June 29th, 2020 - 4:30 PM
Community Updates - Campus reopening plan
Spring 2020 Semester conclusion plan
- The RTC Campus Reopening July 2020 Guidelines are online as a quick reference for all RTC community members.
- An advocacy/briefing video has also been developed to ensure all visitors to campus, especially our returning final-year students, are fully aware of the requirements and procedures for the campus reopening.
Autumn 2020 Semester opening plan
- July 6 -- Bridge courses for BSc in Environmental Management students begin with orientation on July 6th.
- After the conclusion of the last final exam of Spring 2020 on July 15th, the campus will be prepared for welcoming the incoming first-year students.
- August 4 -- Incoming first-year student reporting and general orientation is scheduled for August 4th for BA, Business, and BSc Env Mgt programmes. Campus operations will follow all relevant health guidelines.
- August 6 -- The first day of classes will be August 6th for BA, Business (day and CE), and BSc Env Mgt programmes.
- August 10 -- For BSc Nursing and Midwifery, orientation for incoming first-year students is scheduled for August 10th-11th and their classes will start from August 12th.
- August 17 -- For BSc Nursing and Midwifery, upper-year students will resume classes on August 17th.
June 23rd, 2020 - 5:30 PM
Community Updates for June 4th - June 23rd
- The RGoB (Prime Minister’s Office) has announced the resumption of campus classes and final exams for some educational levels including final year college students to ensure their preparation for graduation. First- and second-year students (and third-year CE) will continue online classes and adapted assessments.
- Classes on campus will resume for all final-year students of RTC programmes affiliated to RUB on July 1st (residence halls will be open from the morning of June 30th). A schedule of the classes will be developed by the Academic Affairs Department programme-wise and communicated to the students via email. Students will have up to 8 hrs of class per module for modules with assessments remaining (most final year students will have 3-4 modules that are not yet completed, pending semester-end exams). Then, in-person proctored exams for all final-year students will occur from July 06 to July 15. Students will vacate residence halls latest by July 16. Graduation day will be postponed until nonessential gatherings are allowed to be held.
- Teaching-learning for first- and second-year students (and third-year CE) will continue online and coursework along with continuous assessments will conclude by the end of June. If there are no further directives from the government or RUB, the final assessments will be adapted to suit the online mode and will occur from July 06 to July 15.
- The Spring 2020 semester will conclude for RTC programmes under RUB with the declaration of results on July 22. A separate schedule for BSc in Nursing and Midwifery students will be communicated to them regarding their semester conclusion plan.
- The Academic Affairs Dean has notified all members of RTC on the tentative dates for closure of the Spring 2020 semester along with the tentative dates for the upcoming academic year starting Fall 2020: Programme leaders report for planning along with new faculty members for orientation on July 31. The general semester opening reporting date for faculty and staff is August 03. The first day of Fall 2020 classes will be August 06 through online mode unless otherwise approved by the government. However, if allowed, plans are being made for new incoming first-year student orientation to be done on-campus with special emphasis on adapting to online remote learning.
- The College has already been working on the reopening plan for July with due emphasis on the logistics and delivery as per the public advice and advocacies issued by the Ministry of Health. Keeping with this, the Academic Affairs Department in collaboration with the Administrative Office has identified larger rooms including the college Auditorium as alternatives to normal classrooms for the limited in-person classes that will happen prior to the final exams for final-year students.
- AAD in collaboration with the Administration office and library has completed setting up classroom B11 as an extension of the college library keeping in mind the physical distancing measure in case of a possible reopening.
- In order to provide full assistance to all RTC students, the Academic Affairs Department along with the respective Programme Leader Assistants have compiled a list of those students who were potentially lacking adequate access (as of the mid-semester) due to remoteness / technical connectivity issues from across all RTC programmes. This was done in order to ensure that none of the students lose out on the Spring 2020 semester due to the shift from physical class sessions to online mode. AAD colleagues followed up with each one individually on their current capacity to conclude the semester through online classes; none are now reporting that they require special accommodation.
- The planning of orientation for BSc Env Mgt bridge course students is also underway and the AAD is planning to have an early orientation programme, which will be followed by the actual bridge course classes online, to run for 3 weeks starting from 6th July.
Student Services and Admissions
- Final year students who are boarders should report to campus between 1 pm and 6:30 pm on 30th June. Those traveling from further away who may arrive late can coordinate with the Residence Mentors to arrange their arrival. First- and second-year students will be provided detailed information via email on the staggered collection of their belongings from their rooms. The College will be processing appropriate room and board refunds for boarding students.
- The Student Services Department has prepared a communication/advocacy plan for information sharing with students. This will start with emailed information in advance of arrival to campus, and continue with an advocacy briefing at the first class for each section on July 1st, as well as online, and at residence halls.
- For managing safety and security at the student residence halls, the Student Services Department will proceed with installation of security cameras (CCTV) outside the residence halls.
- A total of 8 nominations for the Outstanding Student Leadership Award for the graduating cohort were received. The Student Services Office is in the process of compiling the application materials for the selection committee meeting within the coming weeks.
- In line with the PMO’s announcement on 19th June, the government is no longer recommending work-from-home as a necessary mitigation measure for most organisations.
- The Human Resource office has compiled the list of applicants for various faculty position vacancies which was due for June 8 and further follow up on the selection process will be made in collaboration with the Academic Affairs Department.
- Towards enhancing internet connectivity in residence halls, the IT Office is working on the addition and relocation of the Wifi access points and implementation of wired connection options in each student residence building on campus.
- The IT Office has taken stock of the critical IT equipment (servers, network switches, media converters, fiber cables, etc.) that need to have available spares in hand and which may be difficult to source during the pandemic.
- LAN connection in room A01 has been successfully re-installed, which should provide network connectivity for classes in this room.
- Further mobile data recharges will be limited and done through the nationwide student data packages for first- and second-year students (and third-year CE), while these will now be discontinued for all final-year students. All final year students are encouraged to avail learning resources including internet access from campus between July 1st - 15th.
- The Administration office met with city bus officials and informed them about the probability of college reopening. The officials have agreed to refund fares on a pro rata basis for the graduating students; For 1st and 2nd year students, these will be adjusted towards their Fall 2020 semester bus fares unless they are no longer continuing as day scholars.
