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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Interview with Yervant Zorian about the Launch of AGBU's Armenian
Virtual College

The AGBU Armenian Virtual College (AVC) ( went online
earlier this year for a summer trial session that attracted hundreds of
eager students from every corner of the world. They logged on to learn
more about this innovative Internet-based accredited distance learning
program that provides courses in Armenian history, language and culture
while allowing students to choose from six languages of instruction:
Western and Eastern Armenian, English, Russian, French and Spanish.

The driving force behind this groundbreaking Armenian school is AGBU
Board Member and AVC founder, Yervant Zorian. Zorian is the
vice-president and chief scientist of Virage Logic, an IT company
operating both in Armenia and the United States. He was elected to the
AGBU Central Board of Directors last year during the organization's 85th
General Assembly. He serves as a trustee of the American University of
Armenia and chairman of AGBU Silicon Valley, and was recently elected to
be a Foreign Member of Armenia's National Academy of Sciences.

His passion and vision for AVC has ensured that the original idea
continues to grow as the school and students work together to develop a
system that can revolutionize the way Armenians preserve and promote
their cultural heritage.

On September 22, AVC will formally launch its first full semester, so we
spoke to Zorian about AVC and its potential for the future of Armenian

AGBU: Now that the first trial session of AGBU's Armenian Virtual
College has concluded, how would you gauge the outcome?

YZ: The first term of AVC successfully attracted approximately 150
e-learners through courses in Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian, and
Armenian History. One of the purposes of this term was to evaluate the
e-learning method at the heart of the college.

At its core, the AVC is aimed to become not merely a library of
individual electronic courses, but a full-scale academic institution,
with fully equipped virtual classrooms, effective student-teacher
communication, peer-to-peer collaboration, and an authentic university
environment. The success of our first trial term confirmed not only the
academic quality of the courses' content but also the effectiveness of
our overall online learning methodology. In fact, this term helped us
realize the extent to which the two complement each other in order to
create the optimal learning experience for Armenian education.

AGBU: What has been the response of the students involved in this
inaugural session?

YZ: Upon the conclusion of the first term, every student completed three
surveys, each assessing a key component of the AVC: the content and
methodology, the technical quality and ease of use, and the online
instructors. The overwhelming majority of students were satisfied with
their learning experience with AVC and plan to continue taking courses
through the program in the future. Moreover, all survey respondents
expressed their intent to recommend AVC to others. The majority of
students highly appreciated the opportunity to interact with one another
and found this peer-to-peer collaboration to be beneficial for their
learning experience, especially for those participating in the Armenian
history courses. Students were satisfied with the technical aspects of
the program and were impressed by the professional level of the
multimedia components. Furthermore, they appreciated the enthusiasm,
approachability, and responsiveness of the online instructors, who
helped create engaging classroom environments. While the students in
each of the six language groups--Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian,
Russian, English, French, and Spanish--varied greatly in their
background and their style of online interaction, they all shared an
appreciation for the mission of the AVC and its role in the global
Armenian community.

AGBU: Have there been any unanticipated surprises?

YZ: Throughout the first term, we continuously adapted the college's
features and our learning methodology in order to address the
unanticipated challenges and surprises that arose. Even during the
earliest stage of the term--the registration period--we were surprised
by the demographics of the student body. The number of learners
registering for each course far surpassed our expectations. Moreover, we
were amazed by the span of their ages and their backgrounds. We were
quite pleased to find that despite this wide range, learners of all ages
were eager to communicate with one another through the discussion forums
and peer-to-peer collaboration activities. Moreover, the variety in
students' academic background and prior knowledge actually enhanced the
level of classroom discussion and allowed for a richer experience for
all. As the term progressed, we were impressed by the number of hours
students spent on the lessons per week, which surpassed our
expectations. In fact, students often viewed the multimedia lessons
multiple times each week and the level of online activity on the AVC
portal necessitated repeatedly increasing our bandwidth on the host
server throughout the term.

AGBU: How do you view AVC fitting into AGBU's larger educational

YZ: AGBU's lifelong dedication to Armenian education is a well-known
reality. As we all know, throughout the past century, AGBU has supported
Armenian educational programs primarily through traditional schools and
universities in Armenia and in the diaspora. Through the Armenian
Virtual College, its newest teaching institute, AGBU will further its
mission to promote education in the globally dispersed Armenian
communities, using an entirely innovative approach. Through online
education, the AVC provides learners around the world the opportunity to
receive the same full-fledged Armenian education, regardless of their
age, country of residence, or knowledge level. In this sense, the AVC
not only reinforces the educational objectives of AGBU, but also widens
their reach. Though unprecedented in its scope, the AVC neither replaces
the traditional Armenian school system, nor serves as an alternative to
the educational institutions AGBU has supported in the past. On the
contrary, the new virtual learning community bridges the gaps in the
current system - both bringing Armenian education to those in the
diaspora who do not have access to traditional schools and complementing
the curriculum of existing Armenian schools through multimedia
resources. In fact, several day schools and Saturday schools, including
some from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Argentina and Uruguay, have
already expressed interest in using AVC courses to supplement their
current curriculum.

AGBU: When does the AVC team expect course accreditations to begin so
that students can receive credit from their local colleges and
universities for their work?

YZ: AVC learners can choose to earn credits for each course that they
complete, ultimately leading to a diploma from the AGBU Armenian Virtual
College by completing 24 courses. Alternately, students can earn a minor
in a subject domain by completing 8 courses from a single department.
Since the courseware has been developed by the higher educational
institutes in Armenia, we have already obtained full accreditation from
the Academic Council of the Yerevan State University for the course
developed so far.

Currently, we are actively pursuing the next level of accreditation from
recognized educational institutions in North America and Europe. Such
accreditation will help students transfer course credits from AVC to
their corresponding universities and learning institutions across the
world or obtain credit as Advanced Placement courses in their
corresponding high school programs.

Alternately, AVC learners may also choose to participate in the program
as an extension or continuing education course with less rigorous
requirements and no credits. Based on the demographics of our recently
completed Summer Term, we have noticed that the number of these auditors
is typically in the range of a third in each of our AVC virtual

AGBU: What is your dream for AVC? How do you see it changing in the

YZ: While the success of our first academic term is very promising,
there is still much work to be done before the AVC reaches its full
potential. In order to reach a wider range of learners in the global
village, we will undoubtedly increase the number of languages in which
our courses are offered. Over the past several weeks, I have already
received requests to expand our six currently adopted teaching
languages, by adding German, Turkish, and Polish, among others. By the
very nature of the college's design, the scope of the AVC is unlimited,
and we will continue to widen its reach until Armenian education becomes
available to every Armenian across the globe.

In addition to expanding the community it serves, the AVC will advance
in the education it offers. By widening the range of courses in the AVC
curriculum, we can ensure that our e-learners have the chance to obtain
the most comprehensive Armenian education. We are in the process of
discussing a number of subject domains to add to our current curriculum.

Due to the virtual nature of the institute, the possibilities of
advancing the features available to students are endless. We are fully
engaged in the global community of online learning and are collaborating
with world-renowned online pedagogues and technology experts. We are
willing to leverage the experiences obtained by the network of
institutions in this community.

As the college thus evolves into a thriving virtual learning community,
I foresee that it will foster both the cultural education and social
communication otherwise out of the reach of most Armenians, and in so
doing, will become the premier learning institute of the global Armenian

Established in 1906, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU
( is the world's largest non-profit Armenian organization.
Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian
identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian
programs, annually touching the lives of some 400,000 Armenians around
the world.