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Building a Learning Experience: Dalia Abbas, TIE'19

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Technology, Innovation, and Education reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Dalia Abbas

Photo by Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award is an honor that recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. The award will be presented at Convocation on May 29.

As a history teacher, Dalia Abbas continually challenged herself to find new and compelling ways to keep her students engaged in the classroom. One of the most successful ways by far, she says, was in her use of technology.

“I really loved creating interactive and engaging learning experiences,” Abbas says, citing an occasion when she had students use Snapchat on a museum scavenger hunt, and another when she asked students to build a website synthesizing their course takeaways. She enrolled in the Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) Program so that she could maximize the effectiveness her methods. “I wanted to learn about how I could more effectively [create experiences] in relation to learning theories, do the work at scale, and use the technology in a way that would be purposeful and intentional,” she says.

Now, as her year at HGSE draws to a close, Abbas has refined her goals, and is taking with her a new understanding of how technology can contribute to the learning experiences of a variety of students — in places beyond the classroom.

“I want to take that understanding and apply it to the workplace and to adult learning,” she says, “pivoting from my career in the classroom and moving toward creating powerful learning experiences for adults that will enhance individuals’ self-efficacy skills and assist them in doing their jobs more effectively.”

“Dalia is totally engaged both in our classes and in the co-curricular life of TIE, always volunteering, participating in special events, and greeting everyone with unfailing kindness,” says Senior Lecturer Joe Blatt, faculty director of TIE, sharing the words of peers who nominated her to receive the Intellectual Contribution Award for TIE — and described Abbas as supportive, generous, articulate, and a connector. “Serious study, ready empathy, and relentlessly positive disposition are qualities we highly value in TIE, and Dalia clearly demonstrates those virtues every day in every interaction.”

Here, Abbas reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education:

What are your post-HGSE plans? I am going back to Silicon Valley to work for a technology company wherein I will be part of a team that builds engaging and powerful learning experiences. I am very excited to start using my understanding of adult development, learning design, and andragogy to making learning exciting and impactful. Coupling my new understandings with my experience of being a teacher puts me in a unique position, I think, where I can really leverage my empathy for learners to promote equitable, inclusive, and effective learning spaces.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? A firm appreciation for creating equitable and inclusive learning environments. When I think about law, the central idea seems to be justice; with medicine, it is wellness; and HGSE has firmly grounded me in the idea that equity is what all education experiences should aim to integrate in practice. I think accessibility and equality were always values I thought were important, but kind of viewed as something I would think about after designing a learning experience. I think an appreciation for equity throughout the entire design process is crucial, because it does not just help learners that are at a so-called disadvantage. Universal design for learning, as I have come to understand and attempt to practice its principles, helps all learners.

What will you change in education and why? I hope that through my work in education technology I can promote equity, specifically in online learning spaces, and draw attention to people and organizations that we need to meet learners where they are. For instance, a lot of my work here has centered around how social media can be leveraged to enhance learning communities. Social media is getting a bad rap for its impact on mental health and its role in promoting phone addiction. These are valid points to consider, but where there is noise, there is also opportunity. How can we use the presence of individuals on these channels to create more engaging learning experiences? How do we use the tools that students are already familiar with to meet learning objectives, before we turn to creating a thousand different gadgets that look shiny but do not broaden the horizons for learners? These are questions I do not necessarily have the answers to but am looking forward to grappling with throughout the greater trajectory of my career.

If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE and/or Cambridge to your next destination, what would it be? Dinesh at the front desk of the Gutman Library! He knows everything there is to know about the school of education and always had the biggest smile on his face every morning.

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … I think just the access I had to people I thought I would never cross paths with, really blew me away. Before I came here, someone told me Cambridge is the best meeting place in the world, and I have come to truly believe that. While I was here, I got to chat with the former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan; shook hands with the president of Panama, Juan Varela; asked former secretary of Education in Mexico Aurelio Nuno about how he thinks technology can best be incorporated in education; [and] invited prominent Arab social media personalities to come speak on a panel on accountability in social media, among many other incredible interactions. The Harvard connection is truly a powerful one, and I hope it is a network that will last throughout my lifetime.

Read about the other recipients of the Intellectual Contribution Awards and learn more about HGSE Commencement 2019.