Celebrating its 20th year, Arab American University will be pleased to share its success story and rapid response during the Corona pandemic and how it started the e-learning at the beginning of the Spring Semester that started due to the case of emergency caused by the spread of COVID-19.
Before going in depth in this successful and positive experiment, and how Arab American University has managed to switch to the e-learning since the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, it is important to mention that AAUP was established in 2000 and it is an emerging Palestinian university that managed to keep up with the latest and most current scientific and research development during the last 20 years just like the best universities around the world.
Arab American University – Palestine has over 1100 students studying in its different faculties and programs. AAUP provides the society with educational services of BA, Masters’ and PhD Degrees in its both campuses, the main campus in Jenin, and the Ramallah Campus that provides Graduate Studies programs, and has some medical centers for the medical services that AAUP provides as well.
AAUP adopts the internationalize education vision, and works on achieving it by the agreements and joint partnerships with other international educational institutions in the US and Europe. Also the university provides some distinguish and first of its kind BA, Masters’ and PhD programs.
Recently, AAUP spent over 150,000 $ to support the e-learning system under the Corona pandemic. And since its establishment, the university re-pumps its annual profit.
Social Responsibility and Public Health:
Alongside its academic responsibility to students, professors and the Palestinian education in general, AAUP contributed during the emergency period in the social responsibility towards citizens. And so, on behalf of AAUP, the Board of Directors donated some medical and health supplies to the Ministry of Health and the government. The donation included a lot of masks and sterilizers, and some kits to doctors that are fully equipped to help doctors do their duties in facing the Corona Pandemic.
A specialist staff worked regularly on sterilizing all buildings and facilities of the university for the safety of students, workers, staff and visitors, in addition to preparing educational awareness flyers, publications and videos to aware everyone of COVID-19. Moreover, a special email address was prepared in order to answer the questions and inquires of students and staff about COVID-19, as specialists in epidemiology and virology from the university answer them.
The university also donated to the female students who could not go back to their families due to the full closure of airports and boarders (who their families are living in the Gulf countries).
Scheduled Activities, Events and Conferences:
After the spread of the pandemic, and to provide the needed protection and precautions, Arab American University decided to cancel or reschedule all the activities, events and conferences that were scheduled to be in the Spring Semester. On the other hand, many national and international workshops and seminars were organized via ZOOM.
AAUP started thinking about the e-learning system two years ago, and its success in the fast and smooth switch to the e-learning was because of the following reasons:
The E-Learning Center was Created:
AAUP buildings are a combination between modernity, technology and originality. The classrooms were provided with the best and latest tools for modern education, like the electronic screens, simulation devices, technological systems and developed programs that serves the quality of education and provides an interactive educational environment by all standards. At the beginning of the case of emergency due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, and after the closure of the educational institutions, the Deans’ Council along with the office of the Assistant to the President for Information Technology started a center specialized for the e-learning that worked directly with the providers of the service, to enhance the internet strength to be of an outstanding capacity and speed. In two weeks, AAUP managed to provide all the theoretical courses online, and postponed the practical courses to the period after Corona Pandemic ends.
The Administrative and Technical Staff:
The academic and administrative staff and the IT team in AAUP have helped in facilitating the switching to e-learning process. They all helped in supporting professors and students by preparing and following up all the administrative and financial details, the academic content, the e-learning tools and all the necessary things to success this experiment. For instance, some explanatory videos were prepared and electronic guidebooks to train staff on whatever the professor or the student need for the success of the electronic interaction and to ensure a quality education.
Cooperation and Integration in the University Councils:
The Deans’ Council worked as a hive in constant sessions via video conferencing technology. Deans were given great powers to follow-up their faculties and professors, and each faculty worked as much as possible to prepare a good educational content. Professors were trained by the office of the Assistant to the President for IT and by the e-learning unit, and they all worked with the Public Relations team and the Radio team to register lectures for the different courses in the university studios. Moreover, when professors mastered the e-learning system, they started providing students with online lectures. The main driver for this success was that the Board of Directors fast response to prepare an emergency plan, support it and facilitate its work, and this was a main reason behind the success of AAUP in switching to e-learning system easily.
