The Coronavirus pandemic is teaching us important lessons

“The internet should be seen as important as water and electricity. Companies should be prepared with online strategies”

The current epidemic with its impacts on the community shows the importance of the internet for communication, teaching, online learning and remote work. “Companies should be prepared in advance for such a crisis,” says Prof. Dr. Nabil Sahli, Head of the Department of Computer Sciences at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech). Under Prof. Nabil’s supervision, the university has implemented online teaching and learning.

Prof. Nabil highlights the importance of advanced planning and strategies on various levels: “Schools and even companies and governmental agencies should have a clear strategy for online work and online teaching as part of their Crisis Management Plans (CMP). Like we train staff and students on how to evacuate a building in case of fire, we are currently witnessing the need to train them how to work from home. Once this crisis ends, we should all have a clear plan on how to deal with similar situations in the future, ” he says while adding that “the internet should be seen as important as water and electricity. Each single house should have access to internet with a reasonable speed. Unless we achieve this, we cannot provide synchronous teaching, which means live sessions, to students as this would exclude some of them.”

As a consequence, the teaching will be mainly asynchronous, through posting videos and materials in the Learning Management System and asking students to work on assignments offline, which according to Prof. Nabil Sahli, does not replace the traditional way of teaching. A lot of self-discipline and motivation is required from each student. “We all learned that self-discipline is crucial for survival. During regular times, students are used to attend classes according to a well-defined timetable, listen to their teachers, and do their homework. When confined at home, what would make a student follow the posted material and recordings on time and submit the requested assignment if it is not his or her self-discipline and determination?” asks Prof. Nabil.

Caption: Prof. Dr. Nabil Sahli, Head of the Department of Computer Sciences at GUtech.

(c) GUtech/ Photo & Text: Umaima Al Zadjali & Dr. Manuela Gutberlet & Prof. Dr. Nabil Sahli

Online teaching and learning at GUtech – professors and students share their views

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

Special field-excursion: GUtech students explore the geology of Dhofar

HALBAN To learn more about the geology of the South of the Sultanate of Oman, a group of 27 Applied Geosciences students along with Prof. Dr. Ivan Callegari and Prof. Heninjara Rarivoarison, conducted a 10-day excursion to Dhofar region. The main aim of the trip was to apply fieldwork techniques acquired in theory during the Bachelor of Science programme and to more about the geology of the Dhofar region. Overall, the students were enthusiastic about the excursion. “We worked along spectacular outcrops and landscapes, a special experience for all of them,” said Prof. Ivan.

During the excursion, the Geosciences students acquired different techniques required for geological fieldwork that help understand the main geological formations of the South of Oman. “Our fieldwork focused on the mineralogical and petrographical analysis, the structural geology reconstruction and geological mapping. These are important techniques used in the oil and gas exploration,” said Prof. Dr. Ivan Callegari. The South of Oman is characterized by a crystalline and metamorphic basement belonging to the Arabian shield that mainly crops out in western Saudi Arabia. “These kind of rocks are the “roots” of the entire rock succession of Oman. They are not well exposed in Northern parts of the Sultanate. The South of Oman is characterized by a so-called Neoproterozoic (700 million years old) crystalline and metamorphic basement covered by a sedimentary rock succession. The latest include one of the most important oil reservoir rocks in Oman,” said Prof. Ivan.

The field excursion was part of a seminar taught by both professors. “In class, the students were already introduced to the main geological concepts including rock formations that make up the uniqueness of the South of Oman. In addition, they learnt how to handle the different tools and materials required for geological fieldwork as well as how to apply different methods taught in class, for example describing, identifying and classifying minerals and rocks in the field, the so-called petrography and mineralogy. The students also learnt how to apply measurement techniques to recognized geological features such as joint, fracture, stratification, faults and else which are important methods applied in the oil and gas exploration.”

The Geosciences students also learnt about the processing of the obtained data and to apply different data management techniques taught in class, for example, stereographic projection, rose diagram analysis and geological cross-section.

