“Students explore creative ways of expressing their ideas” – UPAD Professor about online assignments

The academic departments at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) have been adjusting their regular assignments and thesis projects to online teaching. The Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD) has been conducting Bachelor thesis projects recently. Associate Professor Alexander Kader of the UPAD Department speaks about his experience during online teaching in the past weeks.

“Our online teaching experience for the Bachelor thesis projects has been a steep learning curve. But on a brighter note, our current limitations also resulted in very positive outcomes. Students explored creative ways of expressing their ideas and displayed a good understanding of developing problem-solving strategies,” said Assoc. Professor Alexander.

A creative idea of some UPAD students was to make videos in which several design solutions were shown by building an abstract architectural model, which was constantly transformed into different versions during the video. The video was shown as an accelerated film so that the creation of all the versions were visible within 2 minutes.

Regular teaching at the UPAD Department consists of regular consultations and independent or group work. “Given that the thesis at our UPAD department does not involve any online lectures or classes, students’ performances depend very much on regular consultations and feedbacks received. While conducting consultations face to face involve pen, paper and several brainstorming sessions, doing this online has been a challenge,” said Assoc. Prof. Alexander. The department faced a couple of trial and error runs while conducting group consultations using an online teaching software. “Then we settled for sending out written/recorded feedbacks to each student after their submissions, with online communication over the Moodle Integrated Big Blue Button as well,” said Assoc. Professor Alexander.

“Given the different software requirements for the UPAD thesis projects, the lack of access to computer laboratories has been a challenge for our students. Moreover, the lack of being in a studio to work on a project meant for the students, to set-up their work desks at their homes.” The UPAD students now work individually and during their own timings, their own pace and within their comfort, while delivering the expected results in time.

“In my view, the lack of opportunities to present projects face to face to other students and to their professors resulted in very innovative video presentations, while a number of deadlines and tasks had to be adapted to online teaching and digital submissions. To accommodate these very special circumstances, a steep learning curve has prepared us very well for the future teaching which will integrate more blended learning than in the past,” said Assoc. Professor Alexander.

“Sur Place scholarships” for Self-funded Students available

 

HALBAN The International Office at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) has held a webinar on scholarships by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) with funds from the German Federal Foreign Office for self-funded students studying at the university. Currently around 15% of all students are self-funded. Felixa Wingen, Manager of the International Office said: “During the last academic year, 19 students received a DAAD Sur Place-scholarship. The requirements for receiving a scholarship are the completion of the first year of the academic studies at GUtech and excellent study results. In addition to this partial tuition scholarship for self-funded students, GUtech students can receive DAAD scholarships for short-term study visits and internships in Germany, for writing their Bachelor thesis at RWTH Aachen, and for completing a Master’s programme in Germany. Interested students can enquire at the International Office.”

Hydrology Research on New Technologies for Flood Management in Oman

HALBAN A team of hydrologists around Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Holzbecher, Department of Applied Geosciences, German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) is currently working on research on new technologies that will help to improve the flood management in Oman. The team, including Dr. Ahmed Hadidi, started their research within the project entitled ‘Towards a flood-resilient Omani society: improved tools for flood management’. The project was funded by The Research Council (TRC) between 2015 and 2019. Some of their research results were presented during the 5th International Symposium on Flash Floods in Wadi Systems (ISFF2020) held in Kyoto (Japan), hosted by Kyoto University, between 25-28 February. The 3rd symposium of this conference series was organized and hosted by GUtech in 2017. Participating researchers originated from countries facing similar problems with flash floods such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, UAE and Sudan.

During the conference in Kyoto, Prof. Holzbecher gave a presentation ‘On Watershed Delineation for Flood Modelling in Lowlands’. He outlined problems of current practices of flood management and gave an outlook on new technology developments that are capable to resolve some of the issues. “New software tools are not only more powerful, but also more flexible, especially in connection with an advanced sensor network. Within the project ‘LoRaWAN Hydrological Sensor Network’, internally funded by GUtech, a small-scale demonstration of such a network is currently installed,” said Prof Holzbecher.

For a large-scale pilot installation that will help to examine the capabilities of new technologies to prevent damages during flash flood events in Oman and to assist urban planners, the research team is currently looking for further research funding.

Captions:

Prof. Ekkehard Holzbecher is second from left. He was part of the a student award committee, along with the 1st price winner, Omani student Sabah Al Mahrouqi. She is currently affiliated with Kyoto University.

