It’s late August in Dubai: Daniel Tessoni is walking under the blazing sun to the nearest Internet café so he can access his RIT e-mail at a place that boasts the least expensive online connections to the United States.
As an accounting professor in RIT’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business, Tessoni is very much aware of getting the most value for the American dollar—similar to many Western visitors to one of the fastest growing centers of world trade—where they sell everything from Starbuck’s coffee to diamond-encrusted cell phones.
Practicing what he preaches, Tessoni was in the first wave of RIT faculty teaching in the United Arab Emirates. Others include Sohail Dianat (engineering); James Jacobs (hospitality and service management) and Vic Perotti (business).
RIT Dubai is situated at the heart of a five-square-mile, community development called the Dubai Silicon Oasis. Still in its infancy, the new desert campus is offering master’s degree programs in finance, human resource development, service leadership and innovation, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and networking and systems administration.
There are approximately 30 students registered in the RIT/M.S. degree programs, but expectations remain optimistic for enrollment to reach 200 by next fall. According to Greg Van Laeken, business manager and analyst for global programs at RIT: “Dubai officials are estimating there will be 4,000 students on the campus by 2020.
“The Dubai Silicon Oasis is expanding rapidly with construction soon to begin or already underway on various shopping centers, villas, high-rise apartment buildings, a hospital, hotel, and even a private high school.”
Meanwhile, it was literally “down to business” for Tessoni and Perotti, who had to work out all the kinks in a startup educational environment. “I had four students including a medical doctor and a pilot for Emirates Airlines,” says Tessoni, “and we worked together to get over the hurdles of teaching and learning in a smart classroom.”
As Perotti explains in an RIT blog, he was impressed with the fast data connections and laptop-friendly spaces in hallways, but ended up needing help from RIT Dubai President Mustafa Abushagur, who tutored Perotti in usage of a Promethean smart board.
“Dr. M. trained me on the first day to use them, and I never looked back,” says Perotti who teaches statistics. “Writing on the board captures your scrawl forever. Do you want to move the equation you just wrote? Use your pen to drag it somewhere else—or change its color, resize it. At the end of the day, you can export everything to a PDF (or other formats) so the students can have it as an archive. Crazy good.”
Tessoni says the intensified week of classes in Dubai is identical to the Saunders College’s condensed, fast-track program available here at RIT.
“It’s the same book, same syllabus, same evaluation process, same tests—only we complete the course during four sessions through online learning, a process which I am still getting used to,” Tessoni explains.
“Although I have a laptop with a camera and I can see my students and they can see me, I’m still the stand-up lecturer as I pepper them with questions as I would under normal classroom conditions. It’s teaching as usual, only my students are located in Dubai.”