“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” ― Winston S. Churchill

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According to a 2014 United Nations Development Programme document, “Arab Knowledge Report,” a state of urgency exists among the 100 million Arab youth throughout the Arab world: increasing unemployment, decreasing career opportunities, growing economic pressures, expanding irrelevance of traditional curriculum, intensifying military conflicts, broadening refugee displacement, and widening threats to the Arabic language are the main challenges.

And yet, there is reason to be hopeful: according to a 2016 Cisco report, “Where to Begin Your Journey to Digital Value in the Private Sector,” the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) represents USD $363 billion in digital potential! The key to Arab youth unlocking this opportunity is online education. While the infrastructure for online education has only begun to emerge in the Arab world it presents vast potential.

One emerging online education option is Kwn Education. Launched in 2016 Kwn — the Arabic word for ‘create’ or ‘build’ — is an online, STEM focused Arabic language university for Arab youth powered by the Open edX Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platform.

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As defined by Educause, a MOOC is ” a model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance.” edX is the result of a nonprofit partnership between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Open edX is the open source version of the same platform.

Kwn offers three diplomas all delivered in Arabic that provide Arab youth with the technical knowledge and soft skills they need to capitalize on MENA’s growing digital economy; each three-month course from the 16 course diploma is USD $100 and is accredited by BTEC Pearson.:

  • Digital Transformation in Organizations
  • Digital Entrepreneurship
  • Digital Consultancy

Notably, I met with Kwn’s developer, Mohammed Alsiddiq, a founding partner of Eight Creative Technology, in Dubai last this past July. Mohammed bought my book, “edX E-Learning Course Development” on Amazon.com to help him design, develop, and deploy his edX initiative.

This lead to my introduction to Ms. Hala Alturki, CEO of Kwn, and the rest of her impressive team. I was invited to join them at the Innovation 4 Impact Competition during the Global Islamic Economy Summit on October 11, 2016 in Dubai.  At this event, in which Kwn was one of five finalists, Ms. Hala “pitched” the concept to a panel of judges and the audience members in the hope of winning a $20,000 US prize. Kwn did not win the competition. However, Ms. Hala gave an excellent presentation at the Innovation 4 Impact Competition you can watch below:

Kwn launched its first two courses on October 31, 2016: Introduction to Computer Programming Principles and Computer Interface Design Principles. Additional courses including Visual Communication in Art and Design and Website Creation and Management launched 30 days later.

Shortly after the first courses started, on November 8, 2016 at the Westin Mina Al Seyahi in Dubai, Kwn won the 2016 Enterprise Agility Award for Innovation in Education from Entrepreneur Middle East. A description of the Enterprise Agility Awards follows:

Organized by Entrepreneur MENA, the 2016 Enterprise Agility Awards recognized and honored enterprise leaders and individuals who have distinguished themselves and shown sector significance and outstanding business conduct across a variety of industries that are key drivers of the Middle East’s economies. The Enterprise Agility Awards, Entrepreneur of the Year seeks to acknowledge agility across a variety of industries including retail, healthcare, construction, hospitality, aviation, education, banking, and energy, amongst other key drivers of the Middle East’s economy.

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Evaluating the impact and potential for Kwn Education it appears to echo the idea communicated in the Winston Churchill quote at the beginning of this blog post: Ms. Hala Alturki and her colleagues at Kwn have creatively confronted the challenges facing Arab youth with optimism and innovation.

Mumtaz!

Even the most venerable entities are not immune to economic adversity.

From American Express to Wynn Resorts, drastic action has been taken to ensure survival. The financial firestorm has scorched America’s oldest educational institution: Harvard Universityharvard-logoIn a bold move designed to ensure its fiscal survival, Harvard University today announced that it is selling it’s campus and going entirely online.

Billionaire businessman and 1965 Harvard Business School alumnus Robert K. Kraft purchased the 308 acre campus for an undisclosed sum. Kraft will develop the land into a massive commercial and residential complex in the heart of Cambridge, MA named “Harvard ‘s 100 Yards.”

“This was the most economically viable option;  we will save millions of dollars in toilet paper alone!” said Harvard President Dr. Drew G. Faust.

The school has experience with online learning through its Extension School and development of edX, but will develop a proprietary instructional platform for this new venture: Fully Online Optimized Learning System (FOOLS). In addition to robust learning tools, FOOLS will integrate several interactive features, including a virtual classroom environment similar to Second Life.

“We will miss our beautiful campus, but I am sure it will be equally as invigorating sending instant messages to each other,” Faust added. “L-O-L as they say!”

