Prepared by: Dr. Rami Hamad
Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, International College of Engineering and Management
The International College of Engineering and Management (ICEM) is one of the first private educational institutions in Oman established in 1995. Affiliated with University of Central Lancashire in the UK, ICEM delivers five unique undergraduate programmes including BSc (Hons) Fire Safety Engineering, BSc (Hons) Fire Safety Management, BSc (Hons) Health Safety and Environmental Management, BSc (Hons) Facilities Management and BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering (Well Engineering). Starting from Academic year 2020-21, ICEM will deliver a new program titled BSc (Hons) Construction Project Management.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic on global scale, Supreme Committee of the Sultanate of Oman decided to suspend all face to face teaching activities in all educational institutions starting from Sunday, March 15, 2020. Therefore, ICEM has moved to online teaching in line with government instruction.
Since a lockdown was expected, ICEM started to prepare staff for online delivery from beginning of March 2020 and conducted many training workshops to all academic staff starting from 12th March 2020. A series of staff training workshops and forums were set up to update their knowledge and skills in regarding to online delivery and to prepare them to deal with technological problems while preparing the online teaching. After the trainings has been completed, a survey was conducted to assess full readiness of academic staff for online delivery. The results showed that all staff were fully equipped to provide online teaching before the suspension of face-to-face delivery.
ICEM has commenced online teaching on 15th March 2020, the same day as the face-to-face teaching was suspended. All academic staff started preparing and recording the teaching sessions. Module information packages including the delivery plans, teaching and assessment plans were revised to fit with online delivery mode. A combination of different online platforms such as Blackboard and MS Teams for delivery of teaching materials and recorded videos were used. Blackboard as Virtual Learning Environment was adopted where the students can access to module study guides, course materials including the recorded videos and a range of information sources. In addition to the material prepared in advance and uploaded on Blackboard, Microsoft Teams were used for the delivery of interactive online sessions and live discussions. Each module had regular online interactive discussion via MS Teams. Each academic staff were available most of the time on MS teams to respond to students’ enquiries. Before and during the online study period, ICEM students had full access to online learning resources including e-library and subject specific information.
Students were instructed on how to access the teaching materials with support from Module Tutors, Heads of Departments and Student Support Services at ICEM. In addition, Social Media was also explored and utilized in some modules to facilitate smooth delivery of subject specific materials. While online delivery was conducted and closely monitored, effective communications between academic staff and students were in operation with students’ queries being addressed promptly. This was especially important during Ramadan with many students asking questions during night times.
At the beginning of the process of online teaching, ICEM has faced some challenges such as difficulties faced by students in accessing online teaching and learning materials due to weak internet connections or lack of equipment (laptops). To ease off the pressure for students, all academic staff provided students with extra PowerPoint files with audio recording to minimize the size of the online materials. Students were able to access and download these materials to study offline in their convenience time but this must be before the following session. Resistance to online teaching and learning was expected because the change was sudden and unexpected. The college have overcome this challenge by providing additional support to both staff and students. It was also noted by the college that highlighting the benefits of continuing teaching and learning online to both staff and students gained understanding and support from staff and students for the continuation of online teaching and learning. In the meantime, employing different online platforms for the delivery of teaching materials and providing adequate training to all academic staff in time and with continuous support are essential to the successful completion of online delivery.
During the process of online teaching, the College has conducted a student evaluation about online teaching and the results showed that the students have been satisfied with online delivery at ICEM.
The College concluded online teaching on 8th May 2020 before the final examinations commenced on 10 May 2020. However, online revision classes were conducted until the day before the final examinations were held. The assessment components of each module were revised to fit with online delivery mode. Course works such as group works and practical activities including site visits and laboratory experiments were replaced by other testing methods. Due to the impact of re-scheduling course delivery, and the consequent impact for assessment, deadline of course work submissions were postponed if needed. Exams were conducted as open book online exams. Clear instructions of the online open book exams were sent to students and staff one week before the exams. Contact numbers of an IT staff along with the instructions were provided to students to students in case they experienced any technical difficulties. Module Tutors were available to answer students’ queries and also to deal with students who were experiencing difficulties in submitting examination papers online.
A total number of 665 students participated in final examinations and 97% successfully submitted their exam answer booklets on time. Twenty students experienced technical difficulties in submitting their examination papers online within the time frame due to weak internet connection or lack of equipment. Each of these cases were assessed and supporting measures were in place to assist them for the submission.
The College is very proud of its achievement of embarking on online teaching for the first time in compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Committee and the decisions of MoHE and the successful completion of HE online final examinations for Semester 2, 2019-2020 and GFP final examinations for Semester 2, 2019-2020.