I am writing to inform you about the rigorous measures we are taking at Boğaziçi to deal with the COVID-19 threat and to brief you about the distance-education phase that will begin on 6 April. These measures were stepped up on 11 March, and we have been working ever harder since then. Our actions can be summarised under four main headings:
1. Taking precautions to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading and from reaching our university,
2. Developing methods to enable students to continue with their studies and research, despite the challenges posed by the extraordinary circumstances facing us,
3. Creating a safe environment in which the scientific research being undertaken at the university may continue,
4. Enabling all university employees to take care of their own safety, thereby creating sustainable conditions in which the university can continue to operate.
Entrance to the Campuses and Use of University Buildings
Within the framework of these new measures, until further notice, entrance to the university has been halted for all students, alumni and retired personnel. Only the following will be allowed to enter the campus: currently employed academic and administrative personnel, as well as students who are either staying in the university’s dormitories or engaged in laboratory work, provided that a faculty member or thesis supervisor has granted permission and accepts responsibility for the laboratory. In cases where someone urgently needs to enter the campus, permission must be obtained from the Rectorate. For the time being, visitors will not be allowed in to any of the University’s campuses.
Events of all kind on campus have been cancelled, and until further notice indoor sports facilities, swimming pools and social facilities will remain closed.
A small number of volunteers will be allowed to access the animal shelter at prearranged times.
Following the announcement of measures concerning COVID-19 and the beginning of the rescheduled Spring Break, between 11 March and today a large number of students who normally stay in the university’s dormitories decided to return home on a temporary basis. These students will not be required to pay for the period between their leaving the dormitory and returning to it. Students who have left their dormitory will not be allowed to re-enter it until further notice.
The small number of students who need to continue staying in a dormitory will be able to do so, provided that conditions do not force them to leave. We would like to advise these students not to leave their rooms unless it is essential. No-one will be allowed to enter the dormitories other than these students and the personnel on duty. Access to the dormitories by others will only be possible in emergencies, and special permission will need to be obtained from the Rectorate. Anyone requiring to enter a dormitory will also need to make an appointment with the official responsible for the respective dormitory and will only be allowed to enter the building accompanied by an on-duty employee.
For those students who are staying in a dormitory and for the academic and administrative personnel responsible for keeping the university running, three meals a day are being prepared and served in covered containers. We would like to remind people that, in the refectories, only one person should sit at a table. In fact, people may prefer not to eat in a refectory but on their own in a separate room.
In the current situation, the conditions surrounding teaching and learning may change at short notice, and sudden decisions may have to be made. All the same, the Senate, University Executive Board and Rectorate are doing everything within their power to ensure that, while necessary precautions are being taken to protect the health of students, academic and administrative personnel, our University continues to maintain its principal activities. This is why the Senate decided that for this semester only, teaching and learning activities would be carried out primarily using the methods of distance education, since it became clear that it would be impossible for universities to offer face-to-face education in the current Spring term of 2020. The Senate also ruled that, in view of the inevitable interruption caused by the COVID crisis, changes would have to be made to the schedule for the Spring and Fall semesters, as well as that of the Boğaziçi Summer School. In addition, modifications will need to be made to the schedule for graduate programs; our Institutes are working on proposals regarding this, which will be discussed and voted on soon at the relevant executive bodies at Boğaziçi, the decisions being announced thereafter. As for activities that cannot be carried out using distance education, such as laboratory sessions, applied classes and internships, these have been postponed until the summer, on the assumption that conditions will return to normal around the beginning of June. We will continue to evaluate the ever-changing situation, and should it be necessary to revise our strategy for the summer term, we will inform you about this in advance.
Starting from 13 March 2020, it was decided to make use of a number of educational tools that both faculty members and students would be able to become familiar with quickly and start using effectively.
One of these is the Moodle Learning Management System, which can be accessed either directly at https://moodle.boun.edu.tr/login/login.php or from within the BUIS platform at https://registration.boun.edu.tr/buis/Login.aspx. As of the beginning of the Spring Term of 2020, teaching staff were already using Moodle for approximately 600 classes, and the total for the entire year is 1200. Moodle has been enriched through the addition of software that can supplement the platform in various ways. For the very first time, the University has purchased a license for the Zoom videoconferencing platform, which allows instructors to hold synchronous (live) classes and to share visuals (e.g. PowerPoint) with students. Secondly, we have renewed our license and increased our capacity with Panopto, a Moodle-integrated system that has been actively used by a number of instructors in previous years. Through Panopto, instructors can choose to share video recordings via Moodle with the students registered on their courses. Our choice to use Moodle as our Learning Management System was based not only on its features that enable the sharing of course materials, the initiation of forums and discussion groups and the setting of assignments and exams, but also the fact that it provides data security and encrypted usage, has an open source format, and offers a broad range of open-access educational materials. Although at the beginning of the distance-education phase we may experience technical problems because of the heavy use of the systems, our expert technical team is working night and day to forestall such problems.