- The Estate Office has completed installing handwashing stations around the core areas of the RTC campus.
Development and External Relations
- The college website will continue to be updated with the new tentative academic calendar will continue to be updated on the website.
- The updated general admissions video has been broadcasting on local television. Programme-wise videos for Anthropology and Development Economics will also be made and broadcast to broaden the public understanding of these programmes which were developed at RTC
- 9 RTC study-abroad students have returned from Europe and the USA and are currently serving their quarantine periods; all of them have tested negative for COVID19 so far. 3 more will return next week.
- The International Relations Office has so far received 6 applicants interested for the ‘Semester at Home’ programme, and the IR Office have been following up with these applicants accordingly.
June 3rd, 2020 - 3:30 PM
Community Updates for May 18th - June 3rd
- Directives on the semester schedule are being awaited from the Royal University of Bhutan and the Royal Government of Bhutan. The University has been working diligently to come up with balanced solutions amidst a great deal of uncertainty while keeping in mind the goal of achieving student learning outcomes in a credible manner and ensuring fairness and equity.
- In particular, the University has affirmed that there should be some form of semester-end examinations, and that these could be delayed until as late as August to have time, if allowed, for several weeks of in-person teaching-learning and review, practical classes, and in-person proctored examinations.
- Current indications are that the earliest possible semester closing date would be mid-to-late July. The subsequent semester would begin within a short time frame, and the possibility of any significant break for students or tutors between the semesters is low. The next semester would go well into December.
- RTC is contributing to the University's decision-making as far as possible, with the President being on the RUB's University Strategic Response Committee and the Dean of Academic Affairs being on the University's Task Force on Learning and Teaching. Any lessons learned and ideas generated from our experience here continue to be shared.
- The RGoB, as the final authority on reopening educational institutions, has not yet arrived at specific parameters that would allow for this to happen while the global pandemic is ongoing, though both the domestic reality and the international situation are considered in its decision making. The priority has been and remains the health and safety of the country's population. The government will consider a risk-based approach to differentiating institutions, for example by regions (remote areas as lower risk), age of pupils (older students as lower risk), and priority (Class X and Class XII as higher priority). Preconditions such as preparedness (water and hygiene, health protocols) would have to be in place.
- If reopening is approved, preparations regarding a possible reopening at RTC are being formulated and the plan will be executed in line with health advisories like physical distancing. The College would allow all residence hall occupants to return, but their movements would need to remain limited. Classes would be conducted over six days per week, Mon-Sat, with each day seeing just 1/3rd of the normal student population having in-person classes, cohort-wise; the remainder would be continuing through the online mode.
- Except for practical classes, most classes will continue to engage students primarily through the VLE, while in-person sessions would supplement those engagements for activities such as student presentations, class tests, discussions, review, and Q&A.
- Most of the health protocols that would need to be implemented are already in place on campus, such as contact tracing, hand washing stations, minimizing the population density, etc.
- The compiled mid-semester feedback from the students was presented to the college management committee, and the meeting endorsed sharing the report back with the students and wider stakeholders. It is attached here for reference.
- The Career Development Office organized a Panel Discussion on "Tips on BCSE - a conversation with former RTC students who secured top positions across categories of the BCSE" on 30th May from 11:00 am - 12 noon. The live video stream was viewed by registered audience participants, and the recording is also be made available online to RTC community members.
- The 3rd round of mobile data top-ups were implemented on 29th May with assistance from the two Internet Service Providers (Tashi Cell and Bhutan Telecom) under the same terms as last month. However, continuing these indefinitely is not sustainable, and RTC will continue to pursue the implementation of workable nationwide special student data packages.
Student Services and Admissions
- Counselling sessions are still going on. 7 students have been monitored on site so far, including international students. 11 students living out of the country were provided telephone and online counselling services; the same remote services were provided to 14 Bhutanese students who are at their respective regions within the country. Similarly, 5 staff/faculty members have also been provided counselling sessions. A bi-weekly mental health newsletter was sent to all students.
- Admissions are continuing robustly; despite some uncertainty about students' plans, the admissions numbers are on par with the prior year numbers. The College will be moving ahead with the intake of the new cohort for a tentative starting timeframe of August.
- The Student Services Department in collaboration with Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital successfully conducted the 20th Blood Drive on 27th May. The blood drive had a total of 39 donors.
- The Autumn 2020 semester vacancy announcement for 6 faculty positions has been made via Kuensel issues dated 23 and 27 May, 2020. The deadline for submission of applications is 8th June, 2020. Several non-teaching staff members with the requisite academic qualifications and teaching experience will also join the faculty for a partial teaching load in the Autumn semester.
- The HR office initiated information gathering on additional directives on COVID-19 precautionary practices at the workstation/offices of some of the organizations such as in the government, corporate and private sector to get a sense of how different agencies are coping with the situation. The information indicated that almost all the organizations are still implementing the basic level of precautionary measures such as physical distancing, hygiene, and use of the Druk Trace app; masks are not yet mandatory but strongly recommended. RTC will implement all appropriate measures on par with other organisations.
- Advocacy on COVID-19 health protocols and use of Druk trace app was conducted in May for all the support staff residing on campus.
- The IT Office successfully completed the migration and upgradation of all the RTC online services on 24th May. With this upgradation, RTC now has a higher number of global IP addresses available for use thanks to the support from DrukREN, DITT, and Bhutan Telecom. The College has set up its own video conferencing tool (BigBlueButton) for use by all the members of the RTC community.
- The IT Office has implemented an organisation-wide free educational subscription to Microsoft's office.com online-only suite of tools. All RTC users can log on to www.office.com with their @rtc.bt email address and credentials and use the tools available therein. However, VLE will remain the primary official online teaching-learning platform.
- An issue was noted in the 3rd week of May with the VLE wherein the system would be unresponsive for a few minutes at a time, coming back online on its own or through manual reboot. The cause was investigated but could not be immediately traced; the problem occurred sporadically over approximately 3 days but has not been noted since. More intensive troubleshooting and further system strengthening/upgradation will be pursued upon semester conclusion.
