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Making learning a team pursuit – whether in person or in a global online course

How one professor has reached half a million learners across the globe through the power of teamwork

Tags: Company News, Blog Article

Dr. Ibrahim Odeh instructing a remote class at Columbia University
Dr. Ibrahim Odeh instructing a remote class at Columbia University.

Dr. Ibrahim Odeh believes in the power of teamwork.

Years of managing complex global real estate and infrastructure developments taught him the value of having the right team in place, being open to new ideas and embracing collaboration. So when he made the move to academia, Odeh, who was a 2023 winner of a McGraw Hill Pathfinder Award, brought that mindset right along with him.

There are signs of it everywhere, whether you’re one of his Global Leaders in Construction Management (GLCM) Fellows at Columbia University or taking one of his popular MOOCs (“Massively Open Online Courses”) on construction management.

At Columbia, for instance, small group projects are the norm because they give students practice brainstorming solutions together, challenging each other’s ideas and supporting each other.

In the MOOCs, there are opportunities for learners to interact and review each other’s work, despite the remote set-up and the sheer size of the class. (Up to 2,000 new students join each week. Since 2017, more than half a million learners in 190 countries have taken his courses.)

But it’s not just the students who are collaborating. Dr. Odeh welcomes it in his teaching, too. Though he brings his wealth of expertise to the classroom, he’s eager to leverage the knowledge and insights of others in the field so his students are exposed to both the theoretical and the practical.

Dr. Ibrahim Odeh
Since 2017, more than half a million learners in 190 countries have taken Dr. Odeh’s “Massively Open Online Courses” on construction management.

To that end, he regularly invites industry leaders into his classroom at Columbia to share a case study or discuss a trend or particular challenge. He also often takes learners to lectures at a company’s headquarters so they can get a feel for what’s happening in the industry. Once a year, the class will travel abroad to study selected projects.

Dr. Odeh takes a similar approach with the online construction management courses, using a roster of world-renowned guest presenters to teach students how abstract concepts are translated into real-life projects.

Even the creation of the courses was a team effort: Dr. Odeh enlisted the help of nearly two dozen industry experts, and together they spent six months writing — and rewriting — the lectures, homework assignments, and exercises for the five-course series. “I was a little bit picky during this intense process until I made sure it told the story,” he says with a smile. “It needed to go from the introduction all the way to the top level that I wanted the students to reach.”

But perhaps the most important collaboration happening is between Dr. Odeh and his students. It’s not unusual for his cell phone to buzz during dinner. It’s usually a student asking for career advice or which courses to take that semester, or maybe a former student who just wants to say hi. His office hours are famously flexible if a need arises. And his inbox often contains thank-you notes from grateful students in far-flung towns who take his online construction management courses.

These interactions don’t just make Dr. Odeh feel good — they inspire him to keep giving it everything he has. He vividly remembers how much he valued those professors who made themselves available to him as a student, and he wants to do the same for his learners, whether they’re in New York or New Zealand. “The more I take care of my students,” he says, “the more they’ll learn in their educational journey.”

Dr. Ibrahim Odeh holding the 2023 McGraw Hill Pathfinder Award
Dr. Odeh accepting the 2023 McGraw Hill Pathfinder Award.

To learn more about the McGraw Hill Pathfinder Awards program visit: