Middlesex University Dubai has staged a series of initiatives to support both faculty and students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
Community campaigns, mental health panel discussions and virtual fitness and music activities among pro-active measures to foster school spirit and boost wellbeing
An e-learning strategy was also successfully implemented to ensure all students continue receiving a high-quality education and support during remote learning phase
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues affecting communities, businesses and economies worldwide, Middlesex University Dubai is helping ensure the continuity of its educational mission by using innovative teaching solutions, team spirit and innovation to boost the learning and wellbeing of its faculty, staff and student body.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, conveyed to the UAE people on the first day of implementing the distance learning system across the UAE private and public schools: "Never stop learning. Education shapes life and whoever stops learning, stops living." Given the outstanding technological infrastructure for smart learning in the UAE, Middlesex University Dubai transitioned quickly to online learning by providing innovative teaching solutions through its virtual classrooms and other modern technological platforms to minimise educational disruptions.
Middlesex University Dubai carefully crafted a home learning strategy to ensure all students would continue receiving a high-quality education and support during this period where education systems across the world are redefining the way curriculums are delivered to students.
The switchover to online academic delivery was both seamless and a resounding success.
A Distance Learning Task Force and a highly skilled IT department swiftly introduced a distance learning platform which more than 150 staff have been trained to use. Furthermore, study plan templates were readily constructed and put into action - helping ensure lecturers provided students with detailed lesson plans well ahead of time.
Of course, the key to the success of any initiative is in its implementation and this is where the university's faculty excelled.
In the first four weeks of the distance learning programme, the University recorded that - on just one platform (GoToMeeting) - there were 4,000+ live sessions conducted with 53,000+ instances of students joining. In addition to the GoToMeeting platform, lecturers are also using other platforms such as Kaltura, Zoom, Adobe Connect and others. Live lecturers are supported by one on one consultation with lecturers and the learning support departments the Centre for Academic Studies (CAS) and the Library.
All the student support departments, Student Office, Visas, Finance, Careers and Employability are fully functional virtually. Marketing and Admissions departments are working online to facilitate recruitment of new students for the September 2020 Intake.
Middlesex University Dubai was also quick to recognise that - for staff, faculty and students - coming to grips with COVID-19 was not only a physical shift away from a classroom setting - but a mental strain.
It led to the University hosting a special panel discussion on COVID-19 and the mental health impact the outbreak could have on the student body.
In the first virtual ‘Health Out Loud X Re:Set Dialogues: Student Life during COVID-19’, panellists discussed the effects of the pandemic on students and their wellbeing and were on hand to answer questions from an online audience who faced both confusion and concern about what the 2020/21 academic year holds for them.
As Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director of Middlesex University Dubai, said: “Many students are caught in the web of COVID-19 confusion. Knowledge and preparation can help reduce feelings of panic and we hope that this webinar - the first of many - will go towards diminishing the understandable fears and worries the student body may be facing.” Dr Fernandes message to all students and staff is to stay strong and that “We are One World, One Family and Together the World will get through this”.
In any crisis, knowledge is power. Staying informed is the most important thing the population can do to protect itself against any threat.
Amidst a global crisis that continues to impact lives in unprecedented ways, special editions of the Wednesday Research Seminar Series - which was launched in 2008 and has featured more than 275 presentations to date - tackled the subject on everyone’s thoughts.
On 15 April, Dr Sreejith Balasubramanian hosted a seminar titled “Sustaining Education through COVID-19 Pandemic – Learning from the Past Crisis”. The seminar explored the importance of educational institutions regularly reviewing the changing situation, enhancing their preparedness, and how they should develop effective long term strategies.
Professor Ajit Karnik also delivered a seminar on “Statistical Analysis of COVID-19 Data”, which addressed the statistical properties of the virus, information on total and new confirmed cases, total and new deaths due to the virus and recoveries from the virus. The presentation also investigated the likely factors that explain the progress of the disease across countries.
In times of confusion and unprecedented circumstances, fostering innovation and a community spirit was also recognised as a necessity; helping continue constant communication is critical in ensuring consistency and positivity among staff, faculty and students.
It led to the staff and student body sharing their messages of positivity, gratitude and solidarity with all those frontline workers who are working tirelessly to keep us safe by participating in the Together We Can appreciation video. It highlighted the important message of ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Connected’.
The students marked the dedication of healthcare and frontline professionals by recording heartfelt messages of thanks for those working to protect the safety of the nation - and the wider world.
The campaign was not only a way to express communal gratitude - but also a chance to connect with the school community.
It led to a string of other initiatives from the University's Student Activities Department to ensure - despite a shift away from campus - school spirit remained strong.
A special edition of Music Monday’s (live music from the University’s Music Club), workouts with Coach Sasa – live sessions along with videos posted to the @wearemdx (Student Activities) Instagram page, and Learn the Dance with Dance Club; ensured that bodies - as well as minds - were kept active; and a sense of school community remained.
In times of crisis, continuity and consistency are some of the most important factors in beating fears over uncertainty.
Dr Fernandes said that the health and wellbeing of the students and staff remain his top priority.
“These are uncertain times - times in which the University has been proud to see students, faculty and staff flourish in periods of change to the educational delivery. Our thanks to the UAE Authorities for ensuring a safe and secure environment and for providing the technological infrastructure.
“We are grateful to the Healthcare professionals, essential workers and Government officials on the frontlines of this battle. They have shown professionalism, dedication, compassion and commitment which is testament to the community spirit in the UAE.
“We understand the stress and anxiety all our university community may have during these uncertain times, especially for those who are away from our family and loved ones.
While our utmost priority - as it has always been - is the continued educational excellence, wellbeing and happiness of all our students, it has also been a necessity to ensure everyone in the University network and community keeps up the good spirits - alongside the outstanding work.
“‘Let us continue to take care of each other. I am confident that we can ensure the continuity of our educational mission by using innovative teaching solutions, team spirit and goodwill until we can re-join together on campus once again.”