Online Learning: How Have Universities Adapted and What Will Classes Look Like In September? | Top Universities

Online Learning: How Have Universities Adapted and What Will Classes Look Like In September?

By Stephanie Lukins

Updated April 5, 2021 Updated April 5, 2021

Sponsored by University of Lima

With the new academic term less than two months away, universities all over the world are innovating the way they deliver classes and teach students.

Virtual education isn’t groundbreaking news, but the degree to which universities are using online tools and resources to teach and motivate students is.

We spoke to Nadia Rodríguez, Director of the Systems Engineering Program and Fernando Kato, Director of the University Directorate of Informatics and Systems both at the University of Lima to get an idea of what classes and teaching will look like for students in South America this September.

Can you tell us how the Universidad de Lima has responded to COVID-19 and what is it doing to support current and prospective students in light of the pandemic?

Rodríguez: The process of virtualization in education at the University of Lima started several years ago. However, last year (and without knowing what would happen globally in early 2020), we started a blended education trial which allows synchronous teaching.

This experience allowed us to realize many things. For instance, students found the time and money savings extremely convenient. Professors also indicated that students were more participative during the synchronous sessions while those professors who were somewhat hesitant to teach in this format became very satisfied with the experience.

Will all teaching be conducted online? Or will there be some aspects of on-campus learning?

Rodríguez: The academic semester that goes from April to July has been 100 percent virtual, and has been a semester with some expected and other unexpected learnings. However, all these learnings will improve the academic strategy that will follow in the next semester that starts in August and lasts until December, which will also be offered 100 percent online.

Since the Peruvian government has allowed laboratories to operate with a maximum capacity of 50 percent, we will offer optional practical experiences to our students on campus and have implemented all the required health and safety protocols to operate the labs.

What are the most notable differences between the teaching and learning that will happen this September, and the teaching and learning that happened last September?

Rodríguez: In our experience we have found that the interaction between the students and the professors (and among students in general) is higher in a virtual format than in an in-person format. The interpretation is that students may feel less shy to ask questions while behind the computer.

Another aspect we are experiencing is that the rate of absenteeism has diminished significantly.

Conversely, some classes that require the use of special instruments or tools that are in a lab, may be lacking the richness of that experience. Also, the human interactions in a physical class are hard to match in virtual environments.

Has it been a challenge for both staff and students to adapt to such changes?

Rodríguez: Yes, indeed. However, faculty have given their best to innovate their classes and design the best learning experiences, and professors have had to work longer hours to adapt. The University of Lima offered many options to continue training to all faculty.

It has been challenging for students as well. They have not only had to learn all the new digital tools and methodologies, but they’ve also had to cope with being in lockdown, and in some cases have had to deal with personal health and financial issues.

Throughout the semester, many communications were sent about practicing flexibility in the academic aspect and personal aspect. Our different departments within the university have aided our students including, flat tuition discount and additional discounts for special situations, lease of computer equipment and routers, stress management virtual workshops, as well as total or partial courses withdrawal.

What do you think are/will be the biggest concerns students will have about studying their degree during the pandemic?

Rodríguez: We think this upcoming academic semester will be better, not only because professors and students are better adapted and prepared, but we’ve also decided to do a pre-enrollment for the next semester to have an estimate of the courses and quantity of groups we had to offer. 

How do you plan to keep students engaged and motivated during their studies?

Rodríguez: The teaching style for virtual education involves different innovative methodologies to engage the students and to help them achieve the main goals, which are learning and attaining course competencies.

The efforts that our professors perform to design effective classes, even though it is an arduous and time-consuming matter, are worthwhile.

In the current student academic survey, their general level of satisfaction with professors, courses and management were higher than previous semesters, which encourages the faculty and administrative staff to continue their efforts.

What support services will be available for students online?

Kato: Since the implementation of our current learning management system, we have a dedicated support team that uses different channels of communications with teachers and students, such as face-to-face sessions, phone, mail and social media tools.

What happened at the beginning of the crisis when classes went 100 percent virtual is that this support team was reinforced with human resources from the university’s different departments. Now we have a team of 24 permanently assigned members.

We also provided internet modems with data plans to students that had problems with their home internet.

Do you think the university will implement such changes permanently when the pandemic is over?

Rodríguez: Since the mandatory quarantine in Peru happened so fast, we had to accelerate the digital transformation of processes that support services to our different stakeholders. Particularly, services that still needed some manual intervention. The digitalization of these processes has allowed a dramatic reduction in paper use across our institution. These positive changes will more than likely remain.

Regarding the modality of our educational proposal, the government institution that supervises higher education in Peru (SUNEDU) will have to define what universities can do as far as virtual education once things go back to ‘normal’. Once the legal framework is clear and based on our great experience with virtual education we can determine which programs can incorporate a blended format in their curricula.

Lead image credit: University of Lima

This article was originally published in August 2020 . It was last updated in April 2021

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