Bahrain Polytechnic’s Deputy CEO of Academic Affairs, Dr Reem Al-Buainain, talks distance learning, now and for the future.
What is the current system and how is it working for students and staff?
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bahrain Polytechnic reacted quickly to ensure the continuation of learning and students’ achievement of course objectives. Currently, teaching staff are utilising a wide range of technologies. By using the Learner Management System (LMS) ‘Moodle’, students and staff can access learning materials for each course and connect with learning communities.
The flexibility of the LMS allows lessons to be held synchronously using a tool called Big Blue Button, where tutors and students take part in lessons with live streamed Q & As, breakout rooms for discussion and collaboration, as well as being able to complete group work and projects. Similarly, some tutors use Microsoft Teams for this purpose, with breakout rooms created through team sub-channels. Lessons can also be delivered asynchronously (not in a scheduled class time) – where students complete tasks assigned to them for follow up from their tutor. This could be research, problem-solving or writing, reading or presentation tasks, to name a few possibilities. Asynchronous tasks also facilitate flipped learning, where students bring what they have learned to a synchronous lesson for discussion with their peers and tutors. The transition to online delivery has been swift, and the academic team has worked incredibly hard to manage this change.
We have discovered that both tutors’ and students’ digital literacies are improving considerably because of this learning experience. For students, this includes leading online meetings in environments such as Microsoft Teams, managing and being accountable for shared cloud-based resources and collaborating to solve technical difficulties when they arise. The pandemic has allowed polytechnic academics to consolidate and enhance their skills in online learning and teaching. We will continue to build on this capacity with the future success of our students at the heart of everything we aim to achieve.
Are you preparing for when the education sector reopens?
Bahrain Polytechnic has produced several plans for the coming semester, while factoring in different scenarios that could occur throughout these uncertain times. Part of this includes reopening our campus for students while using virtual learning smartly until business operations resume normally. All this depends on the Government Executive Committee and the development of the pandemic over the coming months.
Do you believe future education provision, including extracurricular activities, will be changed?
Distance or online learning is very different from traditional learning. At a global level, the COVID-19 outbreak is changing how higher education institutions teach and how students learn. The outbreak will certainly affect a student’s academic profile, extracurricular activities and learning experience outside of the campus. Bahrain Polytechnic’s mission is to produce ‘work-ready graduates’, so extracurricular activities play a vital role in the student’s development and employability skills, such as cultural activities and sports. For example, one of our initiatives included producing several videos focused on home workout routines and health advice from our health and wellness center. Additionally, our student council conducted several sessions on social media platforms covering different extracurricular activities.
In an aim to continue our approach of sending our students to work at an organisation as part of their final year projects, we have shifted this to be conducted remotely with their assigned organisations. Not only will this ensure they continue to earn industry experience before they graduate, it will also provide them with the necessary experience of working remotely, especially during times where most organisations are working from home.
Another initiative we have conducted to benefit the students and the community during these times is launching our free online course page on our website, which includes videos produced from our very own tutors delivering academic content in different fields to enrich the learning experience.
How are registrations looking for the new academic year?
The number of applications for this year have exceeded our expectations. This goes to show the reputation, success, and stability of the Polytechnic during COVID-19.
How can people register or find out further information?
Bahrain Polytechnic’s website is the place where prospective students can apply, all the information is made available. They can find information related to our campus, our programmes, how to apply, and entry tests. In the application stage, the applicant can follow the ‘How to Apply’ manual available in the admissions page.