British University of Bahrain VP Keith Sharp talks preparedness and contingency plans for reopening with more students opting to stay in the Kingdom.
How are lessons currently being conducted and what are the main challenges?
As soon as the closure of university campuses was announced, we switched our teaching from face-to-face to an online mode. We were fortunate that we already made extensive use of the learning platform ‘Blackboard’ to support our classroom teaching, so we were able to use Blackboard’s in-built virtual classroom system, ‘Collaborate Ultra’, to provide an equivalent experience to our students. By using this tool, we were able to maintain our original schedule of classes remotely.
One challenge we faced was around exams. As the campus is closed, we could not hold traditional examinations this year. So, it was important to make sure students were assessed in a way that accurately tested their knowledge and understanding, whilst not disadvantaging them. With support from our colleagues at the University of Salford, we were able to convert traditional examinations to other forms of assessment that students could undertake at home, but which had built-in methods to ensure that no one could gain an unfair advantage. This means that our students will be able to progress to their next stage of studies next academic year without disruption.
Overall, our experience of remote teaching and assessment has been positive. Our teaching staff were all trained in the use of the technology and quickly adapted to this different way of teaching. Similarly, student attendance at online classes was very good and most responded well to these arrangements. That is not to say that some did not feel a little anxious about these changes, but the staff worked hard to reassure them and support them through their alternative assessments.
What are your plans for when the education sector reopens?
Once the government considers it safe, we will reopen the BUB campus, putting in place any measures necessary to ensure the safety of our students and staff. We have contingency plans to implement social distancing on campus, for example, and will as always be guided by the advice of the Bahraini authorities.
Will this experience change the way education is provided and how will extracurricular activities be affected?
It seems likely that there will be some long-term effects and many of these will be positive. Universities and students alike have been forced to re-evaluate the ways in which they teach and learn, and effective learning does not always require traditional classroom attendance. I also expect to see changes in the way work in wider society is organised. For example, most organisations have been conducting meetings using software such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom and most have found this to be an efficient and effective alternative to face-to-face meetings. I would anticipate, therefore, that some of this will continue after the restrictions have been lifted, simply because it is a more efficient way of doing business. As we prepare our students for the future world of work, therefore, it is important that we equip them with advanced online networking skills as well as more traditional forms of knowledge and skillsets.
Undoubtedly there has been an effect on extra-curricular activities, but out Student Affairs team has worked hard to find virtual alternatives to some of the activities that students would otherwise be engaged in. We will shortly be holding a virtual student awards ceremony, for example, in which we recognise their academic and extra-curricular achievements.
How are registrations looking for the new academic year?
Applications for next academic year are very strong and we expect fewer students than normal will be considering studying abroad. Because BUB offers British degrees from the University of Salford, many applicants see us as a viable alternative to studying in the UK and elsewhere. We are also receiving inquiries from students who have returned from university in the UK and wish to transfer to similar University of Salford programmes at BUB, and from students who wish to commence their degree level study at BUB but transfer to the UK later, once the pandemic has subsided sufficiently.
How can people register or find out further information?
They can reach out to our Recruitment and Outreach officer, Khurram Salman, at
[email protected] or call 17 130-303,
WhatsApp 38 030-303 or visit www.bub.bh