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

 

 

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