Coronavirus: how UAE universities will hold lectures online

Undergraduates will continue their courses via a series of remote-learning packages

United Arab Emirates -Sharjah- March 23, 2009:

NA01AP_EmiratiYouth: The report identified the issue of the imbalance between young men and women pursuing higher education, with women making up 73 per cent of the student body in public universities. However, the report also found that women are not necessarily parlaying their education into careers, noting that a gender gap still exists when it comes to employment.

STOCK: This is a stock photo of a students walking down the examination hall of the W-2 building at the University of Sharjah Women's College in Sharjah on Monday, March 23, 2009. Amy Leang/The National  
 *** Local Caption ***  amy_032309_univsharstock_02.jpg

In just over a week, university students will sit down at home and switch on their laptops in preparation for the first class of the summer term.

And although distance learning is by no means new - with online degrees now commonplace - for many universities the concept of schooling undergraduates remotely remains relatively novel.

Because of the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, all schools and universities in the Emirates are currently closed until April 5.

So how will universities continue to offer classes? Universities across the country have a number of systems in place.

Last week, Zayed University said they would be using a system called Adobe Connect, which allows lecturers to hold remote sessions for students.

“Teachers can facilitate discussions, present slides, engage with poll questions, foster collaboration among students in breakout rooms and much more," said Michael Wilson, the university’s provost.

The university has already held a one-hour orientation session to prepare faculty members.

And its IT department is currently preparing an instructional video for students on how it all works. It will be shared with students in the coming days.

“All students are recommended to ensure obtaining a computer device and an internet connection to attend the online classes,” said a spokeswoman for the university.

“Those who fail to adhere will be marked absent,” she added.

Meanwhile, preparations at other universities in the country are continuing, too.

Heriot-Watt University Dubai has been working on plans to cater for remote learning for some time.

Ammar Kaka, who is provost and vice principal, said its contingency plan ensured students could study off-campus “with faculty providing remote support”.

The university’s existing virtual learning tool, called Vision, is central to the arrangement.

The system gives lecturers the ability to deliver live and recorded video content, set assignments, track progress and manage grades.

Students can log on from a desktop PC, laptop, or even their mobile phone.

“Over the next two weeks of our semester break, faculty colleagues across the university’s locations will be building on the digital learning practices that we already use in some existing courses to create additional digital materials for the benefit of all of our students,” said Mr Kaka.

In addition to preparing to take teaching online, universities, like schools, are currently undergoing deep cleaning to combat the spread of Covid-19.

But they also recognise the spread of the virus may have left more than a physical impact on students.

“We appreciate that this might be an anxious time for some students and our personal tutors will also continue to provide one-to-one pastoral support via email and other digital communications tools," said Mr Kaka.

“Professional services staff, such as the careers and wellbeing teams, will also continue to work to provide students with all the support they require via email and video conferencing.

“Learning will, therefore, continue and we, as a university, are confident that we are able to deliver the planned educational outcomes.”