The next academic year will begin ruled by uncertainty, like almost every aspect of our lives since the coronavirus blasted the ‘old standard’.

University centers prepare to start one of the most atypical courses in their history in September adapt classrooms to safety distance and health protocols, increase their technological endowment and train teachers in digital skills suitable for education. Meanwhile, the shadow of a new confinement hangs over us like the sword of Damocles.

Various possible scenarios

In principle, the 2020-2021 academic year will start in classrooms. But faced with this uncertainty, Spanish universities, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Universities, are preparing to two possible scenarios: that of a course which develops completely under the parameters of the new normal and that of the return to confinement in certain sections.

For the first, all configure a hybrid education in which face-to-face and distance elements are combined, as the minimum safety distance will force a reduction in the number of students per class and some of the students follow certain lessons from a screen. For the second, they have strengthened their digital platforms and trained teachers in online teaching skills.


“For the next academic year, teaching will be mixed, with different models depending on the degree and the distribution of theoretical groups into different practice groups. We hope that the practices can all be face-to-face, and theory will be taught by videoconference or by dividing the groups into two halves, one with a classroom presence and the other remotely», Explains Joaquín Aldás, vice-rector for strategy, quality and information technology at the University of Valencia.

This mixed or hybrid model will be the one that, in general, will be followed in all universities in Spain as long as the rules of the new normal prevail. To do this, the centers adapt in different ways. The University of Barcelona reports having allocated half a million euros to its faculties for the technological adaptation of classrooms, the University of Seville spent several weeks doing tests with robotic cameras in the classrooms and the University of Valencia is offering laptops and SIM cards with data to students who did not have the necessary equipment to follow the lessons remotely, according to their spokespersons told Xataka.

“We have performed tests with robotic cameras, we have expanded the capacity of our virtual teaching platform, we have trained teachers in online teaching and we have created standards with recommendations on how best to maintain distance education. But face to face is our brand, We are not a distance university, so as much as we can be face to face, we want to be as much as possible»Says Maribel Hartillo, director general of digitization at the University of Seville.

On the other hand, in the event that we had to return to confinement, the universities explain that They are better prepared than in March to provide distance learning temporarily thanks to technological reinforcement that they perform to prepare for either scenario.

It’s not all technology

Adapting to either scenario therefore increases the digitization of Spanish universities. These tools will be used in a complementary way in hybrid education and as the main channel in the event of new confinement.. However, technology is not everything in distance education.


Maribel hartillo “Before the pandemic, we already had a fairly powerful digital education tool, Virtual Education, which allowed us to do a lot of things. The problem was that a lot of people didn’t know how to use it.. So the first thing we did was a training plan for the teachers, and with videos of teachers who knew how to use it, it was taught to other classmates, ”says Hartillo.

Something similar has happened in most universities in Spain, which for a long time have digital platforms with a large number of functions but they were hardly used by some teachers to download grades and grades.

« Teacher training is an essential part of the new strategy. In our university, during the first three weeks of June, a total of 847 professors and education support professionals participated in a training course focusing on new education methods ”, says Pablo Sánchez-Ostiz, vice-rector of academic planning at the University of Navarre.

For Sánchez-Ostiz, it is not only that teachers learn to use technological tools, but to adapt the whole pedagogical methodology to the new hybrid environment which, it seems, has come to teaching to stay: ” This crisis has taught us that the solution is not technological. Technology is just a medium, but the key to dealing with such a situation is found in the new didactic: in a personalized and quality teaching, attentive to the situation of the student and with active methodologies ”.


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And it is that from the education sector it is feared that focusing too much on technology and outcomes is an involution of educational methodology, with the return to models that seemed outdated like the master class where the teacher dictates and the students take notes at full speed. Only, rather than in class, through a video.


