HALBAN The German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) has recently introduced online teaching and learning for all their BSc, BEng and MSc programmes recently. The measures support the government’s efforts to prevent a further spreading of the coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time ensuring that GUtech students do not miss out their daily classes.
GUtech’s academic staff has adjusted quickly to the new online environment. “At GUtech, we have been doing our utmost to continue our classes online and to provide students with the same learning outcome as before,” said Prof. Dr. Armin Eberlein, Deputy-Rector for Academic Affairs at GUtech while adding: “It requires an adjustment for students and professors to get used to this new format and to deal with the unexpected, such as issues with internet connectivity. We are in constant contact with the Student Advisory Council, who have done an exemplary job in working with the administration to find solutions to the challenges that some students face.” GUtech’s academic departments have adjusted in different ways while introducing Microsoft Teams for one-on-one consultations with their lecturers, e.g. during thesis preparations and the Moodle platform to collect teaching and learning material. The Applied Geoscience department has to deliver many practical activities. “One of our classrooms was transformed into a small film studio and a professor is instructing students how to solve problems and is filmed by another staff member. So, even practical exercises requiring equipment can be taught online, for example digital microscopy. To some extend the current crisis is a chance to improve our presentation skills and test new forms of knowledge transfer,” said Prof. Dr. Wilfried Bauer, Head of Applied Geosciences Department at GUtech. Safa Al-Breiki is a 2nd year student in Applied Geosciences. She has been attending most of the online courses from home. She said that “the online teaching is good so far, but depends on the lecturers and how they are trying to facilitate the learning for us students. For me, some subjects are better studied online. If we have the recorded PowerPoint and we want to return back to what the lecturer said, we can just open the PowerPoint and listen again.”
“Online teaching is a great opportunity for instructors and students. We are getting more familiar with different technologies and different ways of delivering our knowledge. When I use pre-recorded lessons, I can modify my lectures and evaluate them. Overall, I have experienced high student engagement. Compared to my regular classes, they are asking more questions now. Students also share their concerns about assessments and grades,” said Dr Yathrib Ajaj, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematics and Sciences. For students in Process Engineering online courses have been a positive experience, though for some it can be difficult to find a quiet learning environment at their homes. “The first lecture was a bit hard for us to understand but after the second lecture things went better. Most of us deal with online classes the same way we deal with our normal classes – we prepare, we participate, and we study after each lecture. Dealing with practical parts, we have started solving tutorials online with the help of our lecturer and by using some apps that use online white board with a pen, so that it is very interactive for us.” said Rayyan Alajmi, 3rd year student in Process Engineering.
Despite the excellent learning outcome, some students are also facing challenges with unstable and limited internet connections. Safa and some of her study-colleagues have been struggling with weak internet connections. “The internet in my home and neighborhood is poor,” she said, adding that live classes are difficult to follow. “My friends are saying that they get disconnected during live online classes, and when they’re disconnected they miss some points.” Despite these challenges, Rab Nawas, Physics Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Sciences said that such live broadcast to larger groups and a reliable WIFI connectivity are challenges to overcome. “The attendance and participation in my courses are excellent. Pre-recorded lessons seem an excellent tool blended with online discussion and chat sessions. We have been working with blended learning and e-learning for several years. I think it is a must,” he said.
“It has been a challenging experience for all of us, but I think we have managed to find excellent ways to continue educating our students. Currently, we are conducting a lot of classes through online sessions,” said Prof. Dr. Osman Barghouth, Head of the Logistics and Tourism Department. He said that the number of participants in each class plays a decisive role regarding the didactics and the overall learning outcome. “We have decided to pre-record the lectures at least 24 hours before the classes and we are available online during the classes in order to respond to any questions. I think adapting to these new changes through online teaching is not an option, it is necessary during these times,” said Prof. Osman.
Caption: Recording of an online teaching course at the Department of Applied Geosciences
(c) GUtech/ Text & Photo: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet & Umaima Al Zadjali