Vice-Chancellors have expressed their full commitment to making online classes and e-learning a success amidst the closure of universities in the wake of the situation created due to COVID-19 crises. During the third Vice-Chancellors Committee meeting held since the closure of universities due to the spread of COVID-19, the university heads reviewed the progress on universities’ readiness to offer online classes to avoid academic loss. The meeting, conducted online through Microsoft Teams, was attended by all Vice-Chancellors from across the country.
The Vice Chancellors expressed their resolve to accelerate their efforts, with the collaboration of HEC, to enhance the quality of online classes, ensure the readiness of e-learning components, and contribute to the national effort against the prevailing crisis. They thanked the HEC for facilitating the universities in executing the Learning Management System (LMS). They asserted that they are committed to resolving all the issues facing the students, faculty and administrative staff in making the LMS a success with the assistance of HEC.
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On this occasion, Chairman HEC Tariq Banuri stressed the need for immediate measures, on the part of universities, to ensure readiness for online classes. He requested the Vice Chancellors to adopt and announce a formal Policy and Standard Operating Procedures for approval of online courses. “If you think your courses are ready for online dissemination, please communicate in writing to HEC so that they may be brought into practice and made available for students.”
He emphasised that Learning Management System (LMS) have to be put into place before the start of online classes, in order to provide information, track progress, and coordinate activities. Similarly, universities need to establish a governance system for decision-making and adjudication of complaints. He asked universities to assign responsibilities for authorisation of online classes to a dedicated decision-making body, e.g., an “Online Academic Council”. He also requested Vice-Chancellors to appoint focal points for COVID-19, online courses, and for technical support, and to collect and share data on online readiness as quickly as possible.
Chairman HEC highlighted that HEC uses the concept of “online readiness” to assess quality of online programmes. This is measured in terms of a set of targeted requirements, covering learning management systems (LMS), course syllabuses, faculty training, libraries, technological options, examination arrangements, laboratory instruction, and above all the support for students.
He asked Vice Chancellors to satisfy themselves that all actions to prepare for online courses had been taken. “If there is any lapse, there should be a readiness to address it.” He underlined that: “each class has to be certified for readiness.” All course elements must be uploaded on the LMS, which must contain an introduction, Learning Objectives, textbooks, and assignments alongside a lesson plan and rules including grading policy. “The Vice Chancellors need to ascertain if the professor or teacher concerned has prepared themselves properly for this task.” He said libraries must be enabled to provide course material through online means. “Universities need to make proper arrangements for students to access the digital library from home.”
He also shed light on various aspects of examination and evaluation system, including its objectives, textbooks, and assignments. He affirmed that detailed guidance on grading policies and evaluations systems will be finalised in a few weeks.
Describing faculty readiness, he stressed the need for faculty training. Faculty must take a recommended course, get IT help for a test run, revise syllabus for online availability, restructure lesson plan, and get students feedback and address their concerns. “Online teaching is completely different from face to face teaching, as it has different challenges and techniques.” However, he added, it also offers opportunities along with supportive resources.
“We need to raise quality of teaching in general, but special attention needs to be paid to online teaching in the prevailing circumstances.” He recommended that the faculty members require to take a training course for online teaching and also do a dry run of their courses to test the system to address any unforeseen problems. Online Authorisation Council set up to look into faculty readiness would see into the issues related to faculty.
The Chairman underlined that student readiness for online classes is the most important aspect on e-learning as it has a number of challenges. He informed the Vice Chancellors that HEC was taking steps to address issues facing the students, including access to internet, and support to students in need. As a first step in this regard, he requested Vice Chancellors to collect and share information about students’ location and connectivity challenges. HEC is in contact with telecommunication companies to introduce Taleem Bundle to bring about subsidised internet packages for students. “We hope to reach an agreement quite soon,” he informed. He said universities need to raise their technology capabilities as technology, especially the IT, is getting more important amidst the situation created in the wake of COVID-19.
The meeting concluded with a consensus that the Vice Chancellors, with the help of HEC and support of faculty and students, would keep on putting efforts for mitigation of academic loss of students due to the COVID-19 crisis. They agreed to hold frequent meetings to discuss and sort out solutions to every emerging challenge in the way of online education.