How LUMS is Defining the Online Learning Experience

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The Fall 2020 semester at LUMS, for the first time ever, is set to begin online. This pivot to virtual learning has raised many questions among students regarding what to expect. To shed more light on how the academic experience of students will change, a panel discussion was held during the O-Week’20 where Freshmen sent in their questions and concerns. 

Eminent panellists Vice Chancellor Dr. Arshad Ahmad; Interim Dean, School of Education Dr. Faisal Bari; Director, LUMS Learning Institute Dr. Suleman Shahid; Assistant Professor School of Science and Engineering, Dr. Muhammad Faryad; and Teaching Fellow, School of Business Ms. Sarah Pervez, discussed a variety of topics that ranged from how the courses are structured, to the nature of assessments, as well as giving suggestions on how to improve the study from home experience. 

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion: 

Online learning has been embraced the world-over
For decades universities around the world have gradually embraced online learning into their programmes. However, in Pakistan, this is a relatively new concept. Dr. Arshad believes that since students live in a digitally connected world, they must also embrace online learning as an integral part of their academic experience. 

“The Learning Institute at LUMS was set-up to do at least two things. First, to prepare, support and work with faculty to develop as better, more effective teachers. Secondly, to provide a platform essential for online learning,” he explained. 

The goal, he elaborated, is to provide students a rich learning experience, more flexibility in their programmes, and encourage interactive learning which is more personalised.

This, Dr. Ahmad explained, will result in a partnership between students and faculty. “At LUMS, learning is a partnership. We put learning first and we put students first.”

LUMS has introduced asynchronous learning for students
LUMS has introduced asynchronous and recorded lectures on the pedagogical side. In this way students do not miss out in case of any issues with connectivity and are not constrained by time.

This provided a solution to those students who faced connectivity issues in their learning experience. 
According to Dr. Bari, the connectivity issue is now more of stability rather than accessibility as LUMS has largely addressed the latter. “There are a few areas where there is no internet or connectivity at all. For the students residing in those areas, LUMS has allowed them to stay on campus for this semester as well. They will be on campus but the classes will be online. Then there are those people that live in areas where connectivity is possible but do not have WiFi devices. In Spring LUMS shipped out a fairly large number of devices to people wherever it was possible to get them a device so they could get internet. We also sent hardware devices like laptops and tablets to students where it was possible.”

Online assessments have been designed to reduce load on students
Many students sent in questions regarding how they will be assessed online, which the panellists answered in detail. 

“The main purpose of assessment is to see what you have learnt; how much you have learnt, and we also want you to self-assess to fill in your own gaps,” said Ms. Sara Pervaiz. “We revisited the design of assessments to cater to an online setting. You will have smaller assessments. Big chunks will be broken apart, we will assess more frequently but the weightage will go down. You will be given feedback after each small assessment so you can improve.” 

The purpose is to not overburden students with high weight assessments. There will also be the option to choose from makeup options and offline assessments in case of connectivity issues among others. 

Dr. Ahmad added that students need to combat procrastination to do well. “For assessments, students often let a lot of stuff pile up which then becomes overwhelming. We are spreading the assessments out so that you don’t have to push big assessment components at the end. By looking at the course outline and the different assessments, you can plan and structure better.”

He also introduced the concept of a Pass/Fail grade. “If you have gone through some unfortunate drastic issue, we will be sensitive to your needs and give you the option of Pass/Fail. We trust you will use it judiciously. You can exercise this option, but for a limited number of courses. We are thinking of such things simply to give you the flexibility you will need to tackle and embrace the challenges.” 

In addition to the Pass/Fail policy, LUMS is also working towards making the incomplete grade policy more flexible so in case of any issue, students can request extra time, a few weeks or months in some cases, to make up for the lost curriculum and earn a letter grade instead of Pass/Fail.

Lab work at the School of Science and Engineering has been pushed to Spring 2021
Programmes at the School of Science and Engineering have been restructured and all the required Lab work has been shifted to the Spring Semester. 

According to Dr. Faryad, LUMS is putting a lot of effort into coming up with policies and recommendations to sensitise the faculty about the required changes in assessments to cater to students’ needs. “Every course will have a combination of synchronous and asynchronous assessments and will be distributed over the semester in smaller components. There will also be policies to cater to the students who have connectivity issues on a particular day. We will ensure that no student is left behind because of a connectivity issue, this is our promise to our students.” 

Students are key partners in the learning experience
For Dr. Bari, one of the important things Freshmen needed to care for is to effectively manage their home environment. It is essential to create a comfortable space and ask one’s family to help create a set-up to facilitate learning.

Dr. Ahmad’s parting advice was to care for one’s health, and also accept that each student will have different learning trajectories and different milestones. “This is a journey and we are all in this together. When you do come back to campus, you will have something that no other cohort has. You will have acquired skills that companies and organisations are looking for. This is extremely important for your own personal development and also to play the kind of leadership roles that we are trying to prepare you for.” 

By the end of the session, the batch of 2024 expressed their desire to be equal partners in creating a meaningful and impactful educational experience at LUMS. 

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