Educating Israel’s next generation of engineers at Afeka

  Professor Ami Moyal (photo credit:  Florin Calin )
Professor Ami Moyal
(photo credit: Florin Calin )

“The coronavirus crisis threatened the existence of academic institutes around the globe,” Professor Ami Moyal, President of Afeka Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering recently told The Jerusalem Post. 

“We were forced to instantaneously launch remote teaching and learning, or risk closing down.” 

Moyal, who came to Afeka seven years ago, and has led the college’s expansion from 2,300 to 3,300 students, quickly responded to the crisis. 

Within two days “we built a fully virtual campus,” explained Professor Moyal. The college provided faculty with digital teaching tools and training, and every physical classroom, laboratory and learning space received its own Zoom address. 

“Room 200 became Zoom 200, and faculty and students moved between ‘Zoom rooms’ instead of classrooms, according to the original class schedule,” he said.

“However, it quickly became clear that any return to normalcy would be gradual and that we should prepare for an extended period during which the only certainty is uncertainty,” Moyal added. 

As such, he assembled a corona task force of ten staff members in key operational positions, who met daily to discuss the effects of COVID restrictions on the college. 

With his task force, Moyal made an important strategic decision in the initial stages of the crisis – to prepare for three main scenarios – a return to regular campus activity; full remote teaching, learning and working; and an intermediate, hybrid stage, where faculty teach from campus while all or some students learn remotely, and others are in class. 

By the summer of 2020, every single one of Afeka’s classrooms and laboratories were equipped with the infrastructure and technologies needed to launch what Moyal terms a ‘hybrid-synchronic’ model that allows on-campus and remote students to participate actively and collaboratively in class. 

This entailed AV equipment for projecting the lecture content and the remote participants on large screens in class; cameras on lecturers and in-class students; an array of high-quality microphones and speakers for communication between in-class and remote participants; a central control panel for easy operation of all the equipment by the lecturer; and a telephone automatically connected to a dedicated IT control room.

It was this model that earned Afeka ninth place in the World’s Universities with Real Impact (WURI) crisis management category. 

The new peer-indexed ranking system measures academic institutes based on their real contributions to society, rather than by number of published researched papers. “Over 300 Colleges and Universities from around the world recognized our handling of the pandemic as significant and innovative,” Moyal proudly reported.

“Before COVID we were at the height of a multi-year process of updating curricula, pedagogy and evaluation methods, restructuring learning and work spaces, incorporating a wide range of extra-curricular activities and building collaborations with the industry and the education system – all for the purpose of equipping students with the vital skills and knowledge required by modern engineers,” Moyal recalled. 

“The coronavirus crisis served as a catalyst for many processes at Afeka, forcing us to change some basic assumptions and take new courses of action – like finding new ways for students can develop essential skills like teamwork, creative thinking, and problem-solving both on and off campus – but it has not stopped us from achieving our goals,” he added.

Today, Afeka’s ‘hybrid-synchronic’ model is working in full force and has proven its value. The infrastructure serves as a platform for all three scenarios and allows the college to transition quickly between them. 

“Under the assumption that COVID has become a permanent part of our new reality,” Moyal concluded, “we are now implementing a holistic long-term approach towards a full hybrid campus model – not in a way that replaces the physical campus, which we believe plays a crucial role in the academic process – but as a platform for integrating digital technologies that enrich the educational process and academic experience at Afeka.” 

Despite recent “disruptive” changes, the goal of Afeka Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering remains the same, he said – to educate excellent engineers for the Israeli hi-tech industry. 

Afeka will be moving southward in Tel Aviv within the next four years, where a new ultra-modern campus will be built, allowing the college to continue to grow and increase its impact within Israeli society. 

This article is taken from The Jerusalem Post Annual Executive Magazine 2021-2022. To read the entire magazine, click here.

This article was written in cooperation with Afeka