When the BUKA project was launched in February 2020, the team had no idea what was lurking behind the corner. The kick-off meeting was held in Penang, Malaysia, and the partners from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Ireland, and Finland were able to meet face to face, get to know each other, make plans, and spend time together. Just a few weeks after the meeting, the nature of the project changed unexpectedly as the Covid-19 pandemic started spreading all over the world.
All of a sudden, the focus of the project – equity and access in open and distance learning – became even more important than it was before. Although online learning was seen as an important area of development in all partner countries already before the pandemic, now the core questions of the project have become a high priority in universities worldwide. How can we provide engaging learning opportunities for students with diverse backgrounds in an online learning environment? How do we ensure that the learning design of our distance learning courses best supports student learning? How can we create online learning resources and materials that are accessible and pedagogically meaningful? How do we help staff members to develop the skills they need for designing and teaching online courses?
The project team has not been discouraged by the unusual times. Although travel has been impossible, the team has developed effective ways of connecting and working online. At the moment, the partners are busy designing local pilot projects that help tackle the open and distance learning challenges. The BUKA project is now even timelier than we could have imagined!