Development and External Relations
- The International Relations Office has been continuously corresponding with the 18 RTC students who are currently abroad (Europe, US and Japan) and 6 international semester study-abroad international students who are currently in Bhutan; they have been provided assistance with regard to their travel plans. 7 RTC students will be returning this week from Europe via Drukair relief flights from Doha.
- The Marketing office has been updating the RTC Facebook page with relevant information such as remote learning experiences by our students and sensitizing our audiences with regard to the current pandemic and ensuring that valid information is being communicated to the students and wider public.
- The ESRC-GCRF project on social participation of Bhutanese with disabilities is moving ahead with its intervention phase, and an announcement for microgrants for persons with disabilities has been publicized.
May 18th, 2020 - 4:00 PM
Community Updates for May 3rd - May 17th
- The mid-semester student feedback is being compiled to better understand students' experiences to date with the teaching-learning for this semester. 88% of students participated in the mid-semester feedback conducted recently by using the VLE system. Tutors and programme committees will review the feedback to target individual and programme-wide actions and responses for the rest of the semester.
- The mid-semester review assessments were successfully conducted. With the spread of the assessments to a period of over a week, there were no technical/congestion issues faced by VLE system issues on the campus side, while a few user-end issues were noted and followed up by the Academic Affairs Department.
- The Dean of Academics attended a 3-day meeting at CNR, Lobesa (13-15 May) for the RUB Task Force on Learning and Teaching of the Royal University of Bhutan. The rapid situational study that compiled data from the survey of each module tutor across the University was reviewed and discussed to generate recommendations to the University on the progress of the current and plans for future academic semesters. The meeting forecasted various scenarios within which an extension of the semester duration would be required to allow for all programmes of Spring 2020 across the University to meet their learning outcomes and assessment requirements for student's progression and graduation. The extension will allow for makeup class/revision for the modules that were most covered online and to teach the components of the modules that could not be delivered online. The University will convey its decisions in the coming weeks in line with the nationwide guidance on school closures and re-opening.
- RTC would welcome a pathway to safely reopening educational institutions including colleges. In looking at the possible challenges to be addressed upon reopening, and the measures we will be taking to best prepare ourselves for doing so safely, our guiding principle will be that we have to continue applying the lessons learned from the past several months of adapting to the new normal. Our mid-semester review has included feedback from students on their experience to date with remote learning, so we are cognizant of the difficulties everyone has faced so far, as well as the remarkable efforts that both the students and the tutors have put in. The knowledge-base that has been built up about remote learning practices, constraints, and effectiveness can be put to good use when planning the reopening strategy.
- One of the challenges after reopening will be consolidating the learning that has been happening through the remote online mode across learners whose experiences have varied widely. To address this, we anticipate tutors spending more time with smaller groups of students and even individually to effectively understand where students are at on their learning tracks, provide constructive feedback, and provide guidance on achieving their required learning outcomes. Shifting time towards such facilitation roles for tutors rather than doing hours upon hours of straight lecturing to 'catch up' is a key part of RTC's overall strategy to continue leveraging one of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: that students had to develop more independent learning skills. The paradigms of resilience and self-motivation for students must be strengthened even after reopening. On the tutors' side, many have gained experience with innovative teaching-learning tools and approaches that they never tried or even thought of before.
- Hence, typical in-person full-class lecture hours would likely remain at a reduced level even after campus reopening: this will serve the purpose not only of helping to mainstream the independent learning / ICT-facilitated approach and lock in the sense of self-responsibility that students had to gain during their study-from-home, but also complement the health guidelines and protocols that will have to be in place. If required, the College is planning for the contingency of significantly staggering students and staff and maintaining low density on campus by spreading classes over an extended range of time during each day as well as across six to seven days per week. Appropriate health and safety protocols are also being developed which would incorporate relevant health advisories, starting with the hand-washing and sanitizer deployment, to the movement tracking and logging systems that were already in place since the campus closure began, to new initiatives such as mask requirements and refresher briefings on basic hygiene practice.
- The selection of the previously announced scholarships is completed. RTC recently signed a new MoU with the Loden Foundation to jointly provide additional need-based scholarships annually.
- Admissions for the next cohort continue to pick up and several programmes are full or filling up.
- Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital will be conducting Blood Drive at RTC in mid May and approximately 42 RTC staff have volunteered to donate blood.
- The government has identified RTC's Multipurpose Hall to store 700 tonnes of rice and other food supplies for the national stockpile.
- The Student Services Department has proceeded with the recruitment of Resident Assistants for the next academic year through a call for applications online.
- Druk Trace app QR codes have been operationalized around campus; apps are available and functioning on both Android and iOS. All visitors to campus including daily staff are requested to scan at least once on campus each day.
- Education data plans for students were introduced by the government with effect from 11/05/2020 with a bonus of 60% over regular packages, with certain restrictions. These are completely separate new data packages, not the standard x99 packages. IF data is utilized within 7am - 12pm, AND used to access designated e-learning sites, then it will get charged to the special student package first (though a student can hold a distinct 'normal' package also). MoE will be maintaining a registry of numbers that would be eligible for these packages. Due to their restrictions, these are not being pursued as an RTC-wide solution going forward, but students may find some value in these for their supplemental purposes.
- Spaces created for faculty use for online teaching-learning (Meeting room no. 1, B01, B11, B12, A33 and A34) are being utilized efficiently. Further, IT Office will also ensure proper internet connectivity in A01 to facilitate virtual meetings for larger groups.
- IT Manager attended an online meeting organized by the Office of the Vice Chancellor and attended by all the IT Officers of RUB Colleges to discuss common challenges and share practices.
- Prioritized activities of the IT Office are ongoing four broad categories (Online teaching-learning systems, esp. Virtual Learning Environment (vle.rtc.bt), Other RTC systems, Infrastructure & Network, IT Support Services).
Administration and Human Resources
- A meeting was held with all the support staff chaired by the President to roll out the weekly and monthly cleaning around the support staff quarters to encourage proper hygiene and sanitation. The other agenda were advocacy on the Druk trace app, sensitization on the COVID-19 situation, waste segregation, and advocacy on social issues like domestic violence.