The change comes at a time of unusual fiscal concern at the historic campus. The university’s $36.9 billion endowment recently suffered losses of at least 22% (estimated at $8 billion) and projections anticipate a further decline. Insiders fear the loss could be even higher once real estate and private equity declines are considered.

AOL founder Steve Case has volunteered to produce thousands of CD-ROMs containing the systems operating system. Nobody expects to use them for anything but improvised coasters, yet Case insists.

Internet raconteur Philip J. “Pud” Kaplan will ease the transition by creating a “deadpool” game in which students can bet which classmate will fail next. Likewise, Facebook founder and former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg will personally design an application to virtually recreate the social scene at the university.

Loic Le Meur and Gary Vaynerchuk will provide a continuous supply of French wine and cheese to the developers, faculty, staff and students during the transition. Social media expert Chris Brogan has also been hired to provide strategic vision while Loren Feldman will produce daily video updates of the technical development using puppets. Shel Israel and Robert Scoble will document the historic transition on Twitter.

“These people are all dopes,” Feldman groaned when informed of the news. “They should have asked me for my opinion since it is always the right one!”

To address any potential psychological concerns Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura will be on call to offer counseling services to those in need.

“The school is getting real,” said Dr. Phil. “Far too often people wait until it is too late to do what’s right.”  Not to be outdone, Dr. Laura is quoted as saying “without dormitories those stupid co-eds won’t be shacking up like unpaid whores!”

With regard to the development of the campus, Robert Kraft — who developed Patriot Place adjacent to Gillette Stadium where his New England Patriots play —  is no stranger to tackling big tasks and succeeding. The 67 year-old Kraft, with an estimated net worth of $6.6 billion, was named the 244th richest American by Forbes magazine.

“As an alumnus I am proud to be a part of this project. Today we are all Crimsons!” Kraft exclaimed.

Preliminary plans call for a residential area divided into four football-themed sections: First Down, Second Down, Third Down, Fourth Down, with an exclusive area for custom homes named Tom Brady Estates.

Also included will be a robust retail area with an array of retail stores. The initial list of national tenants includes HootersVictoria’s Secret, TGI Fridays, Subway, and Jiffy Lube. Patrons with small children can leave their children at “The Antonio Cromartie Daycare Center for Children with Forgettable Names” for a flat fee of $31.

In recognition of the land’s educational roots, a New England Tractor Trailer School (NETTTS) campus, “The Ted Kennedy Memorial School for Underwater Driving,” and a Greer Childers Body Flex Academy — along with several other instructional outletes — will open on the former site of the ivy league school.

With a nod to sustainability the entire development will recycle and reuse its waste at  the Eric Mangini Waste Processing Center. The facility will be heated by the hot air from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT (delivered directly via an underground pipeline).

With safety as a top concern, all 308 acres will be secured by a state of the art security and video monitoring system. Patriots head coach  Bill Belichick was personally involved with the design of the video camera network.

“It’s beyond anything I could have imagined,” commented Belichick. “The video system alone is worth the investment!”

Look for the first phase of  “Harvard ‘s 100 Yards” to open next summer!

PS: April Fools!

If you consider that gravity is a natural force which causes two separate particles to accelerate towards each other then the inaugural “Gravity Summit,” which was held on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at the UCLA Faculty Center, was perfectly named.

Attracting a sold-out crowd of senior executives and decision makers from over 60 Fortune 500 companies and small businesses — more than 120 social media leaders and learners in all — the event gave attendees a forum through which they could share knowledge in person. It also gave attendees an opportunity to create new online connections following the event using the Gravity Summit network on Ning.

Gravity Summit seminars are designed to educate, inform and empower marketing professionals, small business owners, advertisers, and c-Level executives about social media.  Matthew Gilbert and Rodney Rumford at UCLA Gravity Summit on February 25, 2009

This unique educational event was launched by Rodney Rumford (author, consultant and CEO of Gravitational Media) and Beverly Macy (the managing partner of Y & M Partners and a UCLA Extension instructor specializing in social media classes).

“The goal of Gravity Summit is to help bridge the gap between the new social media marketing tools and the business community, “ Rumford explained. “And we continue to educate and share information with our Gravity Summit alumni through an exclusive online social network community where they can continue sharing and building on the relationships that formed at the event with trusted peers and industry thought leaders.”

Beverly Macy and Matthew Gilbert at UCLA Gravity Summit on February 25, 2009This was the first of several similar events to come that will take place on other college campuses nationwide. At each event individuals representing top brands are invited to speak based on industry expertise and their potential to provide unique insights into their social media marketing strategies.

