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AURAK Students and Faculty Transition Smoothly to Online Education

March 30, 2020,

Around the world, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted almost every aspect of life including higher education. But at AURAK moving courses online is going smoothly and minimizing the downsides for students.

The spread of the coronavirus or COVID-19 worldwide forced many people to stay at home, leaving them unable to do their jobs. Fortunately, information technology and the hard work and flexibility of AURAK faculty and students is avoiding disruption to courses.

The UAE Government ordered online teaching to begin on March 22 to ensure that education for school and university students suffers the minimum of interruptions.

At AURAK, the transition has been smooth, not surprisingly, because the infrastructure for this is tried and tested.

“We have prepared the platform to communicate with students during this period,” said Mr. Tawfiq Abu Hantash, Associate Professor – Architectural Design, History and Theory of Architecture, from the Architecture Department.

“Blackboard is the main platform that we use in education even during the normal teaching periods to communicate to students all the activities and requirements of a course and they upload their responses through Blackboard.”

It’s possible to send any kind of file to students via Blackboard including PowerPoint presentations and videos of lectures.

“For interaction with the students, we’re using Microsoft Teams software, which allows you to make a video call or an audio call with the students,” Mr. Tawfiq added. “You can talk to them; they can talk to you. You can talk to a group of students.”

Does teaching over the internet rather than in person actually work?

“I think it works because even in architecture, doing projects for clients, it’s a common practice that you discuss the project with a client who is somewhere else, so we used to use Skype or other platforms,” Mr. Tawfiq added.

Dr. Maxime Merheb, Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Dean, School of Arts and Sciences, agrees that the adaptation to online education was smooth.

“Regarding the lecture-based courses, it was not difficult to adapt, especially by using Microsoft Teams. Using this platform is exactly like you are stepping into the classroom. I can share my screen with the students, open a white board, drop files,” he said. “Even with poor connections, we were able to stay connected the whole lecture. Interaction with the students was very smooth.”

But practical courses, such as those that involve work in laboratories, are more difficult.

“The only possible option now is to explain the theoretical parts of each experiment using Microsoft Teams and run the labs as lecture-based courses,” Dr. Maxime said.

Of course, no one who has ever worked remotely from home would think the road is always a smooth one. It’s the same with online education. Problems that crop up are the usual ones of family members making noise or technical problems with the internet connection or laptop or microphone.

Students seem as comfortable as faculty with online teaching even if it’s not quite the same as the usual method.

Wiktoria Aleksandra Szydlak, who is studying Mass Communication, said “The most common problem among students is the lack of interpersonal communication with peers and teachers. As I’ve noticed, everyone is missing friends and meeting them face to face. Unfortunately, online courses will never replace that.”

Overall, however, she’s happy with online education. “There are many positive aspects of online courses such as their flexibility, and the convenience of staying at home and learning the same material we could study on the campus,” she said.