- A list has been compiled of non-teaching staff who are qualified for teaching, as a contingency plan for the coming academic semester in case of any gaps in module allocations that may not be addressed through new recruitment given the current pandemic situation. The list was prepared based on education qualification of staff/executive members holding a PG Diploma/Master's Degree. Most on the list had prior teaching experience.
May 4th, 2020 - 10:00 AM
Community Updates for April 19th - May 2nd
The Dean of Academic Affairs attended a meeting with the RUB Academic Task Force team of Deans on 21st April. The meeting endorsed a data-gathering effort (survey of each module tutor across the University) for situational analysis and to better inform the University’s academic decisions such as the progress of the current and future academic semesters. The meeting also discussed mid-term examinations and class tests that normally would have been done as in-person proctored exams. The University resolved to not attempt such exams in an online mode for now, but rather replace these with various forms of other assessments that should be developed and agreed at the Programme level and properly documented. Consequently, the Academic Affairs Department, RTC in line with RUB directives conducted a meeting with the Programme Leaders and the Subject Coordinators to discuss on the revised plan for “mid-semester review assessments” that should aim for convenience, fit-for-purpose, monitoring, and evaluation. Dean, AAD informed all students through email with regard to the cancellations of the Mid-term Examination for Spring 2020.
The Academic Affairs Department has successfully conducted a mid-semester feedback of the modules for all students using the VLE system. The response rate was over 82%. Student feedback findings will be followed-up through the programmes.
Mid-Semester review assessment plans are ready to roll out this week. These will still use the time slots that were planned for the canceled mid-term exams. There will be 4 slots per day starting at 9 am and ending at 8:30 pm over 7 days starting May 4th.
RTC COVID-19 Task Force members researched on ‘Mode of examinations worldwide’ as a preliminary step towards brainstorming possibilities to propose for implementation here. The findings of the study were presented to the academic Programme Leaders and members of the College Management Committee on Wednesday, 29th April, 2020 as part of a College Academic Committee meeting. A variety of options are being considered and are already implemented around the world. Best practices and lessons learned will be explored.
The College Academic Committee endorsed a two-day break in online teaching-learning after the last scheduled online mid-semester review assessments on 11th May, such that regular teaching-learning would resume again on 14th May.
The current and next semester’s academic calendars are in the process of being reviewed, with the current semester expected to be extended by a week (assuming pandemic situation remains as-is) due to the slight slow-down in progress on the academic workplans from the transition to online teaching-learning and need to allow time for proper spreading of assessments and marking.
Admissions are continuing and are following the trends as last year. Some programme slots are already full.
The Admissions Office successfully completed online interviews for the candidates who have applied for various scholarships under YDF and WWF slots for Fall 2020. The final scholarship awards will be completed shortly.
An analysis of the VLE device login records was conducted. 89% of students accessing the VLE did so using a computer (desktop/laptop) at least once. Most also used a mobile device, while some only used mobile devices.
The department has updated/verified mobile numbers of the students again for the 2nd round of data top up for their online classes. Data top-up for the students went out on 29th April, 2020.
Mid-semester feedback survey via the VLE went off successfully with no issues reported to the IT Office. It was observed that a maximum of 373 users were seen online within a 5-min window while the survey was being conducted. The survey saw a total number of 824 students participating in the survey within an hour on Friday. Observation - at maximum point server resources usage showed 80%. Based on the observation at the time of the survey the VLE would have readily handled around 500 simultaneous users.
A Google discussion group to share best practices and knowledge for the IT Officials of the Tertiary Educational Institutes was initiated by RTC.
Meetings with international students continue to be held occassionally to address issues and assist the students in the current situation with regard to their online classes, logistics and other requirements.
An executive-level meeting of officials from the Ministry of Education happened on campus last week over 3 days at the Executive Center, and another 6-day meeting of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is currently underway.
A clinical outreach programme was organized on campus with a team of medical staff from Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital on 22nd April to sensitize on the current COVID-19 situation and to create awareness for the RTC supporting staff and their family members (esp. for senior citizens/disadvantaged people) residing on campus.
With the government’s initiative in introducing Druk Trace App to provide a rapid health care response in case of local transmission in the country, RTC has also created QR codes for campus gate and buildings, and user guidelines for the community. The tracing has been implemented since 29th April. Our community members should note that the user app is now available for both Android and iOS devices.
A hike was organized for any interested staff and faculty members to Talakha gonpa on May 2nd, along with lunch. On this Teacher’s Day, a video message from the teachers was posted on RTC’s Facebook page.
April 19th, 2020 - 10:30 AM
Community Updates - From the President's Desk
Dear Royal Thimphu College Community,
I hope this update finds you well. We’ve all been busy! In these times when we are scattered and not able to be together at the campus day-to-day, it’s important to keep ourselves updated on the latest happenings so that we are all on the same page. Our updates are also posted and archived on the RTC website at the Updates on campus operations link.
Students: as a reminder, these are your contact points for support:
IT support: https://www.facebook.com/
Learning Resource Centre (Virtual LRC) is accessible through the VLE for all students needing extra support in Maths, English, and Dzongkha
Students’ appointed academic advisers can always be contacted for any learning support needs or issues
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic all educational institutions around the world have had to make changes to the teaching-learning experience, and most have suspended traditional in-person classes. As tertiary education institutes in Bhutan confront these unprecedented challenges, this is also an opportunity to innovate and embrace new modes of learning that are more resilient to such future pandemics or other disasters. While the closure of on-campus teaching, and adoption of online modes of delivery poses significant challenges, we must continue our work to develop strategies for managing the continuity of the tertiary education programmes.
On our end, one of the key assessments made by RTC early on was to recognize that the pandemic was likely to permanently alter the landscape of higher education and that it would be a long time for things to go back to ‘normal’ again. While this pandemic has been unprecedented and exceptional, a resilient system needs to incorporate the likely occurrences of such future pandemics as being a ‘new normal’. With this in mind, RTC decided to embrace online and remote learning options as a vital part of its approach, rather than as a stop-gap measure.
