Innovation is the engine of opportunity. At its core is a commitment to experiential learning that encourages critical thinking and creative problem-solving while also engaging soft skills.

uae_innovates_qrThis mindset is fundamental to the future of the United Arab Emirates. So much so that, it is part of the ‘United in Knowledge’ pillar of Vision 2021 which focuses on innovative Emiratis building a competitive economy.

Emphasizing it’s importance, H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum explained, “Innovation is not an option, but a necessity. It is not a culture, but work style, and governments and companies that do not innovate risk losing their competitiveness and falling far behind.”

Having taught INV 300, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the American University in the Emirates since 2018, I am fortunate to actively participate in this process. In support of my engagement in entrepreneurship education, on May 31, 2018 I was selected as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education to join “Cohort 3″ of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education Program.”

Some background on the program:

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What is design thinking?  According to Coe Leta Stafford, Managing Director of IDEO U, “design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.” Fundamentally human-centric, it encourages organizations to focus on their customers first; this leads to the development of human-centered goods, services, and processes.

Design thinking is about solving problems for people by asking questions differently. Essentially, it provides a pathway through which you can improve your creative process — and turn an idea into action.  The entire design thinking process is comprised of five stages: 1. Empathize, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype, 5. Test.

According to the Stanford d.school publication. “An Introduction to Design Thinking: PROCESS GUIDE,” the five stages of the design thinking process can be explained as follows:

1. Empathize: Learn about the audience for whom you are designing. Empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process; it is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them.

2. Define: Construct a point of view that is based on user needs and insights. The Define mode of the design process is all about bringing clarity and focus to the design space. It is your chance, and responsibility, as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context. After becoming an instant-expert on the subject and gaining invaluable empathy for the person you are designing for, this stage is about making sense of the widespread information you have gathered. In a word, the Define mode is sensemaking.

Ideate: Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions. Ideate is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.

3. Prototype: Build a representation of one or more of your ideas to show to others.The Prototype mode is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution. In the early stages of a project that question may be broad – such as “do my users enjoy cooking in a competitive manner?”

In these early stages, you should create low-resolution prototypes that are quick and cheap to make (think minutes and cents) but can elicit useful feedback from users and colleagues. In later stages both your prototype and question may get a little more refined. For example, you may create a later stage prototype for the cooking project that aims to find out: “do my users enjoy cooking with voice commands or visual commands”.

A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with – be it a wall of post-it notes, a gadget you put together, a role-playing activity, or even a storyboard. Ideally you bias toward something a user can experience. Walking someone through a scenario with a storyboard is good, but having them role-play through a physical environment that you have created will likely bring out more emotions and responses from that person.

4. Test: Return to your original user group and testing your ideas for feedback. Test mode is when you solicit feedback about your prototypes from your users and have another opportunity to gain empathy for the people you are designing for.

Testing is another opportunity to understand your user, but unlike your initial empathy mode, you have now likely done more framing of the problem and created prototypes to test. Both these things tend to focus the interaction with users, but don’t reduce your “testing” work to asking whether or not people like your solution. Instead, continue to ask “Why?”, and focus on what you can learn about the person and the problem as well as your potential solutions.

Ideally you can test within a real context of the user’s life. For a physical object, ask people to take it with them and use it within their normal routines. For an experience, try to create a scenario in a location that would capture the real situation. If testing a prototype is not possible, frame a more realistic situation by having users take on a role or task when approaching your prototype. A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better.

To further understand design thinking I invite you to view the following video, “The Design Thinking Process;” it cleverly and clearly explains the five stages in just under four minutes.

The main priority of the Year 3 project is to ensure the sustainability of the innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum in the UAE, with an additional focus on developing a core group of Program Ambassadors to deepen the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship education in the UAE. Year 3 program components are organized into 3 categories:

  1. Create and Develop an I&E Curriculum
  2. Support the Teaching of the I&E Curriculum
  3. Facilitate the Growth of the I&E Ecosystem

It is my honor to represent the American University in the Emirates as a pivotal part of this initiative and I am excited to contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship educational efforts in the UAE!

Teaching is a profession that can be as challenging as it is rewarding, but every now and then I am reminded why I chose this professional path.

In May I received a kind and heartfelt email from Omran Al Farsi, a human resources student at the American University in the Emirates. He had been  a student in my Principles of Management class during the spring semester which had recently concluded. 

The students in Omran’s class, which was one of my smallest at AUE, were uniquely mature and engaged; it felt more like a masters degree class than an undergraduate one.  We spent many of our class periods in the food court discussing management articles from the Harvard Business Review. It was refreshing and revitalizing.

