February 23, 2024

7 Questions with a Bold Innovator Featuring Muhammad Saud Khan

Riphah International University, located in Pakistan, is a private educational institution with over 25,000 students spread across multiple campuses. In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions such as Riphah were faced with unprecedented challenges. The disruptions caused by the pandemic highlighted how crucial it was for universities to swiftly enhance their digital capabilities to ensure uninterrupted learning for their students.

Much like its counterparts worldwide, Riphah recognized the urgency of embracing digital transformation to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on its academic operations. The university took proactive measures to rapidly scale up its digital infrastructure.

Leading Riphah’s digital transformation efforts in this regard is Muhammad Saud Khan, Director of the university’s Coursera Project Directorate. Under Khan’s leadership, Riphah has seen tremendous impact from its Coursera partnership, including 1.72 million learning hours logged, and over 200 courses blended with Coursera with over 53,600 certificates earned to date. 

As Riphah’s Coursera champion, Khan has partnered extensively with leaders across the university to embed online learning into the very fabric of their academic programs. In this interview, Khan provides valuable insight on Riphah’s Coursera adoption journey – from early successes and challenges to results achieved and their plans for the future.

Q1: Hello Muhammad, we’re thrilled  to hear your thoughts and perspectives. Could you please elaborate on Riphah International University’s digital transformation vision and how Coursera for Campus aligns with and supports that vision?

At the heart of Riphah International University’s digital transformation strategy is a vision that goes beyond the conventional. In 2021, we strategically partnered with Coursera to accelerate the development of our digital capacity. Our focus wasn’t just on embracing online learning but on weaving it intricately into the fabric of our academic programs across 15 diverse degree disciplines, including computing, management, English, and more.

The essence of our strategy extended beyond providing mere access to online resources. Our goal was to cultivate a dynamic learning environment by strategically integrating Coursera’s rich content directly into our on-campus courses. This deliberate blending of traditional and digital models was envisioned to create a symbiosis that enhances the overall learning experience for our students.

Recognizing that a successful transformation requires more than just technology, we prioritized gaining buy-in from stakeholders across Riphah. From the beginning, we provided Coursera licenses to every student and faculty member within participating departments, integrating digital content into physical classrooms while also exposing users to the benefits of using digital platforms.

Our approach to Coursera for Campus isn’t just about adopting a platform; it’s about strategically aligning technology with our broader vision for an innovative and enriched learning experience at Riphah International University

Q2: What approach did Riphah use to ensure a successful implementation of Coursera for Campus?

Riphah took a phased approach to rolling out Coursera for Campus to drive adoption:

Phase 1 Launch (June 2021 – October 2021): The first five months focused on initial planning, stakeholder onboarding, and launching Coursera sites for students and faculty.

Phase 2 Awareness and Engagement (October 2021 – October 2022): The first year of utilizing Coursera focused on actively driving student and faculty usage of the platform through campaigns and integrating Coursera content into on-campus courses.

Phase 3 Institutionalization (October 2022 – October 2024): The following two years focused on maximizing impact by fully incorporating Coursera into curricula, awarding course exemptions/credits for completions, and private authoring.

Diagram representing the evolving role of key stakeholder groups in different phases of the roll-out.

We established governance committees like the Coursera Academic Coordination Committee (CACC) to support and monitor ‌progress across different schools. We also set up Coursera Academic Integration Committees for each participating degree program to monitor day-to-day integration and license utilization.

By implementing robust systems to govern, track, and support usage, we were able to scale rapidly. Within the first two years, we did more than 1000 digital content integrations in our classroom courses. 

Q3: How did Riphah International University implement Coursera across the different degree programs? What challenges did you face and what strategies did you use to overcome them?

As a large university, Riphah offers over 150 degree programs to students across multiple cities and campuses. It was critical that our Coursera integration mirrored this diversity.

We onboarded six different schools onto Coursera, spanning very different domains:

●  Faculty of Management Sciences

●  Faculty of Computing

●  Faculty of Rehabilitation & Allied Health Sciences

●  Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities (FSSH): Psychology Department

●  Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities (FSSH): Public Policy Department

●  Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities (FSSH): English Department

To manage this complexity, we took two strategic approaches:

1. Launching separate Coursera admin sites for each school: This allowed us to easily track adoption and curate content specifically for each student population.

2. Establishing centralized governance committees with local integration committees: The centralized CACC monitored progress across schools and set policies. While each school also had its own integration committee to handle day-to-day blending based on its unique needs. 

Meetings and reviews were scheduled throughout all the semesters, helping to align all stakeholders with developments. 

We also faced some adoption challenges as Coursera usage accelerated:

1. Student time management: As learning on Coursera became mandatory in some courses, some students struggled with self-regulation and deadlines. We addressed this through better orientation — for example, instructors have reported more interactive sessions with students when they integrated Coursera content in flip-classroom mode.