The programmes’ transition to fully remote learning was strengthened through (1) establishment of a task force to intensively work on RTC’s short- medium- and long-term adaptations to the closure forced by the pandemic; (2) immediately strengthening the online teaching-learning infrastructure; (3) reallocation of human resources towards academic support for faculty and students; (4) developing an adapted quality framework for monitoring the online teaching-learning; and (5) communicating frequently and openly with our stakeholders. The efforts have been effective in giving us the confidence to continue moving forward.
The following lays out some of the specific plans and activities happening:
RTC COVID-19 Task Force
The College constituted an interdepartmental Task Force with 9 members to work directly on rapid information sharing and addressing issues related to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Task Force met 21 times so far between March 19 and April 17, and continues to do so at least thrice a week. It has been leading interventions and actions to get the teaching-learning back on track, coordinate immediate preparations for possible mobility restrictions, and generate long-term strategies for resilience and growth in the face of a changed educational landscape.
Our Human Resources
Driven by the desire of many of our employees including faculty, staff, management, and support staff to contribute to the nationwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a combined Nu. 250,000 of voluntary contributions was doubled from the college side to Nu. 500,000 to represent all our constituents. This amount was handed to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan on 16th April 2020 on behalf of the entire RTC community for the government’s COVID-19 response fund, and an acknowledgement for the same was received immediately. It was apparent that once again the RTC family came together as one, measuring up in our own humble manner to support the efforts of the Royal Government of Bhutan in fighting this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Such an act of volunteerism, solidarity and generosity will go a long way in the nation’s overall effort in overcoming the challenge and also allow us to share this moment of precious peace in light of the unfortunate toll resulting from this pandemic around the rest of the world. We are extremely fortunate to be in Bhutan at this time.
The College’s reaction to the closure of institutions in Western Bhutan was swift. RTC had no notice, but was required to discontinue in-person classes from March 6th for two weeks. Given the lack of time for advance planning and the concern over studies falling behind, the programmes shifted to online teaching-learning in an expedited manner. It is apparent now that this led to difficulties for the faculty and students, though at the time it was anticipated that classes could reopen in less than two weeks. After the indefinite extension of the closure from 18th March, there was again urgency to complete more training and coordination so that the work could be planned properly in case of a complete lockdown. The urgency was extremely stressful for all. In retrospect only, it was clear that a few days or week gap to allow faculty and staff to look after themselves, then return for systematic training and work planning prior to deploying the full online teaching-learning would have been useful. By the end of March, the situation had again calmed a bit and further reflection could be done. The College has been deeply appreciative of the hard work put in by the faculty and staff to keep the operations going for the benefit of all our stakeholders, particularly the learners.
The transition to online teaching-learning required extensive time and effort to monitor and support the academic programmes. As such, many staff from other departments were pulled in to create a pool of Programme Leader Assistants assigned individually to each programme to help with the conduct and monitoring of the online teaching-learning from both the teaching side and the student side. All other offices were likewise restructured to shift focus wherever possible on efficient use of the human resources to support the continuity of the academic semester. At this point, roughly half of RTC’s 195 employees are working under substantially adapted capacities and workplans.
A work-from-home readiness plan was prepared and trials were conducted over the past several weeks. The College has gained confidence in being able to continue operations even if level red lockdowns occur, though remote working is not being widely applied at this time.
Use of all the online teaching-learning infrastructure had to be expanded quickly since March 6th, and several rounds of refresher training for our 83 faculty members were organized, working fully through an additional weekend (March 21-22) to avoid losing time during the critical transition. The situation provided a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn from colleagues. The College is attempting to meet the training and mindset challenges as best as possible, both with tutors and learners.
There have been difficulties, not just the initial internet access challenges, but especially in keeping the teaching-learning organized for the students. RTC recognized that there is a risk that students can be bombarded with many self-directed tasks to carry out such as readings, videos, exercises, assignments, etc., and some have found it so overwhelming that they lose sight of the main concepts they are expected to grasp. Hence, a key part of the refresher training for faculty members was emphasizing the importance of going beyond just posting materials for student consumption to actually providing detailed instruction on how to organize their learning in each topic, and making clear what learning outcomes they were expected to achieve.
For students, it’s important to keep in mind that our credit system of 12 credits per module and 5 modules per semester translates to effort required worth 600 hours per semester (roughly 40 hours a week at least, on average) to achieve minimum pass marks.
Tutors are now all very engaged and constantly improving the quality of their online instruction. Engagement of both tutors and students regularly monitored in the VLE and at regular programme committee meetings. The committees met once a week since the start of class closures, and continue to do so every two weeks. Programme leaders and the rest of the College Academic Committee also met in early April to reflect on the progress thus far and work on areas for improvement. One of the decisions was to move partially towards more of a routine weekly schedule with specific timeslots for different modules that would help keep everyone with time management and staying organized.
There are a variety of active teaching-learning engagements and assessments happening in the Virtual Learning Environment such as voice-over powerpoint presentations, online discussion forums, assignment submissions, and even self-recorded student presentations. Several faculty members have started using Google Meet or Zoom to meet the students and engage them in discussions directly. The Library staff have provided support in uploading e-copies of all required reading materials. The Learning Resource Centre (LRC) is fully available for Maths, English, and Dzongkha tutoring online on the VLE for all students.
For systematic data gathering on the student experience, the RTC Task Force initiated a phone survey of random students to assess their experience and target further interventions. Data could be collected from 104 respondents out of 120 randomly selected students (Appendix G). Key stats are: 82% found the VLE to be user friendly. 88% indicated they were provided with the opportunity to participate in VLE Discussion Forums. 88% indicated the resource materials on VLE were enough for their reference and understanding. The respondents also had a variety of suggestions and feedback on academic and technical aspects. Some common critical feedback was: VLE is not always user friendly, uploads are all over and not always organized. Students suggested more VLE guidelines. Provide options to resubmit assignments. Not enough discussion - difficulty in understanding online classes. Suggestion: Stagger the assignments from different modules. Notify students on any new upload on VLE. Students also mentioned that they are using Google classroom, WeChat, Messenger, and WhatsApp (frequently). The video conference was not always so user friendly as there were network issues; it felt crowded and voices break up. The feedback was disseminated to the Programme Leaders and the IT Office for follow ups. Action plans are now being reformulated keeping these feedbacks in mind. Further, more comprehensive mid-semester feedback will be collected from all students.