(c) GUtech/ Text & Photo: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet & Prof. Dr. Ivan Callegari

German-Omani Workshop on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and Energy held

HALBAN To introduce students from all GUtech departments to the sustainable use of natural resources and energy, a one-day workshop in cooperation with Brandenburg Technical University, Cottbus – Senftenberg (Germany) was conducted at the university last Thursday. It was the second workshop on environmental sustainability held at GUtech’s Department of Engineering. The workshop combined lectures, case-study presentations and group work. It was directly related to the academic curricula and all study-programmes at GUtech.

“The workshop provided students with in-depth knowledge on environmental planning, law, sustainability standards, certification and ecology in the context of sustainable development, coping with the effects of climate change through adaptation and mitigation. Such adaptation measures were discussed on a local, regional and global scale and from different stakeholder perspectives,” said Prof. Dr. Najah Al Mhanna, Head of the Department of Engineering. The workshop on Sustainable Use of Resources and Energy provided the students with a new vision of the environment we are living in, addressing the complexity and interrelation of population growth, environmental degradation and scarcity of our natural resources on Earth.

A first joint Summer School on “Climate Change Response Strategies for Sustainable Land Use and Water Management” was conducted in cooperation with professors from the Brandenburg Technical University, Cottbus – Senftenberg last September. The Summer School focused on sustainable development and climate change including climate change response strategies, emerging issues on environmental law and environmental assessment with a focus on sustainable land and water management.

Caption: Students during the workshop

© GUtech: Text: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet/ Photo: Umaima Al Zadjali

 

Geography Students from RWTH Aachen University explore student life at GUtech

HALBAN Five Bachelor students from the Geography Department of RWTH Aachen University (Germany) have visited the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) today. The students were especially interested in student life on campus. After a small tour around campus, they spoke to students from different departments about their studies and life on campus.

The students are studying Applied Geography at RWTH Aachen University, GUtech’s partner-university. They are part of a group of 20 students who are currently conducting a geography field-excursion on urban developments in different Gulf countries including Oman. The excursion is headed by Prof. Dr. Carmella Pfaffenbach, Head of Cultural Geography at RWTH Aachen University along with Aysha Farooq, PhD candidate at the Department and GUtech alumna.

“There is an open atmosphere here on campus. I like the amphitheatre and the overall architecture. It is not anonymous and students have good contacts with other students and with their professors,” said Kai. After several conversations with Omani and international students, Chiara said that she could imagine studying at GUtech for one semester. All the students said that the people are very friendly in Oman. They also liked the diverse and beautiful landscape. About student life on campus they realized that “GUtech students are very connected to the university,” said Fabienne. Asked whether she would like to return and conduct an internship at GUtech, she said that she would like to explore the world and rather conduct a world tour after her upcoming Bachelor thesis. “It is interesting to be here in Oman, but I never travel twice to the same location. As long as it is possible, I would like to continue doing that,” said Finja.

Caption: RWTH Aachen students Chiara, Fabienne, Kai, Geri and Finja visited GUtech today

(c) Photo & Text: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet

Train the Trainers’ Workshop at RWTH Aachen University

A didactical E-learning and teaching workshop for academics

HALBAN In our digital age, we are using the internet all the time. Within the fast-changing digital environment, university academics need to adjust and adapt their ways of teaching. A group of seven professors and lecturers from the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) have participated in a special one week ‘Train the Trainers’ Workshop on “Excellence in Teaching” recently.

“The main aim of the workshop was to offer continuing education and to introduce new teaching tools and techniques,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Modigell, Rector at GUtech. The workshop was held at the Department of Engineering Hydrology at GUtech’s partner-university RWTH Aachen University in Germany. The ‘Train the Trainers’ workshop’ was part of the Step2Future initiative to enhance cooperation between Germany and the Sultanate of Oman. The programme is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The workshop covered a wide range of didactical tools including e-learning systems, such as the Learning Management System Moodle, Massive Open Online Courses, Open Education Resources, Media Didactic Concepts and Video Production as well as the Gamification of Lectures and Constructive Alignment.

