In the first days of March, with a new government, summer was ending in Uruguay and we were about to start a new academic year at University of the Republic (Udelar), the major public university of the country.
But on March 13 the first four cases of COVID19 were reported. The government declared Health Crisis: classes were cancelled throughout the country for 14 days by presidential decree, as well as the activities of the Udelar and public shows.
I’m not a Nurse, but working at Nursing Faculty I’m surrounded by them. And nurses know about care. And anticipation. Maybe that’s the reason why we had a Contingency Educational Plan by March 13, based on UNESCO’s recommendations, even before the Udelar responded to the Health Crisis with one of its own.
On March 16, the Udelar Academic Technical Support Department published the Online Education Contingency Plan. The Plan noted that maintaining educational activities in alternative modalities would be a way of generating actions that provide information to students and general population, occupy their time effectively, and generate activities that minimise the sense of isolation or inactivity. Framed by the health emergency, and based on the institutional conditions reached, an approach focused on CARE of the entire university community and its resources was proposed, and called Online Teaching and Learning in Emergency Conditions. The plan includes 4 dimensions: (1) Online Teaching and Learning in emergency conditions; (2) Redesign of online teaching and learning; (3) Adaptation of digital systems to the increase in demand; 4) Communication strategy. In addition, the Academic Unit of the Education ProRectorate, developed a guide focused on curriculum development and evaluation that intended to mitigate, as much as possible, a generalised curriculum backwardness that might compromise the educational trajectories of most of the students and devise alternative solutions to student’s participation (Bozkurt, et al, 2020, p. 109). Overall results for the first semester show that almost 85% of the courses were developed in online modality.
At this point, it’s relevant to mention that during the last eleven years, we experienced a significant growth and territorial expansion of Udelar’s student population, sustained by a generalised adoption of a blended education model developed through the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (based on Moodle). The Digital Open Learning Ecosystem of the Virtual Learning Environment Program (ProEVA) combines the LMS with multiple educational platforms and services, developed with free software, supporting communities and individuals in the creation, use and reuse of digital content within the framework of open educational practices. Following with the sense of care for the whole community, is needless to say that the use of free software and open formats, prioritises privacy in management of users’ personal data, avoiding those web tools that require students to create accounts (Bozkurt, et al, op. cit., p. 110).
At Nursing Faculty, the Virtual Learning and Teaching Unit (UnEVA) has been responsible since its creation in 2009, for providing guidance for the integration of Educational Technology (ET) in curricular designs (Rodríguez Enríquez, Czerwonogora & Doninalli, 2018). Also establishes the standards to contribute to quality education design proposals involving the use of ET, fostering deeper accessibility of Higher Education, and reducing the digital and geographic gap. UnEVA has developed a training teacher’s plan in ET, structured in a core of courses at three levels of deepening (Rodríguez Enríquez, Czerwonogora, Verde & Doninalli, 2014). The teacher’s development in ET has allowed that more than half of the courses exhibit a blended learning model, followed by an extended learning one (52% and 45% respectively, Rodríguez Enríquez, et al, op. cit). However, the scenario is very different when you must shift strictly to online learning (full online courses are just a few: 3%). We know that well-planned online learning experiences are meaningfully different from courses offered online in response to a crisis or disaster.
And here’s when tolerance (and flexibility!) came to play. We needed to manage educators’ expectations about customising their existing courses to fit the new demands and help them in this task, balancing their different levels of expertise on designing online courses. We organised a network of digital technologies benchmark teachers, selected in every Faculty department to work with UnEVA and help instructors with syllabus/courses adaptation. Besides signaling the differences between online learning and emergency remote teaching, UnEVA created Virtual essential tools, an open course for teachers to explain basic Moodle features (that was ready by the end of March), and an open site for tutorials. The course was also offered for the Latin American Association of Nursing Schools and Faculties (ALADEFE, main page).