Numerous other staff members at the officer level are now redeployed to assist and support the academics to ensure that there are no compromises made in terms of learning by the students and the required progress of the semester. Specifically, to facilitate the programme leaders’ extensive work of managing and monitoring the tutors and the online teaching-learning, officer-level non-teaching staff members were allocated individually to each of 11 programmes as assistants to the PLs.
Three rounds of monitoring were done in March to evaluate tutor activity on the VLE, the first within March 11-16th, the second on March 23rd, and the third on March 30th, and this has continued since. The monitoring system looked at a variety of aspects of the online teaching-learning: VLE issues (amount of info, language/wording), level of value addition from tutors (e.g., clear instructions, tutor-added notes, audio, or video guidance), clarity and organization of materials and assessments, clear timelines, provision of readings, lesson coverage up to date, use of jargon-free personal and smooth instructions for students to follow, level of assignments (challenging and not only directly out of textbooks, more applied and with reference to Bhutanese context), making more direct connections between essential readings and assignments, use of formal and informal ‘check-ins’ and feedback gathering to check students’ comprehension and progress. The first evaluation checked each of 194 module sections for minimum presence and activity on the VLE; the next two evaluations went beyond to checked all posts / activities / links / files for each module and generated individual feedback for the concerned tutors and respective PLs for further follow up where necessary.
On the student side, the monitoring system also involved directly contacting students who were not active on VLE/ online classes as reported by tutors and PLs. Till 10th April, around 157 students were individually contacted. Participation in the VLE is checked several times a week in terms of simple online activity, but tutors also follow up individually with students and are supported in doing so by the monitoring team. Over 90% of the students are doing their best to stay on track and did not require individual follow-ups. Those individually contacted were reminded about the importance of keeping up with their studies and queried about any challenges they may be facing in doing so. The team found that these challenges range from logistical/practical difficulties (like internet connectivity and computer access, access to resources, home circumstances) to learning difficulties related to the new style of teaching-learning (difficulty in staying organized, keeping up with schedules and deadlines, adapting to the online system, managing reading and studies more independently, challenges in seeking peer support). The monitoring team and all the programmes' management committees will continue their efforts to address these challenges and ensure that each student has the opportunity to keep up with his/her learning.
The programme committees have organized plans for midterm exams, and these are set to roll out in the first week of May. The remainder of the academic calendar for the Spring semester is also being revised, and will most likely have the semester closing delayed by a matter of weeks. This will be announced and circulated as soon as it is finalized in consultation with wider stakeholders and considering the nationwide scenario.
Counseling support is available for anyone that needs it. Complete information can be found here.
For boarding students, the reopening of residence halls has been uncertain since the need to close them a few weeks ago. A possibility remained that the semester closing dates might be extended, and so an extended period of time in the residence halls would be required for students when they moved back. However, with the prolonged closure, a revised academic calendar is being formulated to fix the new semester end dates whether or not there is a resumption of in-person classes. Boarding students may note that from end of March onward, the portion of unused room and dining remains credited to the students for their use towards next semester’s fees or as prorated refunds once it is clearer whether or not there will be reopening of residence halls in the coming months.
The major teaching-learning systems (VLE@RTC and rtcCloud) were upgraded (hardware and software) and performance tuning was done. Three rounds of live load testing were completed to ensure that performance was actually improved. Simultaneous (concurrent) connections should not be a problem, though there are still some indications of difficulty in simultaneous file access (downloading files and especially uploading files by many users at exactly the same time). Students are advised not to wait until the very last minute of the deadlines for uploading assignments.
Two external outages occurred that affected access to all RTC systems: On April 11th, from approximately 4 pm until 9 am on April 12th, a power problem in the region around RTC resulted in power problems around campus which resulted in all servers remaining offline. On April 17th, between approximately 3:15 - 4:05 pm there was an outage of the campus network uplink to Bhutan Telecom due to fiber cable disruption somewhere towards the area of Thimphu Tech Park.
Remote access solutions have been deployed for those staff and faculty that may be working from home, while good on-campus facilities for recording have been made available for the tutors.
Beyond the mobile data topups rolled out by the College to all students at the end of March, the College is continuing to follow up with the telecom companies and the government on any possible plans for robust internet data packages for education. We will keep everyone informed on progress with this.
A hazard hunting pertaining to the COVID-19 situation was conducted on 14th March 2020 which identified 56 precautionary measure for general safety and to help avert possible spread of infection at the Mess, Gym, Hostels, Executive Centre, Cafeteria, offices (Eg: Arrangements in mess, proper cleaning, providing notices, providing hand sanitizers, soaps, hand washing stations etc).
As part of RTC’s preparedness plan for COVID-19, the Administration and Finance Department has implemented few changes pertaining to the cleanliness of the RTC facilities including offices. The changes adopted include training all our cleaners on the usage of new sets of chemicals and disinfectants starting 22nd March, 2020 which also includes sanitizing all the facilities twice a day. Support staff are equipped with better safety gears and supplies have been purchased in bulk in case the country enters ‘Code Red’.
The college also initiated in-campus yoga sessions and nature treks to help boost well-being and de-stress the overworked community.
Finally, I would like to let you all know that the management delivered a Report on RTC Response and Adaptations to the COVID-19 Pandemic to the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) Vice chancellor, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) President, Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) Director General, His Excellency the Minister of Education (Sherig Lyonpo), and His Excellency the Prime Minister. The stakeholders commended the proactive and exemplary efforts taken by RTC thus far and were encouraging of the College’s efforts to keep moving ahead. I thank each one of you for your hard work and cooperation in keeping us on track with our primary mission of providing our learners with a good education. Stay safe and healthy.
President Tshewang Tandin
April 6th, 2020 - 9:00 AM
It has now been one month since the closure of in-person classes at RTC and other educational institutes in Bhutan. The management, staff, faculty and inter-office COVID-19 Task Force have spared no efforts in addressing the different facets of the present situation. A clear direction for the College now is to move forward with the "new normal" created by the global pandemic, to embrace that this is the time and opportunity to make the kinds of changes that we could not make under the previous "normal" times.