The Desire and Determination to Succeed:
Arab American University saw an opportunity in the case of emergency that was forced on the country after the spread of COVID-19, and it determined to invest in this opportunity and transform it to a strategic strength to activate the e-learning. The clear vision, the cooperation, integration and assigning tasks between the different councils worked to success this experiment.
The beginning of this transformation was surprising and confusing, not only to AAUP, but to the whole world. All students and professors all over the world in the different academic institutions faced a situation where they needed to choose between the only two available choices, either to give up or to try. The uncertainty, the great mystery, the inability to predict the timing to contain this pandemic and the Palestinian Government decision to start emergency period and close all universities in March 3rd, all are factors that drived AAUP automatically to the option of trying the experiment of e-learning.
The virus was spreading strongly and quickly, and AAUP continued in its e-learning experiment with determination, motivation and passion to serve the education in Palestine and provide everything needed to guarantee a quality education to the Palestinian students.
Within the emergency plan that was developed under joint cooperation between the Board of Directors, the Deans’ Council, the Vice President Offices and the emergency committees, AAUP worked gradually and comprehensively to implement the plan following these steps:
Academically: Deans of faculties and heads of departments were given all the power to follow up the educational process and guarantee the academic content and performance. AAUP followed a flexible methodology for e-learning of two options:
- The First Option:
The Professor records the lecture as a video, either by using PowerPoint slides with voice record or by recording the screen for each week’s lectures and then prepare at least one interactive meeting at the same time of the original time of the lecture. Then the professor uploads these lectures on Moodle so that all students will have the ability to see the lectures when it is suitable for them.
- The Second Option:
The Professor holds all the lectures in an interactive way directly with students at the same time of the original lecture time as scheduled. All lectures must be recorded and uploaded on Zoom Cloud on Moodle, so that all students can watch again when needed.
The teaching platform (Moodle) was unified as the official learning and interactive platform to AAUP. Moodle is a system provided with the compatible software to manage the e-learning process and a place that gathers students and professors in a way that guarantees transparency, reliability and quality. The university also provided students with the best online application (Entreprise Zoom), which is a developed application of (Zoom) that enables lecturers to hold interactive Online lectures with students. In addition to a safe capacity on Cloud to record and save lectures and report each online meeting for the sake of evaluation and quality control that was done by increasing the number and speed of the used servers, In addition to the MS OFFICE 365 service.
In order to support the infrastructure, AAUP contacted experts from Moodle to create a good infrastructure for the e-learning platform Moodle. It was agreed with one of Moodle agents to start initializing the electronic systems and servers for the e-learning for an amount of more than 10,000 US$ to avoid any technical problems that might face students and professor while maintaining the confidentiality of personal data and information for all users.. Additionally, the infrastructure hardware systems were developed and improved by increasing the processing capabilities, as two new servers were bought and the memory capacity of all existing servers was increased. The storage capacity of the central storage unit was increased for an amount of over 100,000 US$ and that contributed in enduring the latest update of Moodle which is composed of 12 virtual servers that work actively without any slow down.
AAUP library strengthened its electronic participation and expanded its database, aiming to provide a huge database of books and electronic references for students and faculty members to support the e-learning process.
