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Higher Education Council reviews distance learning experience

By Bahaa Al Deen Al Nawas - Aug 16,2020 - Last updated at Aug 16,2020

AMMAN — In light of the challenges imposed on the education sector due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Higher Education Council has formed three specialised committees comprising 25 online education experts.

The first was the remote education evaluation committee for the second academic semester of 2019/2020, the second was a committee for evaluating students and online tests, and the third committee was concerned with policies and regulations, according to a copy of the policies paper the ministry shared with The Jordan Times. 

The experts are staff members, researchers and workers at IT centres in public and private universities, and the private sector, who created the paper “to lead the digital transformation process in Higher Education in Jordan, in accordance with international developments in the field”. 

Jordanian universities have been taking “small measures” to implement distance learning since 2015, according to the paper.

This year, the Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission for Higher Education Institutions (AQACHEI) published regulations and accreditation guidelines for distance learning and blended learning, according to the paper.

The Higher Education Ministry and Jordanian universities are currently developing strategies for remote education, the paper added.

The pandemic imposed challenges on healthcare and well-being of people, in addition to “grave economic, social and educational implications”, the paper said, noting that Jordan has worked to turning the challenges into opportunities that boost resilience and recovery.

Universities utilised their resources to ensure the continuation of the education process, as well as, maintain business, the policies paper showed.

The paper added that the volume of the resources was different at each university, and yet “what would normally have taken months to accomplish, took place in a matter of days”.

Nonetheless, the paper says that distance learning “should not be considered as a replacement of face-to-face and on-campus interaction”, but is rather an important component for higher education, and a tool to improve universities’ competitiveness in regards to cultivating an “innovative educational environment”. 

“Since the onset of the lockdown and the closure of all university campuses on March 17, the Council of Higher Education took a number of measures to support and organise distance learning,” the paper said. 

“In coordinating the efforts of Jordanian universities, the ministry requested all higher education institutions to submit their plans and technology readiness reports that include capacity building for teaching staff,” it added.

The current distance learning practices at Jordanian universities was reviewed in the distance learning policies paper through various surveys.

The results indicated that the software and platforms required for the process are available at most universities, which are able to provide “reliable video conferencing”.

The results indicated that there are varied Internet speeds among universities, which represents “a major bottleneck hindering distance learning”.

Results also indicated that most universities lack the facilities required for producing high-quality multimedia content.

The results have shown that although most universities have provided Internet bundles to their students, another “major bottleneck” is the fact that most students do not have laptops. They also highlighted universities’ efforts to offer digitised courses using distance learning.

Moreover, the surveys indicated that faculty members prefer holding interactive sessions with their students, using platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

In regard to evaluating students and grading, the paper said that “universities adopted contrasting approaches”.

It added that the ministry and the council issued an ordinance requiring universities to conduct assessments online, and also allowed students to include or exclude their course grades from their cumulative GPAs. 

Layan Saa’deh, a Doctor of Pharmacy fifth-year student at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, said that her experience of online education had its advantages and disadvantages.

“On the campus, you can only take a lecture once, but online the lectures are recorded and we can go back to the material, which makes it more available,” she told The Jordan Times on Sunday over the phone.

Another advantage was not having a commute, Saa’deh said, noting that she used to take public transportation from Amman to Irbid and then back to Amman, and remote education made it easier to attend.

However, the disadvantages that Saa’deh experienced include the lack of motivation to sit for lectures at home, in addition to technical problems, such as late broadcast of a lecture or the postponement of an exam because the professor could not upload it properly at the set time.

Saa’deh said that taking exams on the campus reduced chances of cheating while holding them online might be unjust for students who study hard when others can cheat and get high grades.

She added that only few courses utilised software to detect any cheating attempts.

A second-year student at Petra University, who preferred to remain anonymous and studies computer science, told The Jordan Times that the distance learning experience varied in success, depending on the subject.

“The broad subjects shared among university students can easily be taught online, but subjects directly related to our major require explanation and focus, and they need to be taught on the campus,” he said.

The student noted that he felt that levels of interactions were “a lot higher” on the campus and at lecture halls compared with online education, but said that he experienced “no technical problems whatsoever neither on his side nor from the university”. 

He reiterated that it was difficult for his university to detect cheating, but that other universities required students to open their cameras when they sat for exams, and made it compulsory.

One of the only ways the university tried to curtail cheating was programming the exams to prevent text copying and pasting.

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