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Texas A&M at Qatar professor develops interactive and engaging learning program for school students

Published Nov 13, 2022

A new game-based learning program developed by Dr. Nayef Alyafei, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University at Qatar, a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university was piloted at a session at QF-school Academyati recently. The program brings together elements of communication, teamwork, and critical thinking capabilities to help students understand the different concepts they are learning.

Based on the idea of an Escape Room and treasure hunt, students will need to solve a series of puzzles by answering questions focusing on five core skills: memorize, visualize, identify, compute and analyze. These puzzles will help them crack the combination codes that enable them to unlock boxes one after the other to reach to the final box. It is meant to be interactive, and to give the students a hands-on experience

Dr. Alyafei said, “Growing up, we had a more traditional approach to learning. Schools were about memorizing, and holding on to information. It felt like a chore. And although they are developments, schools still use a lot of traditional methods in imparting education. I believe students will retain more of what they are learning if they can actually experience it. And that is what I am trying to do with this program: to make learning fun.”

The unique aspect of this pilot program is that it can be adapted to any course, by changing the questions for the combination locks of the puzzles. Dr. Alyafei showcased three levels of the program at Academyati.

“At the school, we completed the program that was developed for primary school students. It was a very exciting experience for me as well,” said Alyafei. “I loved seeing the enthusiasm and passion of the young ones towards learning. It was truly heart warming to see their faces light up when they understand a concept, and get an answer. As an educator, I found it incredibly inspiring to see how they were committed to learning and understanding and solving the puzzles. Their eagerness was truly encouraging.”

The students at Academyati said that they thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience. Hamad Nayef Al Ibrahim said, "I liked it because we had to work as a team – with my own group and with other teams as well to “leave the room” and get to the next stage. It was
a lot of fun.”

Haya Al Busaidi,  said, “We were working together as a team, and also learning problem solving skills. He encouraged us a lot, and I look forward to the next session.”

Hamad Al Thani said, “I really enjoyed being in this program, especially solving the mathematics problems. I love math.”

Yasmeen Munshi, collaborator at Academyati lauded Dr. Alyafei’s program, on how child-friendly and appealing it was. She said: "When Dr. Alyafei first approached us about designing learning experiences for the children, I had no idea what to expect. Since then, I have learned that he is remarkable with our learners and his thoughtfully designed experiences are fun and engaging. He really has a talent for tapping into their creativity and challenging them to think critically. Dr. Alyafei is reflective and makes each session better than the last. We feel so fortunate to be able to collaborate with him as part of our larger QF community and look forward to more amazing experiences with him."

During the development of the program, Alyafei worked on several ideas and then selected the few that were executable. He would then design the game, and have several test-runs himself, and also work with his young daughter to ensure that the instructions could be understood clearly, and that the child could complete the program as well. He also worked with graduates from other QF partner universities to build the visuals for the game.

Alyafei graduated from the petroleum engineering undergraduate program from Texas A&M University at Qatar in 2009, and after completing his masters and Ph.D. program from Imperial College London, he returned to Qatar and has been working as professor at his alma-mater. “Being a professor at Texas A&M at Qatar has helped me tremendously in this journey. I have been teaching at the university for 7.5 years, and during that period, I have had several students from different backgrounds and levels. I have used various teaching strategies and methods to deliver the information effectively. As educators, we aim to ensure the proper understanding of multiple concepts and then maximize the retention rate of these concepts to be applied in various situations. The same strategy was applied while building this program for the younger students and I believe that it contributed to making the program a success.”

Future plans for the program will include building further levels which are more advanced, and that he is also looking to take the program to other schools throughout the country. His goal with the program is show students that learning can be fun and engaging.

“Once the program is fully established, I hope to make it open-access. This way, teachers can take ownership of it, and build adapted programs for their own classrooms, to enhance the teaching methods while continuing to follow the learning path they already are on. The goal is to make sure that as many teachers have access to it as possible, and that we can make learning enjoyable, and collaborative for the students.”