DeKalb winters can be difficult for anyone to get used to, but for Anwer Al-Zahrani, it was especially tough. In his home country, Saudi Arabia, temperatures rarely dip below freezing, even on the coldest of days.
Fortunately, Al-Zahrani arrived at NIU in 2010 by way of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he completed a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). His time in the Keystone State helped him acclimate to what he would experience at Northern.
Despite the weather, Al-Zahrani’s decision to pursue his doctorate in instructional technology at NIU was, in the end, an easy one to make.
“It took me about nine months to research doctoral programs both in the United States and in other countries. I was accepted into a number of programs, but the reputation of Northern and especially of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment [ETRA] was a strong factor for convincing me to come to DeKalb,” he said.
In addition to a master’s degree in TESOL, Al-Zahrani had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in English linguistics, literature and translation. By coming to NIU, he hoped to merge his knowledge of language learning with technology, ultimately to help his employer, the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, Jubail Colleges and Institutes Sector (RCJY JCIS), integrate technology into its teaching, learning and training programs.
Anwer is now an assistant professor at RCJY JCIS, which includes five institutions of higher learning – three in Jubail Industrial City, located on the Arabian Gulf, and two in Yanbu Industrial City, located on the Red Sea. He is also a member of JCIS’s E-Learning Project Committee, which seeks to expand the country’s online teaching capabilities.
During his years at NIU – he graduated in summer 2015 with a doctorate in instructional technology – Anwer earned a reputation for hard work and participation in department initiatives such as ETRA’s annual Learn-IT Conference. Along the way he received a number of honors, including the University’s Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award and its Outstanding Student Contribution to International Education Award. He also found time to co-found NIU’s Saudi Student Association and was a member of both the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars and the Golden Key International Honor Society.
“Anwer is one those rare leaders who is a model of reasoned discourse, compassion and purposeful action that improves the working relationship of his community,” said ETRA’s Wei-Chen Hung, who in addition to being department chair also sat on Al-Zahrani’s dissertation committee.
“He became fascinated with the problem of how technology may be used to support intercultural team learning and developed an impressive and deep understanding of the theory and necessary methodology to explore cross-cultural work. He is a nurturing facilitator among his fellow students, as well as a source of intelligent insights into the complications of cross-cultural team work.”
About 35 percent of ETRA’s students are international.
As a graduate teaching assistant, Al-Zahrani taught online courses for five years, an experience that he says helped crystalize his thoughts about how to share with his Saudi colleagues the knowledge and experiences he was gaining at NIU.
“Ever since joining the instructional technology program, I had envisioned future partnerships [between the CoE and JCIS] that would help foster learning and training processes in Saudi Arabia.”
During a visit last fall, in fact, Al-Zahrani and Hung discussed collaborative initiatives and identified several research and development opportunities that would be worth exploring. One immediate opportunity would be to have COE and RCJY CIS faculty collaborate on curriculum development for the RCJY CIS industry-training program. The goal is to promote technology-integrated yet cultural-relevant teaching pedagogies that can support students in acquiring occupational skills in a meaningful way.