 

 

“I want every day to be a challenge” – A UPAD students shares his study experiences

 

HALBAN A 4th year student in Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD), Abdullah Al Mandhari (pictured), has shared some of his experiences about his online studies and his on-going projects. Sometimes Abdullah has been studying while being surrounded by his nephews and niece. This highlights the challenges students face within their home-environments, in a region that is highly family-oriented.

Managing social life at home and online studies can be challenging at times. In his view, online classes have positive and negative aspects. “Currently most of the students stay in their comfort zones, at home. But I think there will be less quality in our final projects, the thesis. Unfortunately, most of us are too distracted most of the time. I am currently working on the time-frame of my final project. I have worked on that every single holidays in our semester breaks,” he said. Recently Abdullah has worked on architectural design projects such as a drive-through cinema. “I have some other goals to reach within this year. I will participate in the International Design Contest “Jump the Gap” which will be held this month.” Jump the Gap is a worldwide competition in designing innovative and sustainable bathrooms for the future, held by Roca and in collaboration with the Barcelona Design Centre.

To concentrate on his projects and assignments, Abdullah has been following a weekly schedule. “When I focus on my goals, I can reach them easily. I always schedule my week to do different things such as my assignments, physical workout, I also work in my online business and I learn new skills. I want every day to be a challenge, so that I can learn much more from life and enhance my personality. I like to share the positive energy and create a motivating study-environment at home. I think students can always remind each other to work together or compete with each other in order to reach each phase of their work. I think many students don’t know how to increase their self-motivation at home. I sometimes played an important role to increase their motivation,” said Abdullah. He has been advising some of his study-colleagues via zoom meetings. “As far I can see, all the projects went very well. But now after two months of online classes and towards the end of our semester, it seems that the energy levels have dropped. We need continuous motivation to work on our projects,” he said while adding that “as a social person, I always text and call the people who I love and care for. We also watch movies online or have joint videos calls. It is fun because we realize how good days make us stronger in life. We didn’t realize that when we lived the moment but we realize now during these times, when we stay at home. In future, I can see myself as a businessman working in different fields. Currently, I don’t have any plans to do a master’s degree, but maybe later on in international business.”

Caption: Abdullah Al Mandhari surrounded by his niece and nephews.

© GUtech: Photo provided by Abdullah Al Mandhari, Text by Dr. Manuela Gutberlet

HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Undersecertary of Tourism, addresses Faculty of Business students on the impact of Covid19 on the tourism sector on Oman

HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary of Tourism, addresses Faculty of Business students on the impact of Covid19 on the tourism sector on Oman

The Ministry of Tourism is taking precautious, but well defined steps in addressing the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Oman’s Tourism Sector.

GUtech Business and Economics students got a closer insight into the protocols activated by the Ministry of Tourism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary for the Ministry of Tourism.

The Undersecretary was hosted via Teams Microsoft by Prof. Dr. Heba Aziz, Professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics and director of MBA programme recently.

Undoubtedly the pandemic presents new challenges to the tourism and aviation industry in Oman which has prompted the Ministry to commission a study to look in to the economic and financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Undersecretary stressed on the importance of collaboration that exists between the Ministry of Tourism and Oman Aviation Group (OAG) and highlighted on the streamlined communication between the two organisations; as the aviation and tourism sector should be going hand in hand none of them could succeed independently of the other. OAG encompasses Oman Air, Oman Airports and Oman Aviation Services. “Every crisis offers an opportunity and with this crisis we have the opportunity of redefining our market segments, the business and adventure segments are likely to recover quicker than other segments.” The undersecretary shared with the students. Furthermore, students had the opportunity to learn about the Ministry’s support to investors by extending deadlines for due projects and plans to explore new markets confirming that the domestic and regional markets will be very important at the coming stage.

Her Excellency concluded that the tourism sector despite the crisis still holds a lot of opportunities for young Omanis, “I started in the aviation sector from a junior position and the aviation and tourism sector offered me lot of opportunities – I hope you also can embrace the endless opportunities that this sector offers,”   end.

 

Caption:

HE. HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary for the Ministry of Tourism

Prof. Dr. Heba Aziz, Professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics and director of MBA programme

(c) GUtech: Text by Fatima El Madkouri, Photo: provided by Prof. Dr. Heba Aziz

 

 

 

 

The Hospitality industry: Navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic

Crisis Management in the Hospitality Industry: Insights from the General Manager of Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz Carlton Hotel

The Hospitality industry: Navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many variables that are obscuring the prospect of recovery of the hospitality sector.