Speakers at the UCLA event included:

  • Rodney Rumford, CEO, Gravitational Media
  • Beverly Macy, Managing Partner, Y & M Partners
  • David Reis, CEO, DEI Worldwide and Founding Member of WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association)
  • Justin Goldsborough, Social Media Manager, Sprint
  • Ann Glenn, Senior Web Producer, Sony Pictures Imageworks Interactive
  • Tony Adam, SEO Manager, Yahoo
  • Ricardo Bueno, Blog Director, Real Estate Tomato
  • Renée Barrett, Principal of Awareness, Action, Accountability
  • Karl Kasca, CEO, Kasca & Associates

Of those listed above,  PowerPoint presentations are available online from the following individuals (via SlideShare):

Beverly Macy, Managing Partner, Y & M Partners

Rodney Rumford, CEO, Gravitational Media

David Reis, CEO, DEI Worldwide and Founding Member of WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association)

Justin Goldsborough, Social Media Manager, Sprint

Ann Glenn, Senior Web Producer, Sony Pictures Imageworks Interactive

Tony Adam, SEO Manager, Yahoo

365 Days: 87/365 (February 25, 2009) [Matthew Gilbert and Justin Goldsborough at UCLA Gravity Summit]The event presented a tremendous opportunity for attendees to learn with and from each other.

I actually tweeted a good portion of the event live as it happened while sitting alongside Justin Goldsboroughfrom Sprint who was doing the same (as were several other attendees — all using the official Twitter hashtag: #gravsum).

This generated complimentary online discourse while the presenters simultaneously shared their information in person. Warren Sukernek of Radian6 engaged me at one point and I also connected with Carol A. Stevenson, a public relations professional and fellow Santa Clarita, CA resident who introduced herself to me from across the room!

By all accounts, the inaugural Gravity Summit was considered a great success — especially by co-founder Beverly Macy.

“We were able to build a brand in 60 days,” she noted. “We started planning the Gravity Summit event in late December 2008 and after the event we were quoted in the Wall Street Journal online. That’s the power of social media and specifically Twitter.  We ‘tweeted’ our way to the Wall Street Journal.”

Ricardo Bueno and Matthew Gilbert at UCLA Gravity Summit on February 25, 2009The next Gravity Summit will be held on May 5, 2009 at Stanford University and another is in the works for Harvard University in the fall.

Notably, the Stanford event was originally planned for June but it was moved ahead one month due to significant demand.

“At the conclusion of the UCLA event, we realized the overwhelming need for social media marketing thought leadership in the business community, so we moved the date up by one month,” Macy added.

Importantly, registration for the Stanford event is extremely limited: less that 100 registrations will be accepted. However, a new option for this session is live online participation!

For more information and to register for Gravity Summit Stanford go to http://gravitysummitstanford.eventbrite.com. And, for additional information about Gravity Summit in general, please read the following articles:

In closing, I feel quite fortunate to have attended this event. Although I had to leave early at 3 p.m. to teach a class at DeVry University in Bakersfield (a three hour adventure), the learning from this experience continues online and in the personal relationships that I created.

I also want to personally thank both Rodney and Beverly for making special accomodations so I could participate despite some significant personal limitations. I am definitely looking forward to future Gravity Summit events!

Last week, I received an e-mail from Kelly Sonora on behalf of Online Degree World with the following message:

We just posted an article, “Top 100 Edu Tweeters” (http://www.onlinedegreeworld.com/blog/2009/top-100-edu-tweeters/). I thought I’d bring it to your attention in case you think your readers would find it interesting.  I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in this list.

Prior to receiving this e-mail, I had never heard of this list or received an inquiry from anyone producing it. So, without question, my being on it came as a total surprise.  I replied to the e-mail I received, asking Ms. Sonora how she found my Twitter account and chose to include it on the list, but I have not yet heard back.

UC Santa Barbara: 1109 North HallNevertheless, despite the mysterious nature of this recognition, I am honored to receive the distinction.

According to my colleague Bill Sodeman, PhD — with whom I became friendly on Twitter —  his inclusion on the list is a noteworthy event at Hawaii Pacific University where he is an associate professor.

The list itself, which was written/compiled by Courtney Phillips, counts me as one of 29 educators. I am number 84 overall in what appears to be a randomly organized list. In other words, I am not ranked 84 out of 100, but rather I am listed in the 84th position on a list of the 100 top people or organizations using Twitter who are involved in education.

When you review the list you will note that I am in good company. Other educators on the list include the following notable folks:

Universities and educational institutions include:

Publishers, Libraries & Librarians include:

Resources and support for educators and academia include:

All things considered, this was a pleasant surprise and an honor I am proud to have earned. Thank you, Online Degree World, for recognizing my efforts to share knowledge about education on Twitter!