Zayed University Switches to Hybrid Model of Teaching, Learning for Fall 2020 Semester

12 Aug 2020

Preparations are in full swing at Zayed University’s (ZU) campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to implement a hybrid education model for the Fall 2020 semester. The “hybrid” (or “blended”) education model aims to enable teaching and learning to continue both online and partially on campus, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

ZU, a national and regional leader of educational innovation, is offering online classes to students and a limited number of classes face-to-face across its campuses. The move reflects the University’s commitment to support the continuity of education for students, and its dedication to leveraging its robust technology infrastructure capabilities to ensure continuity of academic and educational services and readiness in reopening its campuses for the Fall semester. Furthermore, the move comes directly in response to the recent announcement made by the Ministry of Education to prioritize remote lectures, and to limit campus attendance to staff and students using laboratories, studios and research facilities.

ZU is set to commence all classes online on Monday, August 24th, and then switch the courses that require physical presence to face-to-face classes starting on September 6th.

Speaking on the hybrid education model, Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, and President of Zayed University, said: “We are pleased to launch an enhanced face-to-face and online experience for the benefit of our students and employees this fall. The hybrid model of education will provide ZU’s students and faculty with innovative ways to engage and complete their academic experience, while adapting to the prevailing scenario in the best way possible – either through in-person learning/work, remote learning/work, or a combination of both.”

She added: “In preparation for the Fall semester, the ZU committee has been working diligently to provide the resources and support that faculty require to plan and prepare for various scenarios. We thank ZU’s dedicated faculty for their contributions and support in ensuring that the students receive the best education in the present circumstances."

ZU is prioritizing the health and safety of its community members, especially students, and is working relentlessly to ensure that all necessary precautionary measures to protect them from the risk of COVID-19 are in place, in line with the standards mandated by the regulatory authorities in the UAE.

A new COVID-19 risk level map ranks the prevailing severity of the pandemic in the UAE at a moderate risk and provides guidelines for a government response, which the country is implementing across the board. The outbreak ranks at the yellow risk level – the mid risk category in between low and high risk – which means cases of infection are lower than or equal to the number of recoveries. This also confirms that while there is a risk from the pandemic inside the country, it is under control with the support of the UAE’s advanced healthcare infrastructure and laboratory testing capacities.

Given the reduced risk levels, ZU has put in place a plan to proceed with the hybrid learning model for a limited duration, eliminating non-essential processes, implementing distance learning and taking all the required precautions. This plan is in line with the general framework adopted by the UAE for the reopening of educational establishments during the COVID-19 outbreak. Universities across the UAE will partially reopen while still offering classes online for students who do not need to be on campus.

Within the hybrid system, the overall capacity of class sizes has been reduced to ensure that only a maximum of 50 percent of all students and 50 percent of all faculty and administration members are present at any campus. As a further precautionary measure, ZU will limit capacity to 20-25 percent for the first few weeks and will monitor the situation and may decide to increase the capacity later after a careful assessment of the situation. All students, faculty, staff, including visitors will need to undergo a COVID-19 testing and obtain a negative test result prior to their return/admission and access to the university in order to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

Some of the students and faculty are expected to physically visit the campus to engage in practical work and study programs, or to carry out experiments in laboratories or studios. However, lectures, project submissions, short exams, evaluations, oral exams and postgraduate discussions are to be conducted fully online. Library activities and research work can be performed using a combination of both on-campus and virtual components, and run for a limited number of hours only.

All courses and programs across the university’s 8 colleges have been equipped with the tools and technology to allow students to participate virtually if required through online learning platforms such as Blackboard, Zoom, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams.

The Students Accessibility Services (SAS) at ZU is committed to support Students of Determination and will provide accessible courses online and ensure the same level of support, which will be delivered virtually. Individual appointments with students and their guardians are to be made to conduct one-on-one needs analysis and intake sessions, to determine the support services that will be provided for them. Students with learning difficulties will be screened and assessed to provide an Individual Educational Plan (IEP), which will be followed by students and faculty.

In implementing this hybrid model of education, ZU is committed to maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 meters between students in physical classrooms, laboratories and learning halls, and to ensuring a safe distance of two meters between faculty and administrative staff at all times.

Mandatory temperature checks of all students, faculty and administrative staff, as well as of visitors prior to entering the campus are to be carried out across all campus access points.

Several other health and safety measures have also been enforced within the University’s campuses, such as routine cleaning and sterilization of facilities at the end of each day, and the installation of disinfection gates at the entrances of the university campuses.  ZU intends not to hold any physical social events and group activities such as field trips, conferences and sports, and the university is actively looking at converting student engagement into virtual activities to avoid the spread of the virus. To avoid a large number of people gathering in any public space, ZU’s gym and sport facilities will be closed during this time. The University’s main canteen will deliver packed food respecting all safety measures and only a limited number of cafes operating.

To further support the transition to hybrid learning, ZU’s support services such as the IT division and its Happiness Centers located on each campus are staffed by internal teams to assist students on site or remotely.

ZU is one of the UAE’s leading universities to successfully adopt remote learning following the global shift in education in the Spring Semester of March 2020. More than 10,000 students completed over 57,000 class sessions online in the latter part of the Spring 2020 semester, delivered by 627 faculty members across ZU’s campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. More recently, ZU held its very first virtual graduation ceremony to honor its 18th cohort of female and 8th cohort of male undergraduates.