„It was a very successful week. The participants were eager to learn and we are confident that the gained knowledge can be successfully used in the different courses at GUtech. Furthermore, the participants will act as multiplicators at GUtech, passing on their knowledge to other academics in their faculties.” said Prof. Dr. Heribert Nacken, Head of the Hydrology Department and the Rectorate’s Delegate for Blended Learning and Exploratory Teaching Space at RWTH Aachen University. “The knowledge and skills we obtained during the training workshop are very useful and will enable us to cope with the latest trends in the field of higher education. Certainly, we will apply our knowledge acquired in the courses that we teach. This will certainly benefit GUtech students.” said Prof. Dr. Osman Barghouth, Head of the Department of Logistics, Tourism and Service Management. “The next step is to establish a medium in order to transfer our knowledge and to adapt to our university environment. We already had a first meeting and we are working on an agenda to implement different teaching tools within our ongoing seminars and lectures,” said Prof Ercan Agirbas of the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD) at GUtech.

 

Providing students with life-changing experiences

GUtech and Outward Bound Oman conducted a joint Life Skills Course

HALBAN To enhance the student’s individual life skills, the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) and Outward Bound Oman (OBO) have conducted a theoretical and practical course for GUtech students during the winter semester. The main aim of the course was to develop to students’ personal and professional life skills, e.g. leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills through practical and theoretical and parts. The practical parts were held during an excursion to Wadi Al Abyad while the theory was taught at GUtech. In 2018, a Collaborative Agreement (CA) was signed between GUtech and OBO. “It was an amazing experience for our students to spend four days outside, sleeping in tents, going on demanding hikes and cooking for the entire group. It was a physical and mental challenge for them. But with the help of the highly qualified OBO Instructors, every single student succeeded. The combination of being pushed to the limits, participating in fun games, discussing the challenges of today’s youth, and being free from distractions has provided our students with a life-changing experience. OBO plays a key role in providing young people with the skills needed to take the lead for their own lives, their career and their future,” said Prof. Dr. Armin Eberlein, Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs at GUtech. The Engineering and Computer Sciences Departments offer a special course to all GUtech students preparing them for their employment.

Mark Evans, Executive Director of Outward Bound Oman said that ‘working with the students from GUtech is always an enriching experience for the team at Outward Bound Oman. As we strive to support His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq’s government in preparing the national talent for Vision 2040, working with young people with such rich potential is inspiring. One of the key outcomes from the recent World Economic Forum was that agility of thought is one of the key skills for the future, something that our courses demand of all participants; GUtech students possess that agility in abundance.’

“We believe that such course is very important in order to achieve their goals and to be successful in the future,” said Ali Al Humairi, senior lecturer and course coordinator of the Life Skills course. In the first part of the course, GUtech staff delivered the theory, whilst the OBO team organized the relevant field-based elements outside the university, during the excursion. Throughout the seminar, key-life skills such as responsibility, engagement in learning and work, creative thinking and problem solving, innovative thinking, leadership, time management, study attitude towards mistakes, planning, communication and teamwork skills were discussed. “The course helps students to enhance their future employment, as well as to equip them with vital project management skills,” said Ali Al-Humairi. “The experience with OBO was one of a kind. It is really good for our students to have time to develop and experience something outside there comfort zone. I loved the open discussion with the students which will defiantly impact on future plans and the way they will handle things personally and professionally. In my opinion, the activities expanded the mindset of all participants through the ways they connected the different activities with our everyday lives. It was really amazing,” said Umai al Balushi, supervisor of the group and employee at the IT Department at GUtech.

 

 

German Parliamentarian Dr De Ridder at GUtech: Promoting Gender Equality and Women in Sciences

HALBAN Dr. Daniela de Ridder, the Deputy Chairperson of the German Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee (Parliament) has visited GUtech yesterday afternoon. She was welcomed by the Rector of GUtech, Prof. Dr. Ing. Michael Modigell as well as GUtech employees and the Representative of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Oman, Claudia Schmidt. “At GUtech we wish to link Omani traditions and a European approach. We are pleased to welcome Dr. De Ridder at GUtech and are looking forward to enhancing further industry and research cooperations,” said the Rector during his welcome speech.