Our academic departments have explored everything from "synchronous" and "asynchronous" online teaching-learning, pros and cons of different video/audio/text communication modes, block-scheduled classes, variety in online assessments, inviting participation, two-way feedback. A reflection on the efforts to date was done last week. The Spring 2020 semester has 194 individual modules taught among our regular day and CE evening programmes. After the initial launch of fully online teaching-learning in early March, three rounds of follow-up monitoring were done in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th week of March in an exercise involving all programme leaders, Dean, Associate Dean, Academic Manager, and several academic officers. Reports from PLs, feedback from students, and monitoring evaluations of each of the 194 Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) courses' progress were analyzed.
While it was reassuring that 82.5% of the VLE courses were already active at the time of the first monitoring, we are proud that as of March-end all current modules are now fully active. The monitoring system looked at a variety of aspects of the online teaching-learning: VLE issues (amount of info, language/wording), level of value addition from tutors (e.g., clear instructions, tutor-added notes, audio, or video guidance), clarity and organization of materials and assessments, clear timelines, provision of readings, lesson coverage up to date, use of jargon-free personal and smooth instructions for students to follow, level of assignments (challenging and not only directly out of textbooks, more applied and with reference to Bhutanese context), making more direct connections between essential readings and assignments, formal and informal ‘check-ins’ and feedback gathering to check students’ comprehension and progress.
The monitoring system also checked on the student end of things. Participation in the VLE is checked several times a week in terms of simple online activity, but tutors also follow up individually with students and are supported in doing so by the monitoring team. While over 90% of the students are doing their best to stay on track, the team has individually contacted 108 students (and parents/guardians) as necessary to remind them about the importance of keeping up with their studies and to understand any challenges they may be facing in doing so. The team found that these challenges range from logistical/practical difficulties (like internet connectivity and computer access, access to resources, home circumstances) to learning difficulties related to the new style of teaching-learning (difficulty in staying organized, keeping up with schedules and deadlines, adapting to the online system, managing reading and studies more independently, challenges in seeking peer support). The monitoring team and all the programmes' management committees will continue their efforts to address these challenges and ensure that each student has the opportunity to keep up with his/her learning.
At the same time, it is apparent that now is an opportunity to break away from any remaining mindset of teachers directing every aspect of students' learning (or even "spoonfeeding"). There is no room for this anymore, and the struggle will be very real for many students as they start taking more and more responsibility for their own learning. This struggle will be useful and means that the shift in mindset is occurring and will result in new growth. Teachers at this level should always have been functioning more as 'facilitators' rather than 'tutors', and now this is the only way forward.
But, Bhutanese can persevere and even thrive in the face of difficulty. His Majesty The King expressed it best:
We have five extraordinary qualities that define us as Bhutanese. These are five extraordinary qualities that you possess.
Tha Damtshi or unwavering loyalty, is a natural and instinctive trait. Bhutanese are Sincere. We have integrity. No matter what we do, there is a degree of sincerity that is worthy of praise.
We are Mindful. We are always mindful of our duties, responsibilities, obligations, and wellbeing - not just our own wellbeing but the wellbeing of everyone.
We Bhutanese are very Astute. That is why we have been able to build a country like Bhutan. We have worked with great ingenuity, perception, and wisdom. We have the intelligence and skills to be able to strengthen our country. We are clear minded and competent people.
We are Resilient. We are well-tempered and strong, not afraid of suffering, not averse to hardship, ready to face problems and risks. Since time immemorial we have not been overcome nor destroyed. We have had the resilience to withstand the biggest challenges and threats.
We do not just live in the present but are aware of the future. We care, not just for this generation, but for different eras and generations to come. We understand that whatever we have has to be Timeless. We realise that we are impermanent, that our children will inherit what we leave behind, and our country will be there for all times to come.
The acronym for these extraordinary qualities of the Bhutanese people - Sincerity, Mindfulness, Astuteness, Resilience, and Timelessness - is SMART. Bhutan has always been a smart nation. That is why we must continue to build smart institutions, and that is why it is imperative that our people remain smart. We must nurture these wonderful qualities and remember every day, how they have defined us as a nation and as a people. We must remember that these qualities will help us navigate the 21st century and build an even better place. Our country has an extremely bright future and that future is in your hands.
- His Majesty The King, RUB 12th Convocation, June 7th, 2017
March 26th, 2020 - 6:30 PM
Given that the closure of in-person classes is expected to be prolonged, online teaching-learning continues and is being intensified as necessary. Many colleagues in the Academic Affairs Department and the COVID-19 RTC Taskforce are working through the numerous issues, challenges, and opportunities this presents for us, and will keep rolling out interventions and measures based on continuous research and experimentation on strategies, techniques, technologies, personal and social aspects.
Some of the students that were remaining on campus were informed for their best health and safety to now make their way home. There is still no community transmission of COVID19 in Bhutan and no major threats at this time, but their movements might become more difficult if more restrictive advisories come in the future. Mobile internet data packages are being rolled out to all students since yesterday. We anticipate this will facilitate their continued engagement with their academics.
The College has also been preparing on work-at-home or staggered office modes. A preliminary readiness assessment on work-at-home is being conducted and measures have already been implemented such as internet cloud backups of work files, deployment of remote access options to campus PCs, piloting of work-from-home, video conferencing, and planning for intermittent and limited physical access to campus offices and facilities.
The welfare of all students and employees is prominently on the minds of the college management. This is completely uncharted territory, but our principles and values, such as integrity, professionalism and mutual respect, remain the same.
March 25th, 2020 - 9:30 AM
Bhutan's alert level is orange (third highest), meaning imported cases of COVID-19 were detected but there is no community transmission. One tourist was detected positive on March 6th, quarantined, and eventually air-ambulanced out of Bhutan as per his family's arrangements. His partner later tested positive while in quarantine, and is still in quarantine with only mild symptoms. There are no other probable cases, and all other suspected/possible cases have continued to test negative.
