ASU launches first blended learning college pathway program at Ugandan refugee settlement

Marc Sperber is getting his hands dirty. Well, maybe “dirty” is the wrong word, but the creative design lead on the EdPlus Education for Humanity team is literally on the ground at the Aliyo and Nyumanzi refugee settlements in Adjumani, Uganda helping to set up computer centers that will, for the first time, make the internet a reality for a number of people. Sperber is laying the groundwork for the October 1 launch of Be a Successful Online Learner and Global Freshman Academy (GFA) courseware at the refugee settlement. Education for Humanity, an ASU-wide initiative, offers access to higher education and workplace readiness for refugees and displaced persons.

Twenty-five learners will initially participate in the Be a Successful Online Learner program. Upon their successful completion of four GFA math, English and communications courses they, hopefully, will matriculate directly into Ugandan universities. Be a Successful Learner is a one-week series of short courses that will teach time management, information literacy and internet ethics while building confidence for learners to engage in the GFA digital courses. Sperber is also training local facilitators to support students in a blended learning format and will remain in the region for the upcoming kickoff with students. 

Nick Sabato, who leads Education for Humanity at EdPlus, explains that “this program is an attempt to prove the assumption that GFA can be implemented in resource-constrained environments. We would like to prove the model that a blended learning offering will keep learners engaged and serve as a pathway to a degree that otherwise would have been unattainable. Above all, this program is a reflection of the overwhelming demand to increase tertiary offerings to both refugees and communities impacted by displacement, a first-of-its-kind effort in Uganda.” 

When asked about what this initiative means to him personally, Sperber says, “This type of initiative is why I chose to work for ASU. To be able to use my learning design skills to create solutions for complex problems that positively impact people’s lives around the world. I cannot wait to meet the incoming cohort of students and to share in their feelings of hope and excitement for the future. A college degree for anyone can be life-changing and I believe that is especially true for this marginalized and inspirationally resilient population.”

Earlier this month, ASU and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) signed an agreement setting up the design, facilitation, implementation and evaluation model of the program. Learners will have to successfully complete four GFA courses that have been pre-determined based upon what the local universities have deemed can serve as substitutions for their own curriculum. 

The 25 learners are South Sudanese refugees and local Ugandan learners. They were selected collaboratively by ASU and the NRC. Selection criteria included English language capacity, secondary school completion and motivation to achieve a university degree. Forty percent of the learners are female and the makeup of the group otherwise reflects the importance of working hand-in-glove with the host community. The learners will complete their lessons over the course of one year at the computer centers that Sperber is helping to design.