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May 10, 2001 Arshad Ahmad wins prize for online course on life skills




Arshad Ahmad

Arshad Ahmad


by Sigalit Hoffman

Finance professor Arshad Ahmad has won a national award for his PhD dissertation—and for helping to bring his department into the Information Age with a popular online course on personal finance.

Ahmad won the George L. Geis Dissertation Award, given by the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education, but it’s not his first prize. In 1992, he was named a 3M Fellow, Canada’s most prestigious designation for university teaching excellence.

Although Ahmad has taught finance at Concordia for almost 20 years, four years ago he decided to return to school and earn a doctorate in education.

“It dawned on me three or four years ago that I am a finance guy, but my passion is teaching,” Ahmad said. “I love spending time with students, and I did not understand why I received all these awards. I was embarrassed that I did not know any theories of learning.”

He decided to create an online course that used a variety of learning tools, such as videos, online cases, interactive tests, simulations and communication software, and even experts responding to questions via e-mail to teach students how to manage their money.

“The course is about them and their own decisions,” Arshad said.

Some students were astounded by the knowledge they acquired. Second-year MBA student Tatiana Aptekar, a native of Russia, said that she gained “knowledge that even Canadians do not have.”

“Canadians usually overpay their taxes because of their lack of knowledge,” she said. “I am grateful for such knowledge we acquired in the course.”

Julio Villazon, a second-year MBA student and native of Colombia, also learned a lot. “Most of the stuff I had no idea about. I just became a Canadian citizen, and I had no idea how taxes are collected.”

Ahmad explained that the course responded to a need for greater flexibility. “Students wanted a course where accessibility and convenience would be a major factor.”

The ability to log on to the course at will seemed to attract some of the 400 students who enrolled. “That was a bonus,” said second-year Finance student Benito D’Alieso. “You can go at you own pace.”

In addition to the convenience of an online course, students did not lack opportunities for social interaction. They met each other through group projects, and saw Ahmad at conferences. “I expected to be alone online, but he sent us messages constantly,” said Aptek. Villazon said he did not find any significant differences between Ahmad’s online course and a course held in a classroom.

“If we look at the reality of the alternative, classes are getting bigger. Students feel like numbers, and I don’t see a lot of interaction,” said Ahmad. His course has attracted record enrolment, with an attrition rate of only five per cent, eight times less than the average for new courses.
Ahmad taught the course for two years, and will teach it this summer. Despite the course’s success, he cautioned that online courses cannot replace all classroom courses.

“Should every course have an element of technology? Yes, I think so, but computers should not substitute for teachers,” he said.

He did his doctorate at McGill University, and will present his thesis results at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Learning on May 24. The goal of his study was to validate the integrated learning model (ILM), and to explore the contribution of multiple Web tools that facilitate specific learning outcomes.

As well as teaching in the John Molson School of Business, Ahmad is director of the co-op (work-study) program in the Finance Department, and has taken over the administration of the national program that creates 3M Fellows.