During her visit at GUtech, Dr. De Ridder highlighted the importance of promoting women in sciences, through networking, mentoring programmes and gender equality measures within the work and study environment. Dr De Ridder has been an active advocator for women equality programmes in higher education in Germany. She also spoke with GUtech students from different departments and with female academic staff, who shared their experiences with her. “The university’s collaboration between Germany and Oman makes the study environment more attractive,” said one of the female students while another student mentioned that excursions and workshops abroad have been enhancing her career outlook. Towards the end of the visit, De Ridder learnt more about the eco-friendly EcoHaus located on campus. “I have learnt a lot from today’s conversations,” said Dr De Ridder after the discussions, adding that she would like to come back again and continue the discussions.

(c) Dr. Manuela Gutberlet

 

The Culture of Leadership – A CEO Talk by Haitham bin Abdullah Al Kharusi

HALBAN As part of a series of CEO Talks held at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech), Haitham bin Abdullah Al Kharusi, Vice-President Consumer at Omantel, gave an inspiring, motivational talk to GUtech students and academics today afternoon. During his talk, Haitham Al Kharusi shared his valuable thoughts and rich experiences regarding leadership, the development of people and the management of different cultures, a topic of growing importance within our globalized work environments. Throughout his career in seven different companies in various countries, Haitham al Kharusi believes the greatest joy in life is to be in the ‘service of people’, to empower them to achieve their maximum potential.

His talk focused on how the personal culture of a leader impacts a company’s success, what are the various stages of leadership including people development and the key attributes and behaviours of leaders such as empathy. Why leadership is a way of life and who can become a leader? Having experience in various industries, countries and citizens Haitham Al Kharusi realized various challenges throughout his career. “The one thing that was the greatest learning is that culture affects everything in a company not just strategy but operational excellence and everything else,” said Haitham Al Kharusi. He is passionate about people, customer experience, process re-engineering, digital transformation and contributing to the community.

Haitham Al Kharusi is an inspirational, result-orientated, motivational leader and a people’s person. He is an international personality having grown up and lived in three different continents, including high schooled and postgraduate studies from the UK. A seasoned professional executive with over 24 years work experience in four different industries, including Banking, an NGO, Oil & Gas and Telecom. He has gained start-up experience working for the 2nd Mobile Network Operator in Oman Nawras and he worked in Abu Dhabi, UAE for a major regional Telecom Brand Etisalat, with work experience exposure to eleven MENA countries. Haitham Al Kharusi is the Vice President Consumer Omantel, accountable for 60% revenues OMR 300m and 90% of its customer base, about 3 million residential customers. Haitham manages both commercial and cross-functional technology accountability across Oman including al Batinah, Musandam, Burami and Dhofar, a region with a workforce of over 1200 employee.

(c) GUtech

 

Students analyse the suitability of the Sharquiyah Sands desert sand for concrete production

HALBAN As part of their field-projects, a group of 4th-year students from the Department of Applied Geosciences (AGEO) at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) has conducted research on the chemical and physical properties and the suitability of the Sharquiyah Sands desert for concrete production. The project was supervised by Prof. Dr. Raad Alani, AGEO Department. “I think the desert has a rich potential for cement production. Last year a Bachelor thesis was conducted on the cement production in Sharquiyah Sands,” said Prof. Raad.

For an industrial concrete production water, coarse aggregates, fine aggregates and cement are used. In their fieldwork AGEO students Shaima Al Mazrui, Noora Al Rumhi, Mariya Al Nabhani and Meera Al Shibli applied different geological methods to test the properties of the sands. “Using the desert may be socially and economically beneficial compared to mining sand from river beds or the ocean,” said the students. The students concluded in their study that the fine grain size of the desert sand does not entirely meet the fine aggregate size requirements for industrial concrete production. However, the fine-grain aggregates of the desert can be used to a certain degree, while making alterations to the water-cement ratio as well as using different types of cement. Therefore, the students concluded that the use of sand for cement production should be further studied and analysed.

(c) GUtech / Dr. Manuela Gutberlet and Prof. Dr. Raad Alani