What should the HEC do to improve quality of online classes?

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What should the HEC do to improve quality of online classes?
What should the HEC do to improve quality of online classes?

Students and faculty members have reservations about the quality and effectiveness of online teaching as they could not ask questions in case they fail to comprehend a lecture. What should the HEC do?

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has directed all universities and accredited institutions with sufficient resources to start online classes. The highest body in Pakistan which deals with higher education-related matters believes that the precious time of students must not be wasted at any cost.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan, the government ordered the closure of schools, colleges, and universities across the country.

According to an official notification, HEC has asked all universities which have well-built learning management systems (LMS) to initiate online classes. This way, education will not be compromised.

Moreover, universities facing technological, technical, or spatial limitations can remain closed for academic activities till 31 May 2020 and mark the period as summer vacation, HEC has clarified.

In the meantime, these universities shall make arrangements for conducting online classes in case the closure is extended because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the notification stated.

Such universities shall plan, acquire, train, and shall be able to execute an LMS from June 01, 2010, so that ongoing semester could resume even in an eventuality of the extended closure of universities.

However, students from far flung areas are facing some problems with regard to availability of resources e.g. laptops and internet. Some professors also complained that this has happened all of sudden and “we are not familiar with modern-day technologies which has created problems for us”. Academics and students using applications like Zoom are also not happy since it is not as good for those studying mathematics or statistics as for someone studying Pakistan Study.

Hundreds of students and faculty members of different universities lodged complaints on Prime Minister’s Portal with regard to the online teaching system’s quality of instruction, digital readiness of the instructor, poor internet connectivity etc.

The Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) on Monday constituted a nine-member committee to formulate policy and oversee the matter related to provision of online courses

The students have also reservations about the quality and effectiveness of online teaching as they could not ask questions in case they fail to comprehend a lecture. They also complain about the voice quality of audio lectures which they find inaudible, besides quality of teachers who, they say are not properly trained in online communication

HEC has clarified that “we don’t know how long the restrictions will stay in place. The experience of other countries is quite varied. If the restrictions get lifted on June 1, the teaching will take place face to face. In the meantime, it will only be online”.

Virtual University of Pakistan (VUP) Registrar Dr Mohsin Javed told Dawn that the conventional mode of teaching was different from online teaching system.

He said the universities did not have any platform to start the online teaching system like Learning Management System (LMS) of the Virtual University. “These universities don’t have any reliable connectivity system between student and teacher and no one knows whether all students and teachers have gadgets like laptop and internet,” he said

HEC has also taken several steps to make sure that the students are imparted with quality education during the closure, instituting a technical support committee (TSC) to help universities’ staff adapt to the online mode of education.

In the coming weeks, HEC will also set up a National Knowledge Bank (NKB) aiming to provide students and teachers access to a wide variety of academic resources.

The commission has tasked National Academy for Higher Education (NAHE) to recommend online tutorials to increase the skills of the teachers imparting online education.

Protect lives and health of stakeholders

The HEC also directed the universities to protect health and lives of all stakeholders, including students, faculty members, and other staff and ensure completion of semester. The full semester loss will also be loss for universities in financial terms so they should also be prepared for the future and try to establish policies, processes, systems, infrastructure and institutions, it says.

The commission has instructed universities to ensure quality online teaching because students and faculty had shown concerns over online teaching and lodged complaints.

It directed the universities to address these issues in order to build acceptability of the new delivery mode as the current crisis did not leave options for saving the semester. The problem is that continued poor quality of instruction and evaluation may force the universities to cancel the semester, with both substantive and financial costs.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) on Monday constituted a nine-member committee to formulate policy and oversee the matter related to provision of online courses, teaching methodology and assessments for learning outcome in the province.

Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) Chairman Prof Dr Fazal Ahmed Khalid was made convener, while other members include University of Engineering and Technology Vice-Chancellor (VC) Prof Dr Mansoor Sarwar, University of Agriculture Faisalabad VC Prof Dr Muhammad Ashraf, King Edward Medical University VC Prof Dr Khalid Masud Gondal, Lahore University of Management Sciences VC Prof Dr Arshad Ahmad, Punjab University VC Prof Dr Niaz Ahmed Akhtar, University of Education VC Prof Dr Talat Naseer Pasha, Virtual University of Pakistan Rector Dr Naeem Tariq and Kinnaird College for Women Principal Prof Dr Rukhsana David.

The committee is expected to come up with recommendations to ensure that the semester is not disturbed and the universities take measures to ensure quality education.

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