Arab American University did all the needed administrative and financial procedures to keep its assets safe and good, including the swimming pool, the sport machines, the plants, electricity generators, the servers, water, and protecting the university from rodents and birds, etc. AAUP also followed up the operating systems for all buildings using the Buildings Management System, in addition to developing a technical and financial study that was done to equip 4 computer labs with (315) devices to be used in the e-learning process. Moreover, a plan for the administrative staff working times was developed to keep providing services to students, taking in consideration the safety precautions, including the payment of their salaries. AAUP also sterilized all its buildings in both campuses, Jenin and Ramallah and provided the medical masks and sterilizers for its faculty members and staff to guarantee a safe working environment. It initiated the idea of online working for some staff, especially mothers, employees with chronic diseases and employees who live in other cities, in order to achieve the completion of all major work and not accumulate it. The cleaning company continued its work with the minimum number of staff, and the university clinic joined some shifts in the Korean medical center. Platforms were prepared to enable all the warehouse employees to work online if they could not reach the campus. Also AAUP was keen to ensure the effectiveness of the fire and air conditioning systems in the warehouses to ensure that the storage conditions are good with continues examining on the validity dates. Through its Administrative and Financial office, AAUP contacted all offices, deanships, faculties, departments and centers of the university to review and update the risk records for each one of them especially concerning the academic situation during the Corona pandemic. Their working models will reflect a “Risk Management Policy” for each center management to guarantee the best output, and so a follow-up and evaluation process was done to ensure that work is being done and provide the needed improvements. Furthermore, and during the case of emergency, AAUP followed up all the work contracts that were to end soon, or the probation contracts to do the needed procedures about them. AAUP facilitated the process of buying new memory parts and storage units in order to develop the infrastructure for information technology to endure the e-learning needs. And finally, the university continued the registration process for students who were not registered yet (over 1000 student) in all programs via bank and cash payments.
- To Support the Faculty Members:
AAUP organized training workshops for faculty members on how to use the Moodle platform. The E-Learning Center in the university prepared many guidelines and videos to professors with detailed explanation on how to use Moodle, how to record and upload videos on the One Drive and how to use the Big Blue Button and Zoom to organize interactive lecture to students. The guiding videos also included instructions on how to add homework, evaluation and marks on Moodle. Solutions for extra safety level were proposed to protect the content on Zoom and One Drive. Moreover, the center provided videos on how to use Zoom to record off-line lectures and upload them on Moodle. The team viewer program was also used to enter the professors’ devices who face problems and work with them step by step to solve all problems. AAUP now is working on putting a strategy to prepare the final exams using e-learning, Taking in consideration the online supervising, and answering students questions and enquiries during exams while keeping a high level of academic standards and enhancing the quality of teaching. and by that it will be a pioneer between the Palestinian universities in adopting the e-learning system for final exams with real grades unlike other Palestinian universities who settled for homeworks only and Pass/ Fail evaluation.
- To Support Students:
AAUP worked on preparing some guidelines for students to explain the steps and settings on how to enter Moodle from their laptops and how to download it on their mobiles. The university also explained how to deal with Zoom. The e-learning center prepared videos for students explaining how to use Moodle and Zoom to upload their homework. All the previous content is now provided on the university e-learning website.
It also provided 24/7 technical support to students and staff through specialist technicians to follow up and solve any problem that might appear. Their emails and mobile numbers were provided to students and staff to ease the process of contacting them to ask for support.
To facilitate the communication process during the emergency period, AAUP did the following:
- Established an email for the e-learning center to enable students and professors to send any inquires and have a respond as soon as possible.
The email: elearningaaup.edu
- Established a Facebook page for the university professors to follow-up their problems, find solutions and share their experiences. This page is used to share the videos and guidelines that are prepared for them.
- Started a Whatsapp and Facebook groups by the Deans of faculties, and those groups helped in finding solutions and answers, providing advice and solving problems during the emergency.
Radio and Media Cover:
- The university’s TV and Radio Unit was employed to host deans in open discussions with students and was broadcasted on the official AAUP pages, and that gave students opportunities to inquire and provide the university with notes and complaints. AAUP Radio was employed to broadcast a daily program entitled “Online Learning”, and it hosted deans and head of departments in open discussions with students to answer their questions. This program reflected the interest of the university in democracy when dealing with students. E-learning experts in university were also hosted in the different programs to talk about the situation especially in “Coronas” program.
However, after this pandemic is over, and COVID-19 is contained, we will not remember any of these details in this experiment, but we will definitely live with its results. Arab American University is proud with the results of its e-learning experiment; we had this opportunity because of the pandemic, but it was an extraordinary, comprehensive, integrated, cooperative and national one that forced us to face the challenges and keep up the good work, great efforts and continues strategic planning to reach excellence. And now, in its 20th year, Arab American University is writing with excellence its Palestinian success story.