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E-learning for extraordinary times

Apr 16,2020 - Last updated at Apr 16,2020

As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Jordanian universities, like many universities in the region and abroad, suspended face-to-face education rather abruptly, and switched overnight to online education.

Taking all factors into account, Jordanian universities did fairly well.

Obviously, some did better than others, due to experience, prior exposure to e-learning, the quality and charisma of faculty members, the technological infrastructure and a host of other factors.

A crucial point, however, needs to be taken into account when we judge the “degree” of success of the experience, and this is namely the fact that the e-learning we have been executing since the suspension of face-to-face education a month ago is e-learning for an “extraordinary”, and not an “ordinary”, period.

Such a fine distinction may seem slight, but it has fundamental implications.

Some who have been either discussing or formally assessing the “quality” of online learning for our university students have been speaking and acting as if our universities had been preparing for the current mode of learning for some time and as if COVID-19 came to find us fully prepared for the shift into the alternate mode of learning.

Which is not the case at all.

When we keep in mind the extraordinariness of the circumstances, as opposed to their ordinaries, our expectations, or assessment tools, and our degree of satisfaction will be different.

When we keep in mind that the shift was unexpected and unplanned for, we see better the extent of the challenge, the extent of the outcomes to be achieved, and the degree of success.

Take the University of Jordan (UJ), as an example. UJ has 50,000 students and 1,600 faculty members. For this huge mass of learners and instructors to shift in less than a week to a primarily different mode of teaching and learning and adapt so easily and quickly to it, is no small feat.

It is true that many faculty members at UJ have had an excellent experience in e-learning and that several of them have had an experience in blended learning, which is one of its solid initiatives. But it is also true that many of its faculty have been doing only face-to-face for decades and they have to adapt to a new mode, and adapt quickly.

And all of this testifies to the flexibility and openness of our higher educational system, which has been liberal and progressive since its inception in 1962.

Yes, let us assess our experience with online learning under these extraordinary circumstances diligently and meticulously, and let us expect a lot from it, but let us also keep in mind that it is education for an extraordinary situation.

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