Between 23 and 27 March 2020, faculty members with extensive experience of these systems gave training on them to faculty members and research assistants. This training consisted of courses on three levels (Moodle 101, Moodle 201 and Moodle 301), and a total of 2224 participants benefited from the 9 sessions on offer. Q&A sessions about the platform are also being held between 30 March and 3 April 2020
In addition, for any questions about Moodle, the team at the Computer Centre can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Furthermore, two research assistants from each academic unit have been assigned responsibility for answering questions about departmental courses that are being taught online.
The remainder of the semester, beginning on 6 April, is being arranged in such a way that the program for classes given through distance education should be no different from the existing weekly schedule. For technical reasons, it might become necessary to modify the schedule, but great care is being taken to ensure that this will not lead to conflicts between classes. The times allocated for ‘live’ sessions of classes will be announced in a weekly schedule.
During the forthcoming distance-education phase, to access the Moodle system you will need to use your Boğaziçi University e-mail address, i.e. the one ending “@boun.edu.tr”. In order to remind those students who have not used their BOUN address what this address is, BOUN addresses have been uploaded to the BUIS registration system as their second email address. If they feel it necessary, the 10,000 or so students in this situation will have the opportunity to update their passwords by following the instructions on BUIS. Once you acquire an account with Zoom (zoom.us) using your Boğaziçi e-mail address, you will be able to set up sessions (maximum 40 minutes in length) in which you and your friends can communicate through live audio and video with up to 300 people.
Work continues on a number of issues related to teaching and learning, and faculty members and students alike have been developing and discussing alternative ideas. These include the form that mid-term and final exams will take, the grading system to be implemented, and the rights that students will be granted with respect to taking leave for the semester and withdrawing from classes.
We are doing everything we can to develop appropriate responses to the situation in which we find ourselves. On the one hand, we want to give our students recognition for what they have already achieved in the Spring 2020 semester and for their academic efforts in the coming weeks; on the other hand, we wish to minimise the negative impact and stress that current circumstances may impose on our students, not least because of the insecurity that these circumstances are likely to cause. Through identifying and applying appropriate models, we aim to continue providing our students the knowledge and skills they will need throughout their careers, to prevent our students from losing a semester, and to act fairly and transparently when it comes to assessing students’ performances. Our Senate and other executive authorities continue to work intensively, and any decisions they take will be announced without delay.
The issue that is of greatest importance to us is your health, and this is why the decision was swiftly taken to bring forward and extend our Spring Break. As we wait for the day when we can be together once again, we will have to keep our distance from our beloved campus for a time, but that does not mean that we will be completely separated from each other. As always, Boğaziçi University will be the glue that binds our hearts and minds together, and once again you will have the chance to see the faces of your instructors and classmates, whether in classes or club activities.
Until that time comes, I would like to emphasise that staff at BÜREM and BÜSOD, as well as our resident psychiatrists, are making their own preparations so that, should you feel the need, you can have online consultations with them. We will inform you as soon as the preparations are complete.
Just as we value your health, we also recognise the importance of your academic and scientific development, not only for you as individuals but also for the country and for humanity as a whole. In a very short time —a few years at most— you will be leading researchers and scientists, with key roles in various organisations, in good times and bad, and you will be in a position to create solutions based on innovative and reasoned approaches. Our primary duty is to provide a safe, free and scientific environment which will help you to advance towards this stage. It is with this in mind that all of my colleagues at Boğaziçi University have, with the selfless support of our administrative staff, continued to work tirelessly, not just out of a sense of duty but also out of a belief in certain principles and ideals and a desire to fulfil academic objectives. Many colleagues have already contacted you through Moodle or other platforms; the others are all busy getting ready to see you again after 6 April!
Our alumni, who have always stood beside us in good times and bad, have once again shown their support in these difficult times. Under the leadership of BÜVAK, we have initiated an Internet Bursary for those students whose financial circumstances are likely to make it difficult for them to get Internet access. We are now in a position to be able to also provide internet support to students who are already in receipt of other bursaries. Students in this position can access the relevant application information by going to https://coronavirus.boun.edu.tr/tr/duyurular/internet-destek-bursu-hk. When we weigh up the current situation, the decision taken by the Boğaziçi University Senate and the academic calendar, it becomes clear that we will be continuing our courses via distance education for the next two months. We have begun the transfer of payments for the first month into the bank accounts of students deemed eligible to receive this support.
In this global crisis, we are all affected to a greater or lesser extent by the virus. At the very least we all feel some level of concern about the threat posed by COVID-19. Although it will not be possible to go on as though nothing has happened, as long as we remain healthy and united, we will be able to struggle against all kinds of hardships, just as is the case with this virus. To win this struggle, we must not forget that we are all members of the Boğaziçi University community, and we must maintain our strong ties. Throughout the rest of this semester, the best way we can achieve success together is for you to remain dedicated to your classes, your classmates and friends, and to the academic and administrative staff of the university. We believe in you and trust in you.
I hope to hear that you are well and managing to succeed and look forward to seeing you again as soon as possible.
With my very best wishes,
Prof. Mehmed Özkan
Rector of Boğaziçi University