2. Content misalignment: In certain courses, the integrated Coursera content didn’t fully align with the on-campus curriculum. We fixed this by improving our content review and integration planning.

3. Limitations of IT infrastructure: Large class sizes, limited devices, and internet bandwidth constraints posed challenges for some students. We’re actively upgrading our IT infrastructure to enable seamless blended learning.

Overall, our phased approach, along with robust governance structures enabled us to understand these challenges and continuously improve. We’re also leveraging the data collected from over 1,000 course integrations to further refine our policies and processes.

Q4: How is Riphah leveraging Coursera to accelerate the development of digital content?

One of the key motivations for choosing Coursera was to accelerate Riphah’s plans to develop digital content and strengthen our capabilities as content creators.

Coursera’s educator site and comprehensive resources have enabled us to fast-track building our content development capacity. Rather than attempting to build systems and resources from scratch, we can leverage Coursera’s proven authoring platform built over years of working with top universities worldwide.

We have started authoring digital content spanning topics like research methodology, technology, management, liguistics, rehabilitation sciences, public policy, and ethics. Our faculty have published courses taught in both English and Urdu on Coursera’s educator platform and are currently authoring over 50 courses. This student-facing content strengthens the blended learning experience.

The feedback loop enabled by directly publishing content is invaluable. Our long-term roadmap is to offer more courses in niche areas where Riphah has specific expertise. We aim to build a comprehensive repository of digital content authored by our faculty over the next 3 to 5 years.

Beyond just authoring, Coursera has accelerated building our overall capacity:

  • Identifying content gaps and subject matter experts
  • Training faculty on digital pedagogy and online course development
  • Developing policies and processes to support content creation
  • Upgrading in-house multimedia and instructional design capabilities

In essence, Coursera has enabled Riphah to fast-track its digital content strategy by years within a short period of time.

Q5: How has the learner experience and student feedback been on the Coursera integration?

Students have reacted very positively to having access to Coursera’s vast catalog for self-paced learning. It’s opened up new possibilities for students to explore topics beyond the constraints of their degree curriculum.

Students have especially appreciated features like Guided Projects to quickly learn in-demand skills like data analysis, programming, etc. Computing students leverage Coursera for their final year projects, since they can easily try out new technologies.

Classroom integration has further enriched learning for students:

  • Interactive sessions have increased due to flipped classrooms
  • Direct access to content from world-renowned universities
  • Developing self-learning habits and time management skills
  • Bridging competency gaps in the curriculum

Students recognize that Coursera is accelerating their future-readiness. As per our learner surveys, 77% of students believe Coursera will improve their employment prospects. They also see value in showcasing Coursera certificates from leading universities to employers.

Q6: What tips do you have for other universities who want to drive Coursera adoption?

Here are my top recommendations for universities to ensure successful Coursera adoption:

●  Peer advocacy enhances uptake: Assemble cross-functional teams of students, faculty, and leadership as Coursera champions.

●  Don’t attempt a full-scale integration from the beginning: Take a phased approach focused on awareness first, then habit formation.

●  Collect and analyze your own tracking data: This enables data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.

●  Showcase career benefits: Connect students with alumni who used Coursera to highlight career impact.

●  Personalization drives engagement: Curate specific content recommendations for each student population.

●  Build up your digital expertise: Leverage Coursera’s educator resources to develop in-house capabilities.

With strategic planning, robust systems, and stakeholder involvement, universities can maximize the value of Coursera for learners, faculty, and the institution. Treating it just as a content library underutilizes its full potential as a digital transformation partner.

Q7: Do you have any final thoughts on Riphah’s journey with Coursera? What does the future hold?

Here are my key reflections on what made Coursera successful at Riphah:

1. Coursera must be woven into the institutional fabric for maximum impact. Integration into policies, processes, and curricula is crucial.

2. Strong governance structures enabled centralized oversight with local flexibility to meet each program’s unique needs.

3. Tracking quantitative metrics is invaluable – but regularly capturing qualitative faculty/learner feedback is equally important.

4. Look beyond just content access. Leverage Coursera’s educator resources to build in-house digital capabilities.

5. Coursera cemented Riphah’s learner-centric approach. Students recognize it’s accelerating their future readiness through relevant skills.

For any university, technology is simply an enabler. The human touchpoints of faculty mentorship, student counseling, and enabling policies bring it all together. Coursera’s global best practices combined with localized implementation is a powerful formula to drive positive change.

In just two years, Coursera has helped Riphah make rapid strides in its digital transformation, with 1.72 million learning hours logged on the platform and over 53,600 certificates earned to date.

Our expectation is that the increase in credit hours delivered online will result in significant cost savings for the university. With our increased institutional capacity, we’re also hoping to launch new programs and micro-credentials, which would bring in extra revenue.

We’re excited to further build on this strong foundation and deepen the impact of high-quality blended learning experiences for students.

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