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“The digitization that was done at the end of the course was a big effort for the teachers, but it also caused little mess, because in some cases virtual has led us to reproduce 19th century educational models. I know that what has been done has been done, but I am afraid that it will become an excuse that will allow the reactionaries of education to return to the educational models of the past ”, underlines Juanjo Vergara, pedagogue and president of the LABoratorio de Innovation educational (LABINE).

In this sense, several of the universities consulted by Xataka explain that they have developed distance course recommendations for their teachers, but that, ultimately, it is the educator who chooses how to give his class according to his academic freedom. However, those responsible for the subjects they must indicate in the educational program how they intend to teach and assess the subject both hybrid and distant. Thus, they stress, students will be able to choose whether the method convinces them before registering.

“What I’m criticizing is not so much what the teachers do as what the administrations do, which they were afraid and they chose to simplify everything, that the teacher puts the mark and that the students can take the exams, going to the most elementary of traditional education ”, underlines Vergara.

Evaluations

One of the things that gave Spanish universities a headache last year was the remote assessments. Most were not ready to examine all of their students from a distance and they had to adapt to forced marches, improvise solutions, or postpone exams until they could be done in person.


Pablo Sanchez Ostiz

For the next academic year, universities are considering different ways to assess remotely, remote exams via their digital platforms to improve continuous assessment. And in cases where numerical methods cannot be used, schools will try to move the tests when they can return to class.

In the course which has just ended, the Universities of Navarre and Seville indicate that they have been able to carry out a large number of successful online reviews through their digital platforms, then they would repeat this method to give themselves a new confinement. The former assures Xataka that he has taken nearly 69,000 non-face-to-face exams, while the Seville center says 97% of their degree subjects were assessed online. The Sevillians also explain that, in cases where this has not been possible, the new normal has waited for the entry into force to do face-to-face tests.


Students studying the safety distance

Another center that has carried out a significant number of online exams is the National University of Distance Education (UNED), which, despite teaching many of its degrees at a distance, assessed in person. However, with the arrival of the pandemic examined over 200,000 students through AvEx, a platform that she developed exclusively for in-person evaluation and that she will continue to use during the 2020-2021 academic year.

This tool, as explained by UNED, has a control system that prevents various fraudulent behavior such as identity theft for another person to take the exam, using unauthorized material or performing group exercises through a series of photographs taken at random and sent to the teacher with the ‘exercise already solved.

On the other hand, centers like the Carlos III University of Madrid have opted for improve continuous assessment and work in small groups, regardless of setting, as a method of examining your students over the next school year.

Face-to-face defense

Despite all the processes that Spanish universities are carrying out to increase their online educational resources, all the centers consulted by Xataka point out that face-to-face is a fundamental attribute of their educational model and they will try to return to it to the extent possible.

“For a face-to-face center like the University of Barcelona it is difficult to find benefits in a formula that is not natural to us. But, since this will be our ‘new normal’, we will try to take the most positive part out of it and use it for the future, ”says Amelia Díaz, vice-rector of academic planning and quality at the Catalan University.

The University of Navarre, for its part, stresses that it has halved the capacity of classrooms and added new workspaces in all buildings to continue to focus on attendance in accordance with health protocols. Carlos III universities in Madrid, Seville and Valencia also defended the “Maximum attendance” possible as long as it is safe for teachers and students.

“For us, presence is essential in teaching, because contact with the student facilitates learning and increases the motivation of students and teachers. Yes, it is true that once this crisis is over, it will be important to assess the aspects of online training that can be useful in addition to attending classrooms. In our case, the videoconferencing tutorials were very well received, ”emphasizes the Vice-Rector for Strategy, Quality and Information Technology at the University of Valencia.

This positioning is not exclusive to educational centers. From the Ministry of Universities, through the document Recommendations to the university community to adapt the 2020-2021 course to an adapted classroom setting, as well emphasis is on the ‘desirable preponderance’ of face-to-face education as the most appropriate form of higher education despite the empowerment of remote tools.

Source : Engadget