And so, in some ways, I wasn’t surprised to receive a message from a student in that class. However, I was nevertheless surprised, inspired, and energized by Omran’s email; it was exceptionally thoughtful and sincere. The text of his message follows.

It is my pleasure to share it with you below:

“If my educational journey taught me two things, it would be the importance of knowledge and the person who is giving you that knowledge. Thus, I am forever grateful to you and appreciative for your mentoring throughout the course. You have taught me so many things academic related and in leadership on a personal level. I never heard your name mentioned without students and instructors complimenting you as a person and instructor. I found out why when I first attended your class. You have one of the most pure and kind hearts I have ever encountered in my life.” — Omran Al Farsi, Human Resource Management Student at American University in the Emirates

What are your doctoral hopes and dreams?

As part of the University of Leicester‘s online “Discovering Your PhD Potential” course I was asked to describe my doctoral hopes and dreams in a community of practice using a unique tool called Padlet, a free application to create an online bulletin board you can use to display and share information for any topic.

I was instructed to share a photo summing up my feelings, a short video or audio clip describing my thoughts, a short paragraph of text or even just one word. I decided to record a video, shared below, in which I share three adjectives describing my current mood and elaborate on the impact and importance of each: academic, energetic, and pragmatic.

Are you a connector — or looking to connect?

malcolm-gladwellIn his 2000 book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” author Malcolm Gladwell argues that ideas, products, messages, and behaviors “spread just like viruses do.”

He then explains how “word-of-mouth epidemics” and trends are triggered through “The Law of the Few” by three pivotal personality types:

  • Connectors: people who know large numbers of people across a wide array of social cicles who enjoy making introductions between individuals in those different circles; a connector is the social equivalent of a computer network hub.
  • Mavens: a subject matter expert expert who connects us with new information; they gather knowledge and understand how to share it. Gladwell explains that mavens are the people who start “word-of-mouth epidemics”  because of their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate.
  • Salespeople: charismatic persuaders with powerful negotiation skills responsible for advertisements and marketing through which they strive to convince others of “needs” (which may or may not exist). They are masters of “The Stickiness Factor,” and know how to make ideas and products simpler and more attractive. Notably, Salesmen are often paid for their skill, while Mavens use their skills for the simple pleasure of sharing knowledge and and helping others

On Wednesday, March 1 from 6 to 9 pm at Dusty’s in Dubai you can discover if you are a Connector, Maven, or Salesperson at “My Friends Your Friends,” is a social gathering where everyone is connected through mutual friends.

mfyfExpect great conversations, new relationships and an environment where luck feels at home. Visit the event’s website to learn more and to register at https://myfriendsyourfriends.com; you can also explore the gathering’s Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/755312037978472/.
Attendees are invited by the hosts (of which I am one), who will ensure you have a great time and get the most value from attending. Hosts are responsible for bringing along friends with an eclectic mix of stories, interests and goals. The hosts will ensure you always know somebody at My Friends Your Friends and make memorable connections. They include:
  • Anika Morjaria: online personality Literally Anika; content creator, brand ambassador and model.
  • Arthy Baheerathan: founder of Arthyreally and Patches & Flash; photographer and digital content creator.
  • Harshana De Silva: founder of Alliance Events, Dubai’s best kept secret for corporate events.
  • Hunter Lee Soik: head of global community at Dubai Future Foundation; tech entrepreneur and futurist.
  • Kanchan Kulkarni: founder and fashion designer at Kara, a home grown label making noise on catwalks globally.
  • Lobito Brigante: DJ; organiser and curator of cultural events; party rocker and turntablist.
  • Matthew A Gilbert: instructor at The American University In The Emirates; tech and marketing expert.
  • Omar ‘Ot’ Tom: co-founder and co-host of The Dukkan Show; established Dubai’s number one podcast; MC and strategic planner.
  • Raj Kotecha: founder of Creative Content Agency and My Friends Your Friends; co-founder of Vaynerworld; DJ.
  • Richard Boullemier: news presenter at Arabian Radio Network; head of business development at First and Ten Productions.
  • Ritesh Tilani: founder of Joi; active member Of Dubai’s entrepreneur and investor community.
  • Saana Azzam: founder and CEO of Mena Speakers, responsible for bringing incredible speakers to Dubai.
  • Shyam Savani: brand manager in lifestyle, fashion, and travel; Trendsetter of The Year, 2015
  • Sonal Kotecha: interior designer at Pallavi Dean Interiors; Young Interior Designer of The Year, 2015.
Learn more about the hosts at https://myfriendsyourfriends.com/#hosts-section. If you don’t have an invite from a host, you are still very welcome, just register now at https://myfriendsyourfriends.com/attend.
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Indicate your interest in attending this event by registering now!

On January 30, 2017, I shared my book, “edX E-Learning Course Development,” to faculty, students, and staff at American University in the Emirates (AUE). Below are videos and photos — along with a copy of the presentation — from that event.

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This was the inaugural “Library Distinguished Guest Speaker Series” event hosted by the Library and Information Resource Center (LIRC) and the Office of Research and Advancement (ORA) at AUE. The event took place in the recently renovated AUE Library; an impressively modern space that encourages education and helps create a learning community.

distinguished_guest_speaker_banner_gilbertI brought in students from my MKT 200-2, Principles of Marketing class and we were joined by an impressive assembly of faculty, staff, and other students — many of whom I am now teaching or have taught in the past. I estimate that, in total, there were upwards of 50 people there. I was honored to be the first speaker at this event during which I:

  • Introduced MOOCs and edX.
  • Shared info about the book.
  • Described my experience.

Below is a slightly edited video of my presentation (from a Facebook Live recording which I filmed with the help of one of my students); it is 26 minutes and 30 seconds in length. I invite you to watch it and learn more about my MOOCs, edX, and my book, “ed E-Learning Course Development.”

You can also review an updated PowerPoint presentation based on the one that I used; it provides a background about the information that I presented, though — just as I do when I teach — the slides were a starting point and not the only point I made.

You can also watch two Facebook Live videos recorded by an AUE staff member:

At the conclusion of my presentation I was awarded a “Certificate of Recognition” from Professor Miroslav Mateev, Interim Vice President of Research and Advancement, on behalf of the Library and Information Resource Center (LIRC) and Office of Research and Advancement (ORA). I was also given a leather attaché case and sincere thanks for my efforts. It was a lovely gesture.

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In summary, “edX E-Learning Course Development” is a 300 page manual that helps university teachers and corporate trainers design, develop, and deploy an interactive and informative MOOC course for the edX platform. It walks a reader through eight steps to create an edX course while teaching them about tools and techniques to know as an edX instructor. Those eight steps are presented in eight chapters which include:

  1. Getting Started: an overview of MOOCs and the history of edX.
  2. Planning the Curriculum:curriculum development.
  3. Producing Videos: video production best practices.
  4. Designing Exercises: options for exercises and assessments.
  5. Integrating the Curriculum: options for adding course materials.
  6. Administering Your Course: your course’s administrative options.
  7. Facilitating Your Course: your role as a facilitator of your edX course.
  8. Promoting Your Course: a strategy to market your course.

You can learn more about “edX E-Learning Course Development” and purchase the book on Amazon or on the Packt Publishing website. I also invite you to contact me with inquiries or opportunities related to this blog post or beyond using the form below.

Dammit Jim, I’m an instructor, not an extra!

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Last month I blogged about my experience as an extra on Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai. At the time I did not think I had made the cut into the movie. However, the other day at a Dmitry Masleev piano concert I ran into Koenraad Gys, a friend who was also an extra; he said saw me while watching a DVD of the movie.

I planned to get and watch the DVD, but tonight, just as I logged into YouTube for my MGT 100, Principles of Management class at American University in the Emirates (AUE), I saw a suggested clip titled “Star Trek Beyond: Starbase Yorktown Introduction Sequence.”

I watched it and, sure enough, at 1:31 to 1:32, spotted myself in my dark blue costume on the left hand side of the frame! You can somewhat see my extra two arms near my thighs, but you can very clearly see my face.

I took three screen shots from the YouTube clip and enhanced them as best as I could, circling myself in red. You can see my friend Alissar Nasrallah  to my right wearing a yellow jacket and my other friend Shah Qhan in the middle of the shot facing the other way with his hand on another extra’s back; I met both on the set.

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Live long and… extra!

Two years ago I began my journey from California to Dubai. I took two United flights on September 7, 2014: one from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD); then my second from IAD to Dubai International Airport (DXB).

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After flying 9,357 miles and traveling nearly 22 hours — including an almost 4 hour delay in Dulles  — I arrived in Dubai the evening of September 8, 2014. Coincidentally Lady Gaga arrived that evening for her first UAE concert ever two days later.

My time in Dubai has presented me with many challenges and many rewards as well; it’s certainly shaped me as a person and a professional. I have been enriched with memories and moments I would have not encountered elsewhere. Being an expat has been a notable time in my life; I am fortunate to have experienced it.

