NATIONAL NEWS

University of the People founder and Arizona State professor win Yidan Prize for education work

Sep 27, 2023, 11:00 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Shai Reshef, president and founder of the online, tuition-free University of the People, and Arizona State professor and researcher Michelene Chi, who has developed a framework to improve how students learn, are the 2023 winners of The Yidan Prize, the biggest award in education.

Reshef and Chi will each receive 15 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.9 million) from The Hong Kong-based Yidan Prize Foundation, as well as another 15 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.9 million) in unrestricted funds to further their work, the foundation announced Wednesday.

Edward Ma, the Yidan Prize Foundation’s secretary-general, said both Reshef and Chi will become Yidan laureates and join the winners from the previous seven years to work together to improve education on the local level and the global level.

“We see it as strategic philanthropy that achieves greater impact by calling together this all-star team of educators from different parts of the world together,” Ma told The Associated Press. “We have people who are very familiar with the international space, like the World Bank, or the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), but they rarely sit at the same table and all discuss the same topic and try to come to a consensus.”

Reshef and Chi will join the other laureates at a summit in December to receive their awards and discuss potential advancements in education.

Reshef hopes that winning the Yidan Prize for education development will help the University of the People – UoPeople, for short – with its biggest problem, which is helping more people learn about it. Though UoPeople currently has about 137,000 students from more than 200 countries, including more than 16,500 refugees, Reshef hopes to offer tuition-free, online higher education to millions more who need it.

“Winning the most important award in education means that someone checked you out and thought you deserved it, which is so nice,” Reshef told The AP in an interview. “On a personal level – for the last 15 years, for 16 hours a day, I have been doing nothing but working on University of the People – to get this recognition, it pretty much says that I was probably right thinking this was the right thing to do.”

Currently, UofPeople only teaches students in English and, more recently, Arabic, due to the large number of Syrian refugees enrolled. Reshef wants to use the financial support from the prize to offer classes in Spanish to help Venezuelan refugees, as well as offer job placement services for graduates. He also hopes the prize will encourage others to replicate the UofPeople model, where students pay no tuition, only a reduced fee for each class that they take toward their degrees.

Chi, who is the director of Arizona State’s Learning and Cognition Lab, as well as a professor of science and teaching, won the Yidan Prize for education research for her ICAP theory that helps teachers design lesson plans and activities that are more engaging for students and improve their comprehension of complicated topics, including STEM subjects.

“What makes this award so exciting is that it means I can now do the translation work,” she said. “I’m actually going to translate the evidence-based findings into things practitioners can actually use.”

Through her research, Chi has identified many concrete changes teachers can make to increase their students’ understanding of their lessons. Some are as simple as changing the words used in assignments – “explain” or “justify” are better than “review” or “match” – or taking breaks in a lecture every few minutes so students can reset their attention on a topic. Other teaching alterations may be slightly more complex – asking students to find an error rather than a solution or using one of their questions as the center of a lesson.

Chi hopes to use the prize to offer training based on her findings to teachers around the world. She also hopes to explore ways to design lesson plans and perhaps write a practitioner’s manual incorporating her research.

“Translating research and work in the classroom is much harder than people think,” Chi said. “I think this is a really novel avenue that the Yidan Foundation is using, which is really awesome.”

Ma said he hopes the Yidan Prize will lead to more philanthropic donations for Chi and Reshef to continue and expand their work. He said the award selection committees are meticulous in their due diligence, helping future donors feel more confident in the strength of the new laureates’ work.

“We want to make it known to a wider audience, cutting across international organizations, philanthropic foundations, schools, universities and also policymakers,” Ma said. “There is a sweet spot where everyone can find the benefits of these ideas.”

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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University of the People founder and Arizona State professor win Yidan Prize for education work