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Universities in the Gulf region say they faced enormous challenges as a result of Covid-19, but there are also success stories emerging from the crisis. The comments were made during a discussion with five key universities from the region hosted by a department of Cambridge University.
Cambridge Assessment English was joined by representatives from universities across the Gulf region to reflect on the last twelve months and discuss what this means for the future of digital assessment. Dr AlSaghbini, from Cambridge Assessment English, led the round table discussion. Universities told him the transition to online remote learning was generally quite smooth for staff as they already had a lot of experience with Learning Management Systems. However, many of them agreed the transition posed challenges for students, particularly as some new enrolments never got the chance to experience a face-to-face class. Other challenges included the difficulties of online observation for teachers, IT competencies and the practicality of delivering lessons remotely.
Dr AlSaghbini said ‘It was great to hear such inspiring stories about how universities delivered remote education in a supportive and engaging environment. What particularly struck me was the common themes that arose from different institutions including the practicalities of online education and the adaptability of staff and students. I also found it inspiring that much of the discussion is now shifting towards how we deliver even better language education in a post-pandemic world.’
Other observations included the importance of training and upskilling not just faculty members but students as well - to ensure they got to grips with the technology needed to deliver online learning and assessment. The panel also highlighted the benefits of Cambridge Assessment English’s online English test Linguaskill as a solution for remote testing. Dr AlSaghbini asked universities how we link education with national requirements, which resulted in an in-depth discussion about employability. On this topic Cambridge Assessment English’s Nicola Johnson highlighted the increasingly important role English will play in the future as labour markets become more competitive.
Mr. George Hanna, Regional Head of META, said: ‘Covid-19 affected all aspects of our lives. It transformed the way education is delivered across all learning streams. We at Cambridge take pride in the amount of research that we do to validate our approaches for support and delivery. Listening to feedback from key partner institutions is at the heart of this validation mechanism.
‘This event comes to discuss the key challenges that faced these universities during pandemic and how they foresee the shape of assessments in the future. It also presents some of the key solutions that we provide.’
Concluding the session Dr AlSaghbini led a discussion on the future of digital assessment. The experts highlighted the need for more flexible assessment and to cover skills that employers want. There were also observations included the importance of starting online assessment early on in students’ journeys and the role of gamification. The importance of digital literacy, the challenges of digital poverty and the increasing role of Artificial Intelligence were also cited as things to look out for. They also agreed it was important to continue to ensure English language learning and assessment remains relevant and authentic as the education landscape continues to evolve.
The Future of Digital Assessment in the Post Pandemic World was held on 18 May and it attracted an audience of more than 200 professionals from universities including Deans, Heads of English Departments, Chairs of Departments, Academic Managers, Admissions Managers and Directors. The event was opened by George Hanna Head of Business Development, META at Cambridge Assessment English. The discussion led by Dr Hisham AlSaghbini from Cambridge included contributions from the Higher Colleges of Technology (UAE), Zayed University (UAE), American University of Sharjah (UAE), Al Gurrair University (UAE), Al Yamamah University (KSA) and Cambridge University Press.