Having taught only adjunct prior to leaving the US, I experienced an evolution from “feral to formal” (as I call it) at two universities: Jumeira University and now American University in the Emirates (AUE). I am grateful for those experiences and treasure the time I’ve had here; I feel I’ve made a difference and made an impact.

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The biggest challenge and source of uncertainty for me has been not being present in lives of my two sons, Jacob and Max; especially Jacob, who turns 13 on the 10th (which was my first day at Jumeira University in 2014). I’m mindful of the short number of years I have left until they leave for college.

I’m at a point of pause as I determine my next steps. I am unsure where I might find myself in the future and what I might be doing; remaining here is an option as well. I have enjoyed living in Dubai — where Bedouin meets Blade Runner (my idea for a new tourism slogan; what do you think?). It is a crossroads of cultures and has given me an experience unlike anywhere else.

So, here’s to two years; may the next two — wherever they are — be as meaningful and memorable! To further explore my experiences in or about Dubai, please read the following:

20160801_015246I made another appearance on The Satisfactionist Podcast, this time as part of a virtual panel discussion on a “Buzz Session” with the podcast’s host Ben Olmos and my friend Shah Qhan whom I met as an extra while on the set of Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai.

According to the official description:

“This week we introduce Satisfactionist Buzz Sessions, a gathering of pundits joined around a topic of interest. Our first Buzz Session features Matthew A. Gilbert and Shah Qhan as we focus on some of the movies released for the summer of 2016. In this episode we talk Tarzan, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Matt and Shah talk about their experience as extras in Star Trek Beyond.”

Our segment begins at 33:58 into the episode; listen to it on:

Google Play

iTunes

SoundCloud

Stitcher Radio

Social media offers individuals an excellent environment to promote their personal brand to strengthen their professional platform. However, if engaged carelessly or irresponsibly, social media can sink you faster than the Titanic after it met the iceberg. Certainly nobody is perfect, but if you consider the 7 career-saving social media strategies below you will be more likely to swim than sink in social media.

1. Add Value to Conversations: If all you do with social media is re-tweet and share the ideas of others then it is apparent you won’t offer a potential employer original thoughts and you most likely lack motivation and initiative. In short: don’t be boring!

2. Avoid Smack Talking or Trolling: Politics, religion, and sports are topics about which people are passionate, but when you go overboard emotionally you can get yourself into trouble. Even a casual comment on an article on Facebook or a reply to a Tweet can come back to haunt you. There are countless stories of people getting fired from a job before they even start it due to a careless tweet or flippant Facebook post.

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3. Don’t Discriminate: 34% of employers in CareerBuilder’s recruitment study reacted negatively to finding social media posts with discriminatory comments related to race, religion, and gender. Another 29% of employers reacted negatively to social media posts with discriminatory comments related to race, religion, and gender. And, even if your intent was to be humorous, keep in mind that comedy doesn’t often translate online or across cultures; something you might think is funny might be offensive to others.

4. Keep Private Info Private: Unless your name is Julian Assange, you’re likely not going to make friends or influence people by disclosing sensitive or confidential information on social media. And, no matter how quickly you might try to delete it, social media remembers. You might also inadvertently share private information in public, especially on Facebook, where most people seem to misunderstand the platform’s privacy policies.

5. Post Appropriate Pictures: 46% of the employers in CareerBuilder’s annual social media recruitment study said provocative or inappropriate photographs are a big red flag. Another 40% said finding information about candidates drinking or using drugs was another reason to pass.  In short: don’t put your faults and foils on display for a future employer to find. Christopher Affsa, an attorney at the Law Office of Daniel F. Affsa in Weymouth, Massachusetts, shared the following:

“I had a drunk driving client tell me she went to one bar and only had one drink. I checked her Facebook and her profile picture was of her raising a glass. Worse, on the night in question she checked into five bars.”

6. Present a Professional Persona: Ironically, one of the biggest errors people make is to overlook the opportunity social media offers them to elevate awareness of their personal brand. According to CareerBuilder’s annual social media recruitment study:

52% of employers research applicants online. Within that group, 60% look for information supporting the candidate’s qualifications; an additional 56% want to see a candidate’s professional online persona.

7. Use Good Grammer, err — Grammar: Learn your homophones! Your and you’re mean different things as do their, they’re, and there. Conversely:

37% of employers in CareerBuilder’s recruitment study  reacted favorably when they discovered that a candidate had great communication skills; 38% were further impressed when a candidate’s social media presence conveyed a professional image.