QAAMaintaining academic integrity while managing the shift to online learning

Maintaining academic integrity while managing the shift to online learning

Digital learning is likely to persist at universities in the MENA region for years to come. The higher education community must find a way of maintaining academic integrity in an online world

At a webinar titled “Quality assurance during the global pandemic” – hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) – leaders from academia and industry in the MENA region discussed how they maintained consistency and quality assurance during a challenging year.

Quality assurance bodies adapted rapidly to remote learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Abdullatif Al Shamsi, president and chief executive officer of the Higher Education Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates, spoke of the magnitude of the shift to online learning at his institution. “Between March and May 2020, we recorded 61,000 online lectures, 115 online assessments, and 21,000 online hours,” Dr Al Shamsi explained. “And all of our programmes during this period had to meet the highest level of internal quality assurance, both at the national and international level.”

The challenge facing institutions in the MENA region was reinforced by Dr Sohail Bajammal, chief executive of Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Academic Accreditation and Evaluation (NCAAA). He described a number of projects that the NCAAA has launched to support higher education bodies, including an “artificial intelligence-based solution that was initially used to conduct about 65 per cent of all student admission tests in the kingdom”.

Of course, the adoption of virtual methods of assessment and quality assurance over the past 12 months has raised questions around maintaining academic integrity. Dr Bajammal admitted that the shift had been challenging but that it had pushed institutions to innovate. “We have been calling for universities to diversify their assessment methods for years and I think the Covid-19 pandemic has really stimulated institutions to think outside of traditional methods like multiple-choice questions and essays.”

For Dr Al Shamsi, the pandemic had similarly provided institutions with an opportunity to reshape education across the region. “We have been advocating for the introduction of new technology for decades and now Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to accelerate and pilot many new innovative ways of delivering learning instructions."

Douglas Blackstock, CEO of QAA, said: "We’ve seen how, in many jurisdictions, quality assurance agencies, governments and providers have rethought and refocused their approaches so that they can deliver education not only so that it’s safe for staff and students now, but also so that it’s sustainable and is resilient to future shocks."

All panellists agreed that campuses will continue to represent an essential part of the university experience but may need to be re-engineered around more social experiences and practical learning. In any case, as institutions continue to adopt digital learning tools, they will be tasked with aligning their quality assurance with these innovative methods. Modes of teaching may change but quality assurance bodies must ensure that universities maintain the same high standards.

Watch the webinar on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about QAA and its International Quality Review (IQR).

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