WHEN THE STORM of the pandemic passes, universities will most likely be revolutionized by this experience. Our enthusiasm to continue the dissemination of knowledge through technology will empower our teaching in the post-pandemic era in so many ways—but in particular, it will amplify our approach to student engagement.
Once the University of Bahrain in the Kingdom of Bahrain was forced to close its campus, faculty at the College of Business (COB) knew students might suffer from loneliness and anxiety. In response, we developed measures to support them, including creating an online academic clinic that engaged students in the e-learning process. The clinic was a way for us to maintain a healthy flow of communication with students, collect their continuous feedback, and show that we were concerned about their views and interested in their success.
For example, the college used student feedback to design online training for faculty on how to record more engaging lectures. We used students’ comments on the structure of our online assessment methods to build a clearer, more organized, and more detailed assessment plan.
Less than 10 percent of our students were able to complete their internships, and about 20 percent decided to postpone their internships until the upcoming semester. For the remaining students, we offered opportunities through the academic clinic and the business incubator to help them prepare for the job market, such as mock job interviews, résumé labs, and degree planning workshops. We hope to maintain this increased level of engagement even after the crisis is over.
COVID-19 also has made us view grades in a different light. As students familiarized themselves with the online education experience, the university offered them the option of receiving either a pass/fail or an incomplete grade at the end of the previous semester. Those who opt for incompletes can complete courses for grades after taking final exams, which will be held at the beginning of the next semester. We provided this option for students concerned about upholding their GPAs. Moreover, we noted this semester’s unusual circumstances and grading system on all students’ transcripts. Students viewed this initiative favorably—our student retention rate remained unchanged for the semester. We will resume normal grading procedures once the crisis is over. However, COB faculty are discussing the possibility of offering students a pass/fail option for nonbusiness courses, such as those they take to meet university requirements.
In addition, we conducted an awareness campaign on social media accounts and websites, in which we explained to students how to use the e-learning platforms. Our student service contact center was available 24/7 to answer inquiries and solve problems.
The college already had proposed greater adoption of flipped classroom formats as part of its 2020–2024 strategic plan; our instructors had been preparing their lecture materials for online formats using technology such as narrated PowerPoint slides, videos, and articles shared over our learning management system. We had introduced smaller class sizes to inspire a more cooperative and engaged learning environment. Our online learning center offered online workshops and tutorial videos to train faculty and students, and we opened a virtual helpdesk to resolve technical issues.
The coronavirus crisis sped up this transformation. We have created more student-centered, interactive online class experiences in a very short time. We plan to take full advantage of this work by adopting a flipped-classroom strategy across our entire program for the upcoming 2020–2021 academic year.
We aim to enhance the COB’s relationships with industry by offering employers the chance to upskill their workforce via executive degree programs and tailored, shorter programs. Because of the adjustments we have made, we are more prepared to transition from offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) to offering flexible small
private online courses (SPOCs).
In many ways, it seems fitting that we all have been forced to shift to a nontraditional learning experience that, coincidentally, is also better suited to creating smart learners prepared to work in the digital age. This crisis is a true opportunity to enrich the ways we engage with our students and eliminate the time and location constraints we had previously placed on our programs. The result, we believe, will be an even more valuable educational experience for our students.
Hessa AlFadhel and Yomna Abdulla are assistant professors, Waleed Abdulaziz is associate professor, and Hatem Masri is professor and dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Bahrain in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's July/August 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].
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