Dr. Heba Aziz, Professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics and director of MBA programmes invited the General Manager of Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton Hotel, Katrin Herz, to a virtual talk to students of the International Business and Service Management (IBSM) department recently to gain insights into crisis management in the hospitality industry amid the covid-19 pandemic.

“I am pleased that students enrolled in my course “Contemporary Issues in Tourism: Crisis Management” had got the opportunity to learn about what is happening in the hospitality from a hospitality practitioner with an extensive local and international experience.” Commented Dr. Heba Aziz.

Herz gave her thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 on Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton Hotel, in particular and the hospitality sector in general. A sector that has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. She started off by pointing out to the importance of having a crisis management team during this difficult time, inclusive of key personnel from finance, communication, marketing, human resources, and procurement. This team is tasked with addressing all sorts of aspects relating to communication, staffing  and contracts, hygiene and cleaning standards to new procurement initiatives.

Addressing a question from Fatma Al Madhani, Herz confided that a rise in operating expenses and direct costs is imminent as hotels will be required to acquire all sorts of protective equipment including, shields, masks, gloves, alcohol-based sanitisers and disinfectant installations, to maintain social distancing and ensure a touch free guests’ interaction across the hotel facilities supported by solutions such as QR scanned menus in restaurants and mobile applications for check-in.

Speaking via Microsoft Zoom to students, Herz shared how Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton Hotel, is gearing towards a staycation strategy to circumvent the pandemic’s painful impact on the hotel’s revenues, and developing package deals to attract local guests and families.

Students got also to learn that most hotels rely on external subcontractors for operating their facilities. Negotiating these contracts are among the tasks any hotel manager would start with to minimise losses. Besides, revisiting personnel’s contracts and agreeing with employees on salary cut to avoid redundancies.

The student Reem Al Khalili raised the question about gaining customers back after the pandemic. To this, Herz emphasised the importance of transparent and clear communication about social distancing practices that the hotel is planning to put in place. Besides, the hotel has been very flexible with its refund policy, allowing customers to claim their deposits or reschedule their events at no additional cost.

The virtual talk offered  the opportunity to students to learn how the hospitality industry is reorganising and redistributing resources to develop and cope with new hygiene protocols for a better customer experience. From identifying all touch points in a hotel, to dedicating personnel who will be focusing on the hygiene aspects, are among the changes a hotel will have to prepare for.

 

Caption: Katrin Herz, General Manager of Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton Hotel.

(c) GUtech/ Text: Fatima El Madkouri; Photo provided by Dr Heba Aziz

 

 

Campus in Blue to Honour Frontline Professionals during the Covid-19 Pandemic

GUtech Lights its Buildings Blue in Honour of Health Professionals and Frontline Staff and Workers

GUtech Campus Glowing in Blue

GUtech campus glowing in blue to honour the efforts of all professionals keeping us safe and protected.

To honour health professionals and all frontline staff and workers who are confronting the Covid-19 virus in hospitals and health centres, GUtech lights up its buildings in blue each evening at dark for an indefinite period of time starting from tonight, 11 May 2020.

Illuminating buildings in blue lights, GUtech rectorate and community show appreciation and gratefulness for the dedication and sacrifice of all professionals and remind all of us to wash hands and keep social distancing.

“We are glowing our campus in blue which can be seen from far to send a message of hope to the community around us for a better tomorrow and to say thank you to health professionals and all others for their hard work.” The Acting Rector, Dr Hussain Al Salmi, stated in support of all those professionals who are keeping us protected during the pandemic.

(c) GUtech/ Text: Fatima El Madkouri; Photo provided by Infrastructure Department

Students speak about their life and study experiences during the lockdown

“It opened my eyes to appreciate the small things we took for granted”

The current lockdown during the COVD-19 pandemic has profoundly changed the way students experience their studies and their environments. Four GUtech students who study in different programmes share some of their experiences.

