In a time when educational institutions from primary to tertiary level are being badly affected due to a prolonged closer for COVID-19 pandemic, Banhabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Digital University, Bangladesh (BDU) stands out from the crowd as the only public university in the country to keep academic activities up and running by going online.
Moreover, in order to develop online education to its fullest, the specialized university that has been set up to fulfill the country’s digital aspirations has also set up the country’s first Institute for Online and Distance Learning (IODL).Observers think BDU proved its worth as the 1st digital university of the country as it managed to conduct its academic activities through online teaching and learning during this protracted general holiday.
Of late, the university conducted a SWOT analysis, a foundational assessment process, for its online teaching-learning to determine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats based on the opinion of the university faculties and students.
The study found that the biggest strength for the growth of the university’s online teaching and learning is the support from the university authorities. It says, “Proper Initiative, guidance and Inspiration from Higher Authority is our biggest strength to conduct online classes. Honorable Vice Chancellor, authorities, Head of the department and all of the BDU faculties are very supportive.”
The study shows that if teachers are properly trained, the cost of providing online education at university level is lower. The faculties and students of the university are also highly motivated which made its online education a successful endeavour. As the analysis stated, “The willingness of both the teachers and students of participating online class is one of the major strength. Students showed a positive attitude towards online classes and actively participated. A majority of the students are enjoying online class with few exceptions.”
Skill of the teachers and students also turned out to be a major asset for the university as they are well-versed with the technology and software that is needed for conducting online classes.
Students’ active participation and flexibility have also been highly appreciated in the study as around 90 percent of them attended classes regularly, which shows they are very much interested and motivated about online class. Students are actively participated in online class like: Collaborative work, Student Presentation and Assignment Submission.Highlighting some of the benefits of online class, the study said, “Students can attend their classes just using their gadgets from anywhere. That means they can learn from anywhere and anytime. Even if anyone fails to attend the class, he/she still can learn by accessing the class record and class material provided by the course teacher which is absent in face-to-face class.”
Besides, conducting online classes are less expensive, the analysis added.
Technological and infrastructural resource is one of the major factors behind BDU’s success in conducting online classes. As the university is leading from the front to usher in 4th industrial revolution in Bangladesh, it can boast of providing online classes such as G-suite account and training on it.
The university is equipped with customized and well facilitated Learning Management System, Virtual Machine (VM) for all students and faculties. Students can access their VM from anywhere. Smart board is one of the best tools of BDU for conducting online classes from campus. And all students are provided with the institutional email.
Shedding light on academic calendar and time frame, the SWOT Analysis pointed out, “In this long term period of pandemic, students can be distracted from studies. Online classes can help them to be on track as well as they become able to complete their courses in time. This will help them not to lose time in session jam. As classes are conducted on a regular basis, we can complete our semester on time. Through online class students are on the correct track by utilizing the time during Covid-19 Pandemic.”
However, the study didn’t fail to figure out the weakness which includes lack of full-time senior teacher or professor and insufficient learning designer and learning technologist.
“Frequent disconnection of virtual machine and lack of Webcam Facility, lack of Portable device for class conduction (Laptop, Tab, etc.) both for teacher and students, lack of real-time environment (not the efficient alike real-time classroom), lack of effective software, small and rented campus and insufficient library facilities are some of nagging issues the university is facing.”
Lack of collaboration with internationally reputed universities and organization has also been considered to be a weakness.
Besides, the university is also faced with some external weaknesses such as high internet cost, lower internet speed and frequent internet disconnection. There are some disruptions in the internet facilities. Sometimes, teacher had to repeat a topic many more times because of the unexpected internet disconnection.
Adaptability and mentality is also an issue. Some students think face to face classes are better for better understanding of some specific topics. The main issue in Bangladesh is perception and preparedness to online education. Student's mental and economic conditions can also affect online learning.
Among the opportunities of offering online learning the study mentioned it can start an online degree/course through distance learning and BDU could play a pioneer role in this regard.
Regarding government and UGC’s support the analysis hoped BDU can get Govt. and UGC’s support in enriching its Fund, Lab, other equipment. Students can be provided with high speed internet at nominal price because many of them cannot afford the high cost of internet. At the same time BDU can provide training to other universities for online class.
The chance of increasing demand of online courses and acceptability to the stakeholders can also be a big opportunity of offering online education. “In future BDU can offer online courses and provide degrees throughout world. And BDU can start a formal online program through IODL”, it added.
However, the analysis clearly stated that peoples' mindset can be a threat to its endevour in this regard. It said, “Most of the people of our country still think online class, courses and certificates are not worthy enough.”
Getting accustomed to course management system and changing students’ mindset to participate in online classes has been pointed out as adaptability struggle in the study.
There are some technical issues which the authorities must not overlook. For example, many students are not provided with high bandwidth or strong internet connections that online classes require. That’s why students may lose the interest. Online classes may create some problems for some specific courses, like lab courses that require hands on practice.
Vice-Chancellor of the university Prof Dr Munaz Ahmed Noor said, “Through conducting classes online, we, the faculty members have learnt various aspects towards present technology. Despite some challenges, online classes offer some really unique benefits. These benefits allow people who might not normally be able to get a degree to attend a renowned institution probably due to their financial condition or a limited amount of seats or due to lack of infrastructure of the university. We can engage more students like them in future even if with our limited resources.”
“Finally, we should prepare ourselves to face any unforeseen challenges and lead the higher education sector from the front in the area of online and digital education. If we can adopt all the features that many universities are using to conduct their classes, I hope we, BDU, will be able to set up a milestone in Bangladesh,” the VC concluded.