The campus reflects the multicultural nature of Pakistan, as students from diverse backgrounds and regions interact with each other, promoting a spirit of national integration and harmony. UMT also has a strong international student body, welcoming students from 18 countries across the globe, making its campus a thriving international community in the center of Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province.
Currently, the institution offers 150+ accredited programs through 18 schools and institutes operating at the university. Getting faculty and staff to adopt eLearning proved to be a challenge prior to 2020. They were hesitant to switch to an online or hybrid learning modality and without their buy-in, the transition proved cumbersome and challenging. When lockdown occurred last year in March 2020, faculty, staff, and students, although still unprepared, embraced the new technologies, making UMT the first university in Pakistan to adopt and fully transition to eLearning, almost overnight.
In June 2021, UMT was shortlisted for the “Teaching and Learning Strategy of the Year – Category Award” from the Times Higher Education Awards Asia 2021 for their incredible work.
Read on to find out how they accomplished it.
A Three-Year Lead Up to Seamlessly Transition to eLearning
In July 2017, UMT-CONNECTED was launched as the Directorate of Distance Education (DDE) at UMT. Essentially, it’s a strategic initiative to establish the university as an eLearning leader in the country. A detailed digital transformation project involving several departments within the university worked together to define a teaching and learning strategy, and set clear objectives to measure its success and progress.
Before 2020, UMT had not yet launched online or blended courses. Up until then, staff’s resistance to change made it unfeasible for the university to move forward with its plans to digitally transform. When in-person education came to a halt and the prospect of student attrition became a possibility, faculty finally adopted eLearning.
With the closure of educational institutions in Pakistan, UMT was among the first universities in Pakistan to shift not only its courses to a virtual learning format, but also its entire academic and administrative support operations. This was due to the rigorous work completed in terms of infrastructure and eLearning readiness for three years prior by UMT-CONNECTED in close collaboration with the Office of the Rector (ORC), the Accreditation and Academic Quality Improvement Cell (AAQIC), the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and the Office of Technology Enablement (OTE), as well as various relevant academic and non-academic departments across the university.
The directorate promoted a cohesive digital ecosystem characterized by connectivity and collaboration within institutional units and with external bodies such as the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, edTech companies and organizations, internet service providers, and telephone companies. International universities were contacted to learn from their best practices and localize the same efforts to improve and enhance the online education offering. In short, a 360-degree transformation was sought and achieved despite time constraints, resistance, incommensurate quality expectations, and lack of stakeholders’ confidence. Counseling services offered to faculty, staff and students was another early initiative established during the pandemic and continues to be available today.
The digital transition was facilitated by UMT-CONNECTED based on the Five Pillars of Quality Online Education proposed by the Sloan-Consortium and Quality Matters’ Course Design Rubric Standards. UMT was the first higher education institution in Pakistan to get a QUALITY MATTERS USA Membership.
Learner success is a top priority at UMT. To remove barriers to success for its online learners, UMT joined Quality Matters (QM) — the international leader for quality assurance in online and innovative digital teaching and learning environments.
In collaboration with relevant offices, UMT-CONNECTED designed and managed strategies to facilitate and implement the university’s new teaching and learning initiatives. The strategies served as a tool to support and assess educational needs, identify and prepare for implementation challenges, and consider feedback. It also ensured buy-in across the institution using both top-down and bottom-up approaches.
Through its Moodle™-based LMS known as UMT-LMS, the university is able to carry out blended learning, distance education, and flipped classroom learning modalities today.
Preparing Faculty and Staff to Adopt the LMS and eLearning Practices
Preparing and motivating faculty to teach online was a critical component of the success of the transition. Apart from providing online readiness orientation to faculty, OTE, UMT-CONNECTED and CTL joined forces to impart best practices for online teaching and learning after direct consultation with the AAQIC. Through a mandatory training program, faculty learned technical skills for online course delivery and guidelines for curriculum design.
Online teaching techniques were shared to ensure quality education delivery. Weekly newsletters were also distributed to share success stories, latest trends, and the progression of services offered.
“Without any complications, UMT moved seamlessly to online education with the help of UMT-CONNECTED and its exceptionally rigorous and comprehensive plan. UMT invested in its Moodle™-based LMS, remote communication tools, applications, and software. Specialized training and facilities were provided to faculty and students to adopt eLearning, and efforts were made to gain greater student acceptance and faculty readiness for online teaching and learning,” explained Asif Saeed Haider, AAQIC director.
Best Innovative Practices to Create a Sustainable Digital Ecosystem
1) Introducing the TCA Model
UMT-CONNECTED initiated an internal training program by adopting a “train the trainer” model. Each school at UMT nominated faculty members who were required to represent themselves as ‘Technology Change Agents’ in their respective schools and departments after completing proper training. In order to create a tech-conducive and tech-efficient environment, administrative leaders were assigned at each level of the university’s hierarchy and a dedicated team was established to oversee the digital transformation.