Abdulaziz Al Sinawi, a 2nd year student in Mechanical Engineering says: “I can say it opened my eyes to appreciate the small things we took for granted, for example meeting friends or eating out in peace as well as the smallest things we might never had considered before such as breathing. I dare to say the lockdown has strengthened a lot of our relations, mostly within families.” However, currently Abdulaziz biggest struggle is that he misses his friends and colleagues at GUtech. On the other hand, he has discovered many positive aspects in working from home and with less disturbances. “It shows how easily everything is accessible online and how we can work from home with little disturbances.” Currently his main worry are his studies. “My batch of graduates may be lacking important concepts related to their fields of studies due to not being able to understand the entire course materials. This may have drastic impacts on our future,” he said.In addition, practical learning in laboratories is currently on hold. Abdulaziz believes that students can ask for more support from their professors. “A main issue most students face is the overflowing of assignments and deadlines. Some students take up to seven courses per semester and we usually receive weekly assignments. I really understand lecturers have a lot of work pressure and I appreciate their hard work, but easing up on deadlines will definitely put a lot of load off our backs. An important thing to bear in mind is that assessments should be made to test the knowledge of students and not to challenge them. I understand that the assignments should be difficult to some extent but they should be solvable within the given time frame.”

Similarly concerned is Sadiyah Manidhar, an 8th semester student in Process Engineering. “Students awaiting to complete their projects and theses, are especially concerned about delaying their graduation. Not being able to work on projects would require them to postpone their work. Internships and employment opportunities post-graduation face uncertainty,” says Sadiyah who initially wanted to conduct her Bachelor thesis at the Department of Process Engineering at RWTH Aachen University in Germany. Sadiyah had to change her plans and conduct the thesis here in Muscat. “When the pandemic started, I knew that it would influence my thesis writing. I was mentally preparing myself for it by looking for alternatives with my supervisors at RWTH Aachen University and GUtech. Ultimately, my supervisors and I felt that it would be best to pursue the thesis at GUtech. I knew it was for the best – risking to exposure by traveling and delaying my graduation didn’t seem worth the risk.” Now, her Bachelor thesis topic is very different. “The reason for this is that my previous topic required experimental work. Given that practical work has been suspended until further notice, I don’t mind a fresh start,” she said.

Hilal Al Mahrouqi, an 8th semester student in Logistics says the most significant challenge that he faced in this crisis is to gather data from several companies that he needed for his bachelor thesis. “I don’t blame them because this crisis has affected many companies. They have other priorities to handle, which are more important than my research.” Hilal believes that the crisis has positively affected students’ lives. “It forced us to count on technology more efficiently and to generate new ideas to enhance our knowledge and to understand our personal needs. I believe, every bad thing happens for a good reason,” he says while highlighting that he has been spending much more time with his parents and other family members. “That’s something I didn’t do before, because I was busy going to university and staying late there for studying or meeting with my friends.”

“The biggest challenge I have faced is learning online with the computer only in front of me. In case I have any questions I have to struggle and write a comprehensive email to the professor in order to get a response,” says Shamsa Al Harthi, a 2nd year student in Applied Geosciences. On the other hand, Shamsa has become more resilient, increasing her knowledge on how to cope with different environments and circumstances as well as having an increased awareness on the importance of technology. “I personally think that we will work much more efficiently in groups in future because during this crisis we have realized the true meaning and value of group-work,” she says. Shamsa tries not only to learn for her studies but to manage her hobbies and practice what she likes.

With regard to the impacts of the pandemic on society at large, Sadiyah believes: “The best way to make a difference is to be self-aware – of your actions and their impacts on the society. I have been using my social media to create awareness about the need to quarantine. I also hope to volunteer to do grocery shopping for my neighbors to prevent exposure, and donate hand-sanitizers, gloves and masks to those who may not have access to them such as construction workers, car washers and cleaners. Considering that, most of the temporary service staff may not find work and would have a lack of income. I would check-in with at least those whom I am familiar with and provide their some advance payments.”

(c) GUtech/ Text: Dr Manuela Gutberlet; Photo provided by Abdulaziz Al Sinawi

The Transition to Online Teaching during the COVID-19 Pandemic and its Challenges

The German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) has been teaching all courses online since mid-March. GUtech academics speak about their teaching experiences and challenges faced. “GUtech’s strategy was to support several online teaching tools to allow professors to select the tool most suitable for their classes. This has increased buy-in from professors who are more than happy to share their best practices with colleagues. Students, for the most part, have been very responsive. However, there is a small percentage of students who have limited internet access. Fortunately, joint efforts between MoHE, charities, telecommunication operators and GUtech have resulted in workable solutions for most students. It means that only a very small number of students have to postpone their studies,” said Prof. Dr. Armin Eberlein, Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs at GUtech.

