverse student-body on Campus.

The Importance of Academic Capabilities
Our vision is to equip all children in Israel with ‘academic capabilities’ while in high school. We see this as the true game-changer. We consider ‘academic capabilities’ to be the most relevant tools for the next generation. In a world where technology is increasingly replacing even the most highly-skilled workers, employment-security and prosperity will be determined by a person’s ability for lifelong learning. Therefore we aim to equip every child in Israel with the basic academic and digital learning skills-set.

Minducate – The Science of Learning
Since the digital revolution is not just about education, rather about learning, Tel Aviv University has founded “Minducate” – the new interdisciplinary research centre for the Science of Learning. It brings together the best researchers from a wide array of academic disciplines, ranging from neuroscience, to psychology, and film studies, to name but a few. The centre’s research findings will be translated into implementable solutions for personalized learning.

Fostering the Israeli Ed-Tech Ecosystem
Tel Aviv University also aims to be the beating heart of a new Israeli Ed-Tech ecosystem. The university is the academic partner of the annual Ed-Tech Israel Summit, which brings together start-ups, venture capitalists and Impact Investors to kick start this industry. Tel Aviv University is even set to found its very own Ed-Tech VC, out of the understanding that the university could be one of those start-ups’ primary clients.

Innovation is a Need, Not a Luxury…
The key to innovation is to move forward: To stand still is to fall backwards. Tel Aviv University is the spearhead of Israel’s education revolution, propelling us forward—and excitingly, even we do not know just how far or how fast we will go.

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