In response to the COVID-19 coronavirus, Birzeit University was one of the first Palestinian higher education institutions to implement distance online teaching. The first priority of the university administration and teaching staff is to keep all students healthy and to help them to protect themselves and their families from this pandemic by staying home as long as possible. For that reason, the university encouraged the faculty and staff to start giving distance courses to students using Moodle, with either BigBlueButton or Zoom software. The university swiftly adopted these two softwares as official tools for teaching and learning for until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To encourage the students to participate in this new learning approach, the university announced that evaluations of online courses given through distance learning would have two tracks; either “Emergency Pass (EP)” or “Emergency Incomplete (EI)”. Any student who completes the minimum requirements of the course will pass that course and get “EP”. If the student cannot comply with the minimum requirements of a course for a given reason, he or she will get “EI”, which means that he or she will be able to complete the requirements of that course and pass it in any future semester without paying for it again. This process helps to alleviate the students’ potential fear of failure. In addition, as there are no grades, students will not be considered for the honor list or incur warnings or dismissal resolutions. This should relieve potential additional pressures.
Concerning exams, the administration gave teachers the flexibility to decide the best means of evaluation for their courses depending on the nature of the course itself. For example, the teacher can use online multiple-choice quizzes or give assignments and homework, or even grade according to longer-term comprehensive projects. Some teachers decided to use longer, comprehensive take home exams whereby students have 24 hours to complete it and return it back by e-mail or any other electronic communication method.
Many initiatives have been taken to help students who do not have internet in their houses. For example, student clubs started fundraising to cover the expenses of students who do not have internet at home. It is promising to observe such a demonstration of solidarity and student self-organisation in these times.
Ahmed Abu Hanieh. Birzeit University