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Bauer, Head of the Department of Applied Geosciences (AGEO) at GUtech said that their department received numerous encouraging messages from students, admitting that under the given circumstances of the pandemic they were happy to learn in a safe environment and from home. “During the last week however, the messages we received from students changed and the students are now more concerned about the situation. Most concerned are our last year students. They don’t know when they will be allowed back to the laboratories to complete their thesis work. I think this is understandable after five weeks of isolation,” said Prof. Wilfried. Another pressing challenge is the delivery of practical courses where the outcome should be a transfer of hands-on skills and internships. “Currently all our laboratories are closed, so that we have to postpone such courses to the next semester,” said Prof. Wilfried while the questions regarding conducting internships remain open. “It is not only that students cannot foresee the end of the restrictions, they also don’t know when they can find an internship or even later a job. They begin to understand that the economic situation caused by COVID-19 can threaten their future and those of their parents, relatives and friends,” he said.

Prof. Dr. Osman Barghouth, Head of the Department of Logistics and Tourism at GUtech said that in their Department students’ motivation and their participation is very high. “I think this high participation depends to a large extent on the course instructors. We as professors must consider the learning process as a two-way communication process. We have to think creatively in order to find ways to involve, motivate and engage our students instead of just giving tasks without feedback,” said Prof. Osman.

In the past weeks Prof. Wilfried Bauer and his team have gained a lot of experiences in adjusting to the current pandemic and in online teaching. However, recorded or live-streamed lectures are different than face-to-face classes. “Our lecturers and professors often lack more elaborated presentation skills of a film producer like David Attenborough. We also often lack the means to adapt all our teaching materials to more elaborated distant learning methods which require much more skills and equipment than recording our voices and preparing white board drawings on a tablet. Without direct feedback from students, we have no possibility to modify the content of the lectures,” said Prof. Wilfried Bauer.

Prof. Osman Barghouth has introduced Microsoft Team Viewer to communicate with all students. To enable the direct contact via video and calls, the Department has added all students in the course to Microsoft Team Viewer. “In our department we design homework assignments that measure the students’ understanding of the online course material and their ability to apply what they learned in practice,” he said. In conclusion, Prof. Dr. Armin Eberlein said that the current experience will bring a long-term change to higher education. “Even when (hopefully soon) the Covid-19 pandemic is over, I anticipate that blended learning will become much more common. Further investments are needed to get from Internet teaching in an emergency situation to proper online education; but Covid-19 has put us on this path.”

Caption: Prof. Dr. Wilfried Bauer, Head of the Applied Geosciences Department and Dean of the Faculty of Sciences

(c) GUtech: Text by Dr. Manuela Gutberlet, Photo: provided by Prof. Wilfried Bauer

 

 

GUtech's Employees To Join ETIMAD

GUtech’s Employees to Join the Second Batch of the National Leadership Development Programme (ETIMAD)

Four employees from the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) have been selected to join the second batch of the National Leadership Development Programme (Etimad).

The Etimad programme aims to train and qualify 10,000 Omanis working in the private sector and improve their leadership skills. This specialised programme is Funded by the Government under the supervision of The Ministry of Manpower and is developed in collaboration with professional global and local institutions. To empower its administrative human capital, GUtech nominated a number of its employees to take part in the selection process. The assessment of applicants for the short list had to pass a series of tests and an interview before joining the second batch of the programme, which will include 250 participants from major private sector companies in various sectors, including the higher education sector. The evaluation revolved around the general thinking capacities and the candidates’ ability to deal with information, data and written patterns. Candidates were also tested in personal skills, teamwork, task management, English proficiency, communication and comprehension and management skills.

Excited about being selected to join the second batch of the programme, Kamla Al Bulushi, Admissions Manager, shares: “I look forward to grasp the learnings that will help me boost the level of my leadership skills and improve my managerial ability to meet the needs of my employer and my colleagues at work.”

Congratulating the participants, Dr Hussain Al Salmi, GUtech’s Acting Rector Cum Chief Executive Office of Oman Educational Services (OES), the owner company of GUtech gladly emphasised, “I am proud to see four of our talented employees make it through the selection process. I personally support every opportunity available that assists in the development of leadership skills and capacity of our talented employees. GUtech and OES are firmly committed to developing a strong local human capital able to elevate the overall performance of our organisations.”