Making a difference with Oracle Academy
The spotlight is on Dr. Saleem Iqbal, Associate Professor, Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan.
Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) is the second largest open university in the world, with over 1.3 million students enrolled in 2,000 courses. It maintains a central campus in Islamabad and 54 regional campuses throughout Pakistan. Its Distance Education system reaches out to the most remote areas of the country and to people, predominantly women, who cannot leave their homes for full time study. Improving female literacy and opening new opportunities for women is a mainstay of the university’s strategy.
AIOU’s Computer Science department provides a blend of face-to-face and online courses at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree levels. It has 10 permanent educators plus hundreds of tutors virtually delivering interdisciplinary classes to the network of campuses.
Dr. Saleem Iqbal is associate professor and chairman in the Department of Computer Science. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the Universiti Teknologi, Malaysia. In 2021, Iqbal recommended AIOU become an Oracle Academy member institution.
Oracle Academy: What made you include Oracle Academy in your computer science curriculum?
Saleem Iqbal: During my first degree in Computer Science in 1999, I was exposed to Oracle technologies, and since then I have witnessed its extensive growth. There is no harm in saying that Oracle technologies are playing a key and leading role in the IT industry. For students’ professional development and for future IT needs, they must be equipped with such technologies, and Oracle Academy can offer this in the form of expert curriculum and study resources.
And since programming and database learning are formal requirements of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, using Oracle Academy resources was a perfect fit. We began with Java Foundations and Database Foundations and rapidly incorporated materials from the entire Java and database set of courses.
In addition, the choice was facilitated by our university to be a full Oracle shop: our campus, academic, administrative and financial processes all run on Oracle applications.
Oracle Academy: How much of Oracle Academy’s materials do you use?
Saleem Iqbal: Because we are duty bound to follow the guidelines of the HEC’s National Qualifications Framework, we probably use 50%-70% of the slides and materials, depending on the course. It rises to 100% when explaining relational databases, how the logical model is created, how to design an entity relationship diagram, and how to perform SQL queries. In this case I fully use the Database Design and Programming with SQL curriculum.
I have approximately 200 students per year across our bachelor, master and doctoral courses, and it is compulsory for them to learn both Java and databases. Some of the students take my courses as electives from other disciplines such as Engineering, Health, and Business.
Oracle Academy: Do you use the Oracle Academy Cloud Program?
Saleem Iqbal: I will be doing so this year. The program is outstanding! I will encourage the relevant instructors to use the Oracle Academy Cloud Program for classroom teaching. AIOU has a state-of-the-art set of labs but can only cater to 400 users. Since our courses are very popular and we are expanding to the 54 regional campuses, Oracle Cloud will be fantastically helpful in taking the strain off our servers and seamlessly connecting many more learners.
Oracle Academy: What can you say about Oracle APEX?
Saleem Iqbal: Oracle APEX is the perfect hands-on practice environment. It embraces SQL and Oracle Autonomous Database, and provides the examples, scenarios, and case studies with which to create different database schemas. One of our courses covers programming languages, and APEX allows me to drill down through SQL to subdomains such as Data Description Language (DDL), Data Manipulation Language (DML), and Data Query Language (DQL).
APEX provides practical scenarios whereby students create the database schemas, insert values, perform different SQL queries, and extract the data from the databases. When we are fully ‘cloud ready’, performing such scenarios will be faster and simpler.
Oracle Academy: Can you give an example of the scenarios?
Saleem Iqbal: Currently we have multiple projects that introduce students to the lifecycle of database design. In one of our projects, students plan new medical center software for our central campus. In this project, a number of tasks are assigned to students, such as collecting the requirements, creating a questionnaire, interviewing stakeholders ― doctors and patients for example ― or carrying out ethnographic analysis.
Once the planning is complete, they get into the logical model phase, immersing themselves in logical modelling and relational modelling, and ending up with the Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD). The last leg is to create a database according to the ERD, using the different SQL commands. Throughout this process I leverage the Database Design and Programming with SQL curriculum.
Oracle Academy: It must be motivating to have a real-life project to work on!
Saleem Iqbal: Yes, and it also ties into Outcome-Based Education (OBE), which is another prerequisite of HEC Pakistan. OBE focuses on relating each learning activity to a measurable outcome. In my opinion, Oracle Academy resources contribute to outcome-based results, and facilitate curriculum development and the learning and assessment processes.
Oracle Academy: Do you use the Oracle Academy Member Hub for those processes?
Saleem Iqbal: Yes. We use the Member Hub and also the Student Hub. Both are very easy to use. The Member Hub is for faculty, supplying privileges for instructors to access the teaching materials, the tests and quizzes, the certifications. They use it to set up learning paths, channels and to have access to learning histories, and grades.
We also use the Hub to track what tasks are due, how much curriculum is left to deliver, and to access self-paced instructor learning. Meanwhile, the students access their course materials through the Student Hub. Both Hubs have attractive interfaces and we have always had a smooth experience.
Oracle Academy: Good to hear. And what about job opportunities?
Saleem Iqbal: Obviously Allama Iqbal University’s goal is to equip its million-plus learners with the skills to improve their lives. In terms of the job market in Islamabad and other major cities, learning programming equips our students for almost any job. Programming is a must today, in any profession.
Most industries in Pakistan prefer Java as the fully-fledged programming language, so that alone gives our graduates a lot of scope in Pakistan. Understanding databases and SQL programming is equally fundamental.
Whatever job they find, they’ll be using a database to underpin the product or service they’re delivering. Cloud computing, programming languages and databases ― these are the fundamental learning paths for acquiring the skills needed in the marketplace.
Oracle Academy: That’s impressive. And lastly, what are your interests outside of the classroom?
Saleem Iqbal: There’s continuity between my working life and objectives. Education is my prime motivator. What I would most like would be to be part of an educational institute geared to the poorest people of the country. My areas of interest are data analytics and machine learning, and my wish would be to work in an organization equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that could use these technologies to focus on real-life problems, bettering the lives of the poor and needy. In my spare time, I’m devising the future ― Oracle could be part of that, too!
Thank you, Dr. Saleem Iqbal, for your passion for Oracle Academy and for preparing your students to make a positive impact.