New Teaching Modalities — What do AUC School of Business faculty think of our first semester back on campus after lockdown?

Students wearing masks

Fall 2021 was no ordinary semester. After 16 months of teaching and working from home, AUC opened its doors for its community to bring education back to campus. This resulted in a new normal: a mode of instruction, learning and working that resembles life before the pandemic, yet incorporates new modalities and methods acquired and adjusted to fit into a world co-existing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To find out how the new teaching modalities worked, we chatted with Dina Abdel Fattah, interim chair and assistant professor of economics, Hakim Meshreki, assistant professor of marketing and CEMS-MIM academic director, and Moataz El-Helaly, assistant professor of accounting to get some insights on what they think worked and did not work this semester.

El-Helaly: There are two commonly adopted new teaching modalities which are hybrid (or blended) learning and distance (or remote) learning. The main differences between both modalities versus presence (face-to-face) learning could be summarized in the teaching skills that the professor needs to heavily hinge on and the availability of solid information technology infrastructure, including the existence of powerful Learning Management System (LMS) like Moodle or Black Board or similar LMS.

Hybrid learning needs a smart allocation of topics, class activities and assessments across face-to-face meetings or online synchronous class meetings. We spend a lot of time deciding on the topics that must be covered on campus versus topics or activities that could be conducted online. The same is applicable for in-class activities and assessments, if online or asynchronous assessments are possible for a course.

As for 100 percent distance or remote learning, it needs much more resources like a solid e-learning platform and instructional designers. The e-learning platform must also be engaging and attractive. In higher education, meeting your professors and peers is an intangible asset that has to be compensated in case the distance learning modality is adopted.

Meshreki: Teaching modalities now are different given that some classes are taught in dual delivery modes whereby some students attend the class online and others face-to-face. This requires that the professor sets up zoom meetings for every class and provides a calendar for two groups of students, those who will attend face-to-face and those who would attend online. Of course, students alternate between face-to-face and online. The tools used have been modified. So, instead of writing on the board, we use paint to do any writing. Faculty have to come early to class to set the online part and make sure all classroom technology is functioning properly, including mics, cameras, a display screen for online students, and so on.

Abdel Fattah: The online period had its own positives when it comes to teaching. Students had access to both local and international guest speakers visiting their classes virtually. Choosing to go for the dual delivery mode of teaching has continued to facilitate this for the students.

El-Helaly: There is a discrepancy in students’ learning preferences that emerged post COVID-19. Some students now prefer face-to-face instructions, others prefer a completely remote learning experience and another group favorites blended learning. I tackle this challenge by trying to make the class challenging, interactive and interesting, regardless of the modality. Each group of students prefer a certain modality for a reason. I try to keep all those reasons present in all modalities to maintain their interest in the course content.

Abdel Fattah: The biggest challenge is the constant interruption to education when one or more students falls sick. Having the students attend the class live on zoom has facilitated this. Another challenge is the assessments: During lockdown, we had to come up with more innovative assessment methods that would help test the achievement of the learning outcomes without the restriction to the old-style paper exams. The challenge now is not going back to paper exams and continuing to be more innovative in the assessment methods. I managed to deal with this by continuing to adopt a mixed assessment technique involving in class exams, take home exams, research papers and presentations.

Meshreki: The biggest challenge that I have been facing since COVID-19 is students' attention span, which became significantly lower. This was tackled by more engaging topics and flipped classrooms in many situations. The second challenge relates to exams, whereby online exams are prone to cheating. This was tackled through multiple random versions for every exam.

El-Helaly: I avoid an extremely slow pace, redundancy in explanation unless students would like me to repeat or deeply explain a particular concept. Also, instead of instructing the students all the time I devote a lot of time to problem solving and/or class discussions during class time.

Abdel Fattah: Making sure you switch between lecturing and discussion every 15 minutes. In the very early phases of online and when we used to send pre-recorded lectures, we used to have clips that would not last longer than 15 minutes. I am continuing to do the same, by either an in class activity or a discussion question.

El-Helaly: Technology yes, but for me I do not recommend that social media becomes part of the learning process. I think the student perception about social media is that it is for fun and spending leisure time. I am concerned about how their brains could adapt in case they need to watch or read something important for their learning on Facebook or Instagram for example.

Abdel Fattah: I would say yes to some extent. For example, in one of my courses I would have students engage with different people on different social media outlets and groups to discuss particular topics. It gives controlled access to the outside community.

Meshreki: No, I don't believe so. Social media has been so distracting to students with the exception of WhatsApp which enables quick communication with students on urgent matters.

El-Helaly: Students might need some awareness related to how to adapt to different teaching modalities; this is valuable beyond their time at AUC. There are so many postgraduate degrees including Master of Science and MBA programs that are adopting a distance or a blended learning approach. Also, so many courses that provide new skill sets for young professionals are conducted in those modalities. Students might need to relearn how to learn in each possible modality they might need to face.

Abdel Fattah: We should have more dual delivery taught courses while improving the infrastructure to be more inviting for this change.

Meshreki: The main enabler of the new teaching modalities is the availability of strong and recent classroom technology that enables faculty with multiple ways of interacting with students. Dual delivery teaching modality is very difficult to implement given the current classroom technology available and requires a huge effort from faculty.

Abdel Fattah: It is convenient and also requires extra effort. The logistics of it are not easy: following up who is attending in which room on what day, making sure that in your teaching you are not forgetting about the ones attending on the screen, and coming up with activities that would engage both groups at the same time.

El-Helaly: It is not more convenient, yet it is different. I would say it is not really about the effort, but the mindset and expectations. The professor needs to adopt a different mindset and talk with students in the early classes of the semester about what they should expect so that the course can run smoothly and achieve its intended objectives.

Meshreki: Professors have to accept the new normal and update their teaching curricula in order to adapt to new changes. This includes minimizing presentations, adding more activities inside the classroom, and adopting the flipped classroom methodology of teaching in addition to using more experiential learning. Formal training to faculty on flipped classrooms should be provided by CLT.

Abdel Fattah: I would like to say that students have already shown a great deal of resilience and adaptability to the continuous changes that are happening suddenly and very fast. I am very proud of how these experiences are further shaping their characters.