2) Streamlining Operational Procedures Through a Digital Scoreboard
At the central level, policies, standards, and procedures were modified and streamlined to provide ready access to education and training. The development of a digital scoreboard proved incredibly helpful, as it provided a scoreboard that all schools had to regularly update with information pertaining to the completion of several courses and activities, including:
- Completion of the ‘Art & Science of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education’ course by all faculty members
- Proficiency using the Moodle™ LMS to digitize courses based on Quality Matters standards
- UMT has the highest number of faculty who not only participated in the “Capacity Building Program on Online Teaching” by NAHE (National Academy of Higher Education), but also achieved the highest number of top scorers.
- Regular uploading of weekly lectures and availability of all content on the LMS
- Rigorous training of mandatory Zoom and lecture facilitation techniques
- Learning techniques to reduce academic dishonesty in a virtual environment
- Activation of ‘Tech Change Agents’ to support strategy implementation at the grass root level by generating awareness, producing program specific reports, conducting training sessions and managing program-level digitalization scorecards.
- Live broadcasting through VEPP video conferencing for students
- Development of skills-based MOOCs
- Production of lecture capture based videos for courses for revision and practice
- Deployment of a Research Management System to manage theses, dissertations and projects
- Program and/or faculty speciﬁc training and professional development to ensure unique digitalization needs were met and avoid a one-size-fits-all mentality.
3) Customizing the LMS Format for Regular Courses and MOOCs
After substantial research and benchmarking, UMT-CONNECTED customized the LMS format that best suited its students’ needs and course design requirements. Through the adoption of school-specific OLLARC, a new format was designed and implemented to ensure the easiest access to LMS tools.
The new format organizes courses in the following sequence: Overview, Learning Outcomes, Learning Activities, Assignments and Assessments, Recommended Resources, and Concluding Remarks. Similarly, an informational structure, LKERAWES, was created for MOOCs which consisted of features including ‘Let’s Start, Knowledge, Experience and Reflection, Assessment, What’s Next, Extend Your Understanding, and Summary.’ The enablement of OLLARC and LKERAWES helps faculty in delivering and managing instructional materials and resources online, increasing course engagement and interaction, as well as assessing and tracking students’ academic performance and increasing its outreach in terms of expertise.
The enablement of OLLARC and LKERAWES helps faculty in delivering and managing instructional materials and resources online, increasing course engagement and interaction, as well as assessing and tracking students’ academic performance and increasing its outreach in terms of expertise.
Here are eight ways UMT has enabled teaching staff through the transition to online learning:
1) Introduced the Teaching and Learning Communiques to share effective teaching and learning strategies for higher education instructors. Worldwide teaching best practices are shared through the platform to foster high-quality education and academic career progression. The portal is open for public viewing and a total of 42 teaching and learning communications have been shared to date.
2) Created the Learning Café to keep UMT faculty informed about the latest pedagogical tools and resources. Sessions are conducted by local and international learning experts and are available online 24/7.
3) Launched faculty training workshops on topics related to teaching, learning, and instructional resources. A total of 19 workshops have been conducted, with 26 scheduled throughout 2021. Open registration is available for institutions globally.
4) A weekly newsletter is sent out by UMT-CONNECTED to UMT faculty and students on topics related to distance learning in Pakistan and abroad including information on curricular initiatives, tech resources, eLearning trends, and best practices.
5) Conducted surveys to identify faculty and students in need of digital devices and bandwidth. By partnering with local internet providers, UMT has been able to offer low-price internet packages to students in need.
7) Purchased Zoom version 5.4 to facilitate live/online teaching, encouraging student engagement and becoming the first university in Pakistan to subscribe to Quality Matters.
8) Set up physical classrooms for faculty to facilitate hybrid classes, fully equipped with teaching aids, such as multimedia digital projectors, computers, internet, whiteboard, mics, and recorders. A total of 30 labs/studios and 110 classrooms are available with advanced educational technologies.
UMT’s administrators have realized the benefits that hybrid and online learning modalities can bring to higher education, including the potential of increasing enrollment.
“Maintaining a positive teaching and learning environment requires timely planning, a creative thought process, and committed actions. UMT believes that it is important to continually monitor and adapt strategies to meet the changing needs of students and faculty”, affirmed Rana Sahib, UMT-CONNECTED director.
Despite the global impact of COVID-19 on education, the economy, and everything that binds humanity together, it initiated and accentuated the need to accept change as the new normal. APOES 1.0 and 2.0 (two events that occurred in May and October of 2020 respectively), the first in the series of the All Pakistan Online Education Summits, contributed immensely in creating a platform to facilitate meaningful digitalization. UMT will proudly continue to serve as an event partner to this initiative understanding that there is still work that remains to be done. Look out for APOES 3.0!