In conversation with Hussein M Elmehdi, Dean, Academic Support Services, University of Sharjah (UoS)
All higher education institutes in the UAE have adopted the online mode of learning. What steps have you taken to overcome the challenges of e-learning?
The University of Sharjah (UoS) was one of the first institutions in the UAE, and the GCC, to successfully implement e-learning within a few days of the UAE Ministry of Education’s decision to continue the spring semester virtually, an initiative taken in response to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The transition to online teaching was very smooth owing to our readiness, where UoS already had the necessary infrastructure in place, supporting technologies, and training on instructional delivery and assessment through Learning Management Systems (LMS). Technical difficulties and obstacles faced in the first few days were resolved in coordination with LMS providers. Our focus was on providing a variety of supporting technologies that ensures the delivery of lectures virtually on time to UoS students based in the UAE, GCC and beyond.
What support are your offering to your professors to ensure smooth delivery of lectures?
UoS focused its effort on providing technical support and ensured that instructors were ready and fully equipped with needed technologies. Academic Computing Sections (ACS) at our IT Center, in collaboration with the Institute of Leadership in Higher Education, delivered onsite training sessions on how to leverage Learning Management System (LMS) tools.
Instructors were offered additional tools and communication technologies to ensure live streaming of every lecture. These efforts were supplemented by online one-on-one training sessions, mailers containing easy-to-follow guides, interactive videos, and tips for faculty and students. Additionally, for practical-and clinical-based courses, special arrangements were made using simulations, and interactive portals were arranged in collaboration with renowned international institutions.
What impact will this sudden implementation of technology-enabled forms of learning have on student performance and the higher education sector, in general?
It is evident that the smooth transition to e-learning, in a relatively short time, will have a positive and immediate impact on the way we view education in the near future. Technology will be viewed as an integral tool that will not only facilitate teaching and learning, but as a possible replacement to face-to-face education. E-learning will be perceived to contribute to lowering the cost of education without compromising on the quality and robustness of education in achieving the expected programme outcomes.
I believe we are heading to an era of education without boundaries, where time, geography and cost will have less weight on the decision of students to pursue their education at post-secondary level and beyond. However, policies on e-learning need to be developed to ensure highest education quality and standards.