by Sigalit Hoffman
Finance professor Arshad Ahmad has won a national award for his PhD dissertationand
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 its not his first
prize. In 1992, he was named a 3M Fellow, Canadas 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 DAlieso. 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 Ahmads 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 dont 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
Ahmad taught the course for two years, and will teach it this summer.
Despite the courses 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.