In this complex scenario, UnEVA’s recommendations align with Udelar’s: it is essential to establish relations of mutual confidence and sustained commitment throughout the educational process in order to achieve the desired results, trying not to adopt a disbelief position a priori and recognizing that we’re facing a new and experimental situation for all. Regarding to learning evaluation process, we’ve been always emphasised on formative assesment applied to digital contexts during our teacher trainings, with a ‘learning by doing’ perspective. However, the implementation of these examinations might have been complicated in massive student contexts, like first year students (i.e. 988 in 2020 generation). For these courses, we planned a strategy based on Moodle quizes, focusing on designing ‘good questions’ both in content and form, having a large pool of questions whenever it was possible, and organising the students in groups with different exam proposals and moments during the day. Questions included were mostly multiple choice, but we also took advantage of the distinct options available on the platform. Trust is mandatory when you are taking examinations through the VLE, and most educators adopted these ideas and proposed a variety of online partial and final examinations. Our first proof was Microbiology (partial exam June 6) and we’ve been working since (final exams last until August 21).
Tolerance and flexibility are key conceptions to cope with the crisis in the educational environment. The adequation of the curriculum as well as actions taken to preserve the educational continuity of the students through development of online teaching and assessment, require normative flexibility of study regimes and evaluation; it might need compensatory actions tailored to diverse situations of students’ advancement.Tolerance and flexibility were present during the semester in my exchanges with students: they also need to know that they’re experiencing mostly ERT; that we educators have also trouble with Internet connections; that not all teachers have the same skills and digital competences.
For those who were and are learning/applying/using new softwares and technologies during these times, I’ve encouraged both students and instructors to try free and open software solutions (here is one of my suggested pages). I know I’m a bit radical about this subject (and I’ve been learning about flexibility myself!) but I think it’s a great opportunity to try and move to the open.
Last but not least
As Castañeda & Selwyn (2018, p. 4) assert, it is important for discussions of ET to extend beyond ‘rational’ aspects of the educational process, and also give full consideration to education as a profoundly emotional and human process. More attention needs to be paid to the interplay between the use of digital technology and people’s emotions, feelings and affect. Furthermore, we need to be aware of digital sovereignty and data privacy issues (among others), framing our teaching within a critical digital pedagogy perspective.
In all our digital (educational) moves, we need to rescue and care for the individual (a body, mind and heart) that habits behind the screen.
PS: These thoughts are an advance of my participation at GO-GN Gasta Session
Bozkurt, A., Jung, I., Xiao, J., Vladimirschi, V., Schuwer, R., Egorov, G., Lambert, S., Al-Freih, M., Pete, J., Olcott, Jr., D., Rodes, V., Aranciaga, I., Bali, M., Alvarez, A. J., Roberts, J., Pazurek, A., Raffaghelli, J. E., Panagiotou, N., de Coëtlogon, P., Shahadu, S., Brown, M., Asino, T. I., Tumwesige, J., Ramírez Reyes, T., Barrios Ipenza, E., Ossiannilsson, E., Bond, M., Belhamel, K., Irvine, V., Sharma, R. C., Adam, T., Janssen, B., Sklyarova, T., Olcott, N., Ambrosino, A., Lazou, C., Mocquet, B., Mano, M., & Paskevicius, M. (2020). A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 1-126.
Castañeda, L., & Selwyn, N. (2018). More than tools? Making sense of the ongoing digitizations of higher education. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(1), 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-018-0109-y
Rodríguez Enríquez, C., Czerwonogora, A. & Doninalli, M. (2018). Modelos de enseñanza con TIC en los cursos de Grado de Facultad de Enfermería. Jornadas de Investigación en Educación Superior, 214-221.
Rodríguez Enríquez, C., Czerwonogora, A., Verde, J & Doninalli, M. 2014. Evaluación formativa y herramientas tecnológicas. Aportes transversales más allá de las aulas. 88 pp. Montevideo.
Adjunct Professor at Virtual Teaching and Learning Unit (UnEVA, Nursing Faculty) and member of Open Educational Resources Center (Núcleo REAA). Universidad de la República, Uruguay.
Credit for the blog post picture: Flexible, by Chrissy Wainwright