BIKE Project Distance-Training due to Coronavirus constraints

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by Giorgio Tagliabue

On 13 May 2020 and on 27 May 2020, respectively, were held two Courses on Transferable Skills on “Project Management” and “Intellectual Property”.

The Courses, organized by Sigma Experience in the framework of European Marie Sklodovska Curie BIKE project, were addressed to the training of Early Stage Researchers participating to the project, with the aim to provide them, beyond a comprehensive and application-oriented knowledge on the research field, an innovation, technology transfer, transferable skills and entrepreneurship mindset, following the concept of a T-shape training.

Because of moving restrictions imposed by Covid-19 the Courses, respectively held by Giorgio Tagliabue and Gilberto Cavagna di Gualdana, have been implemented in the form of Distance-Training.

Before describing how the lessons, previously prepared to be taught in traditional form during a Workshop Event that should have been held in Sofia, it is worth to make some general considerations.

Some data and effects

A UNESCO study about the impact of pandemic on education reports that as of March 30 (partial estimations)

  • over 166 countries have implemented nationwide closures
  • 52 billion students (over 87% of world’s student population) were out of the classroom

A an effect of this dramatic figures and of the rapidity of their increasing has been that

  • education has changed dramatically and as much rapidly adapting to the new circumstances, with the corresponding rise of offer in e-learning tools, where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.

These are global data that transmit a sentiment of inadequacy and emergency of the world education system, but unfortunately or not there isn’t a unique world education system, nor European and even nor national in some cases.

Digital divide is at present a huge educational and social problem and challenge.  And we’ll leave it to the experts supporting policymakers. The point of interest is to distinguish scales and segments of the problem. What is now largely acquired and accepted is that the effect of the pandemic will affect more the developing countries than the developed ones, and more the primary school levels than the higher ones. How much is not an immaterial factor, but it’s difficult up to now to find data describing the situation.

As a matter of fact technology is coming in favor, because networks, connections, hardware, software and media tools tend to become cheaper and available to larger masses of people. That means that what was requiring big resources not so many years ago, is now affordable, may be not by single individuals but by various organizations operating on the territory. And the same phenomenon could be applied to many other fields as medicine and healthcare, food and nutrition and wealth state in general.

So we arrive to the point: don’t let us charge pandemic with the digital divide effect, on the contrary let’s convert pandemic into a moment of rethinking the development of education in order  to increase digital equity keeping in mind that digitalization is one of the most powerful driver of the next future of the society.

On the other side, excluding physical contact from any human activity could be deleterious and contrary to the experience of thousands of years of education.

Summing up, the heritage of the present phase of pandemic consists in accepting and fostering the shift in the modality of teaching offered by new technologies without depersonalizing the human experience.

BIKE Distance-training lessons

We charged with task to provide distance-training to researchers involved in a doctorate course, tried to translate in practice the above suggestions, considering:

  • the level of audience
  • the strangeness of themes to be treated in front of their main study curricula and their interests
  • the likely difficulty to attend many hours to a formal lesson ex-cathedra, without strong involvement

In general, three options can be considered, and the choice depends on the expected results:

  • Interactive online lessons
  • Online webinars
  • Lessons recording and on demand view or downloading, in any later moment

the adopted media tools depending from the option.

If the intention is to organize pure one-way teaching without interaction, the best and easier way, as regards the organization, is to keep asynchronous the two moments: video recording and video fruition. The tools available for video recording and storing can be more profitably suggested by technical people present in the organization.

If rather some kind of interactivity is privileged, it’s advisable to go online and simulate a normal teaching lesson from the chair with the aid of a screen  (physical like a whiteboard or virtual, sharing the computer screen) and the lecturer illustrating the slides. This permits also a limited interaction with the students who could ask for questions or some clarification. In this case there are a lot of software platforms specific for webinars: Skype, Teams, Google Meet, Zoom and others. Choose the one the organization has more familiarity or experience with.

If even more interaction is asked, including the possibility to assign students some online questionnaires and workouts to determine their understanding (and level of attention!), the first methodology is mandatory. And was the solution adopted for BIKE CTS, as it was considered preeminent to involve the audience in tests to be assessed and discussed at the moment. Not last, this permitted to keep the audience alive and, as far possible, entertained.

To do these two layers of communication with two specific software tools have been used:

  • Zoom (but any other similar tool can be used) to start the meeting and to support the audio, to describe and comment the slides and to permit discussion with students and between them, when necessary
  • Nearpod to assembly the lesson as a set of slides (ppt, pdf, movies, etc) and control their advancement. In this way the teacher maintains a complete control of the lesson as he were in the classroom and he can interpose the slides sequence with phases of tests. This method allows also to keep record of the results of the test through a scoring system.