The Covid-19 pandemic has completely revamped educational models – locally and globally. How are educational institutes managing?
I wouldn’t say that the pandemic completely revamped educational models. We are facing an unexpected and exceptional situation that requires a prompt reaction, and the decision to bring the spring break forward helped us in coping with this by allowing us to rethink and reorganise the classes. However, we were thinking of developing online teaching even before the pandemic. It was already part of our strategic plan and there were discussions about how to increase the courses delivered online in comparison to face-to-face courses and how to include new technologies and digital tools to support and enhance our teaching methodology. As a result, we were ready to go for online courses during this pandemic.
How are you supporting students?
Our first step was to make sure that all students have the materials required to follow their classes online. For students who did not have the required tools – such as laptops – we provided them with support. Digital Transformation and Innovation department provided a number of training sessions to get students ready for remote learning and online exams. Our main priority was to facilitate their online journey and avoid any technical issues during the sessions. We also supported those who were directly impacted by Covid-19 by providing financial aid.
We also supported students by providing virtual counselling sessions – individually or collectively. We provided virtual tutoring programmes to support students and help them moving from face- to-face learning to distance learning.
What are the main challenges of remote learning?
We are facing many challenges at present. During these unfortunate times, it’s difficult for students to stay motivated. Motivation usually comes from personal communication during the learning process. It’s absolutely crucial; learning is not only about transmitting knowledge, it’s also about processing and discovering one’s own way in life. Therefore, interaction and personal communication are crucial.
Another challenge would be the increasing inequality of material conditions among students. For example, a student who has a room of his or her own would face less distractions and therefore less difficulties in e-learning than one that shares his or her room with siblings. It’s also a question of the social environment – those students who have books and access to other forms of knowledge and who have the support of their parents and friends will go through this transition easier than those who do not have all these advantages.
Also, we must be aware of the fact that the university campus is not only a place where knowledge is transmitted vertically, but it is a place of sociability and exchanges between students and alumnus. This becomes challenging in a situation of remote learning.
Another challenge is that students might feel isolated. We are very much aware of this risk and this is why we try to assist these students with our online counselling sessions.
Looking ahead, do you think remote learning is here to stay?
Yes, I think remote learning is here to stay as an additional element to the face- to-face courses. But it will not replace face-to-face or the traditional methods used in education.
Lastly, what are the future plans for Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi?
Even during this difficult period, we were able to move forward with our strategy. Soon, we will launch new programmes in science.
We are developing research projects and two chairs in artificial intelligence (AI) and we are in the process of recruiting PhD students and senior scientists in AI. The research chairs in artificial intelligence have allowed us to launch a long-time co-operation with Total and Thales Group and we are very eager to create partnerships with other enterprises in the future.
Moreover, we also aim to develop research chairs in humanities and social sciences. We already have PhD students in Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and we would like to host more scholars who will be able to conduct their research here, under the supervision of two mentors, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Sorbonne University in Paris. This will allow us to enhance the PhD research in the GCC region in line with Paris.
In addition to this, we also plan to improve students’ employability and strengthen the link between the university and other enterprises by providing programmes that are in line with the job market needs.