Universities bypassing coronavirus through online teaching
Some professors around Catalonia are turning to the internet to stay in touch with their students
The coronavirus crisis may have emptied Catalonia's universities, but professors and teachers have turned to online tools to stay in touch with their students and to help fill the gap in their education caused by the suspension of classes.
Video conferences, chats, forums, and presentations are some of the digital tools that many universities teachers have turned to, and they report that the initiative has been largely welcomed by students confined to their homes.
Jesús Alcober from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) School of Telecommunications and Aerospace Engineering in Castelldefels, and Daniel Jiménez from the UPC's Computer Science Department, are two teachers who have been using such tools.
Virus speeds up implementation of Google apps
Jiménez says that the UPC was already in the process of developing online working with Google tools and that the coronavirus situation has speeded up their implementation so that from this week the university can use the Google Meet app to stay in touch.
In fact, Jiménez gave an online class to some 150 students from three different groups studying for an IT degree on Monday, which used presentations that he had prepared over the weekend and with the students asking questions via a live chat.
Jiménez said the classes he has done online so far have been interactive and problem-free and that the aim is to miss out as little as possible in subjects, while some teachers are also providing continual advice online throughout the day.
Presentations via Skype
Alcober has been using online tools in a similar way, and he gave a class to a score of students on Friday via Skype. Like Jiménez, Alcover gave a presentation from his computer that the students were able to follow at home.
He also recorded a video that he later posted to YouTube to help give other university teachers ideas about how they can also use such digital tools to help their students during their time stuck at home.
While Alcober recognizes that there are difficulties in covering subjects that are more practical and others that are "impossible" to do outside the university, he insists that faced with the challenge of coronavirus, "we have to show we are capable of adapting."
Doubts about online teaching
Yet some question the use of the online tools, such as Xavier Jiménez, a student of Environamental Biology at Barcelona's Autonomous University (UAB), who expresses concerns about how it might affect students' final evaluations.
One of Xavier Jiménez's main concerns is for those students who cannot attend online classes because they either do not have access to the internet or their connection is not sufficient to allow them to take part.
Xavier is also concerned about students getting all the information they need to cover a subject: "Perhaps you don't end up getting all the knowledge the teachers have to impart when compared with actual classes that you attend," he says.
Union warns about "discrimination" in education
Xavier's concerns are shared by the USTEC-STEs teachers union, which this week said the decision by some school teachers to give help to their students online is "contradictory" to the Catalan authorities ruling out continuing classes digitally.
Calling for the "necessary" technological resources to be extended to all schools, the union said it had detected problems of access for socio-economic and geographical reasons and added: "We cannot allow any discrimination in public education."
Yet, the interest of universities in online tools is likely to grow, as can be seen by the Virtual Fair of Catalan Universities, being held this week from March 19 to 21, and which replaces the education fair, Saló de l'Ensenyament, which was postponed due to the health crisis.