As per Bhutan's National Emergency Response plan, RTC is closed for in-person classes until further notice from the government as a precaution due to COVID-19. Classes have been switched from in-person to online. The College staff and faculty are working very hard to ensure a smooth switch in these learning methods. We intend to see the semester through to completion. We are constantly getting updated and researching efficient methods of online learning from across the world for implementation here. We hope to turn this crisis into an opportunity to use more advanced technologies and online platforms to deliver quality education to all our students. This has become a new reality for all of us now. Most students have or are vacating on-campus residence halls, so internet data packages have been arranged with the telecom operations in the country, and these are now rolling out to the registered smartphone mobile numbers for all off-campus students.
His Majesty the King's speech to the nation from March 22nd is here: https://www.facebook.com/KingJigmeKhesar/videos/209028023644490/
The entire nation has taken this as a welcome reassurance from the country’s highest authority. We are proud of the strong response the country has taken to keep the population in the country safe. The government is prepared for a “red” (highest) alert level should that be required, wherein shelter-at-home guidance would apply. The government has further reassured the public that the flow of goods and essential services will continue uninterrupted. For example, we see nothing that warrants “panic buying” by anyone. Law and order are of course functioning normally.
We are doing our best along with the Government to combat this issue as a community. Although we are physically distancing ourselves a bit more, we are keeping ourselves close socially and supporting one another more than ever. Let’s stay safe!
March 17th, 2020 - 9:30 PM
As per the public notice received from the Prime Minister's office, Royal Thimphu College will remain closed for in-person classes until further notice. The College will continue its operations through the existing online teaching-learning modes implemented since last week.
The PMO's announcement is reproduced below:
Update: All schools and educational institutes across the country will remain closed starting tomorrow (March 18), until further order from the government.
As we monitor the COVID-19 situation within the country and beyond, we would like to inform you that while it is all under control back home, the development globally is disconcerting.
It is also the time when many Bhutanese overseas are returning home. As a precautionary measure, we would like to keep our children home until we are confident about sending them to schools and colleges.
From the lessons we have drawn over the days, we are happy to know that closure of schools and educational institutes in four districts so far have improved parents-children relationship, and that parents have also been guiding children with their lessons, besides the welfare.
Our teachers, on the other hand, have been as concerned and taking active role in ensuring our children are not wasting their time at home and sending assignments. They have engaged children and students using online means and technology. This is exactly what the government aspires.
We hope teachers across the country, irrespective of government or private ownership, will make similar efforts.
March 13th, 2020 - 5:30 PM
The College is scheduled to reopen along with other educational institutes effective March 19th, 2020 as per the latest national advisories. All classes will resume as scheduled on Thursday, March 19th. Boarder students are welcome to report back to the residence halls by evening of Wednesday March 18th.
March 12th, 2020 - 2:30 PM
There are still no new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Bhutan. Educational institutes in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Phuensholing, and Wangduephodrang continue to be temporarily closed through March 19th.
While movements in and out of the campus remain minimized, RTC programmes are now in the process of implementing e-learning plans for the purpose of keeping academic progression on track. The College is working with faculty and students to ensure that the academic needs are met for the interim while strengthening support structures.
All classes at RTC will be continued (as per the adapted semester work plans) online, and faculty members are making use of all available resources. The RTC virtual learning environment already in place (vle.rtc.bt) is endorsed as the official college online platform. All classes will use the VLE as a platform for e-learning and as a forum for discussion. In parallel, the RTC Cloud service (cloud.rtc.bt) is utilized for expanded storage space. Apart from the VLE, faculty members are encouraged to use other e-learning resources like Google Classroom, ensuring that all learners are enrolled and no students are left out. Programme Leaders and Subject Coordinators will monitor the effective use of the online learning tools, and learner engagement. Planned continuous assessments will also be conducted online. Faculty are adapting the forms of the assessments to suit the nature of online classes.
Any necessary trainings and resources are being provided to our faculty members with a clear understanding of the importance of continuing the academic engagement with students. The Academic Affairs Department, with technical support from the Bachelor of Computer Applications programme, and other faculty members who are well versed in VLE and other online systems, will facilitate in providing all the required online trainings including VLE, Google classrooms, Voice-Over PPT & others. Video recordings facilities and equipment are also provided for any faculty in need. Practical components will be deferred until regular classes resume.
For any technical issues students might face while accessing online resources and VLE a number of support channels are being established for students to seek necessary support. The College is reaching out to students to audit their access to resources to participate in online classes. Students who do not have such access will be given adequate support and alternative options. Students and families are being informed about the expectations of e-learning and to seek their support in the best interest of the learners to ensure that they take the online classes seriously.
Campus services are all operational.
March 9th, 2020 - 4:30 PM
No new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Bhutan. Educational institutes in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Phuensholing, and Wangduephodrang are still temporarily closed. Institutes have begun making and implementing plans for distance learning including through online modes. RTC programme leaders and respective faculty have already begun deploying plans to students; all students should remain connected and stay on track with their academic requirements to avoid falling behind.
March 6th, 2020 - 08:00 AM
Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,
Based on the recommendation from the Ministry of Health and the Royal University of Bhutan, RTC along with other institutions will temporarily discontinue regularly scheduled classes starting today, as a result of the necessary precautions surrounding suspected novel Coronavirus (COVID-2019) that are advised for Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha.
While no case is linked with RTC, purely as a precautionary measure, all the class sessions from 6th March onward are temporarily canceled until further notice. Day scholar students are requested not to travel to the College, but remain at home. Boarder students are welcome to make arrangements for their movement home while registering their plans with the Student Services Department through the mentors. Those remaining on campus are advised to minimize movements in and out of the campus, while appropriate services on campus will continue to be facilitated.
Class sessions will be canceled, though the semester progression will continue as best as possible through online options in the interim, and further communications and updates will soon be posted on my.rtc.bt and via emails.
The College Management already had preliminary meetings on this issue earlier this week and will be fully involved and responsive to the needs of all our community members including students and staff.
Much is being learned about this newly emerged virus. Based on the current information, health officials are recommending everyone to take the same steps to protect against coronavirus as we take to prevent the spread of everyday illnesses like the common cold or the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
There is no reason for alarm -- we would simply like to do our own part and contribute responsibly to the national and global situation following all relevant advice and best practices. Please be assured that all prudent measures will continue to be taken.
Stay safe and looking forward to meeting you all again at the earliest.