11/10/21 · Institutional

Data management and a custom educational model - key factors in post-COVID university education

Interaction between students and between the student and teaching staff will be increasingly important in both online and hybrid educational models
A series of talks organized by the UOC and the International Association of Universities (IAU) has examined the impact of COVID-19 on higher education
Students will be increasingly connected to each other, either synchronously or asynchronously (photo: Freepik)

Students will be increasingly connected to each other, either synchronously or asynchronously (photo: Freepik)

The impact of the pandemic on university education can be seen in the figures. According to UNESCO estimates, around 1.5 billion students in 165 countries have had their studies disrupted since the onset of COVID-19, which has forced the international academic community to rethink its education model. The report, entitled Coping with COVID-19: International Higher Education in Europe, produced by the European Association for International Education (EAIE) and based on the concerns expressed by more than 800 people working in higher education in 38 European countries, highlighted their apprehension about the short and long-term impact of the crisis in areas including student mobility or leveraging technology. Furthermore, a survey conducted by the International Association of Universities (IAU) shows that 80% of the universities surveyed believe that COVID-19 will affect enrolment in the coming academic years.

Faced with this scenario, experts believe that the higher education model is going to change, and that for it to be effective in either hybrid or online format, it will need to be customized and take into account data governance as one of the key factors. "In the world of education, where everything is increasingly going to be recorded and may be monitored, it's very important to create mechanisms and systems that enable us to use these data, with the necessary privacy and diligence in place, so that we can have more information about our students and their needs," said Albert Sangrà, professor at the UOC and director of the UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change.

Everything related to data governance is going to be vital, given that the digital world opens up an exceptional window for observing and recognizing needs and opportunities. This is one of the conclusions of the series of six talks organized by the UOC and the IAU which examines the impact of COVID-19 on higher education. The talks have been watched by more than a thousand people all over the world. According to Trine Jensen, head of HE & Digital Transformation at the IAU and one of the organizers of the series, the importance of fostering this type of exchange is shown by the more than 1,200 professionals from over a hundred countries who registered for the talks, "bringing to the table different perspectives from different types of institutions and from different parts of the world to reflect on how we want to shape the future of higher education in an increasingly digital world."

Sangrà, who is a member of the UOC's Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and another of the series' organizers, rated the experience as "very positive". He said they were able to work closely with the IAU; this "let a great many people from all over the world who were interested in the subject participate, which shows that it is a global phenomenon that affects everyone, no matter where they are or where they are from."

As Jensen recalled, when this series of talks was proposed a year into the pandemic, the objective was not to discuss what the response had been in the educational field, but instead to look to the future, establishing lessons "to help define and create the higher education we want". Those lessons learned that will set the path for universities in the post-COVID-19 era go beyond data governance. They include dedicating time and effort to a comprehensive design of the educational model, which experts identify as an essential task for a high-quality university. "Whether online or hybrid, the design of the course and its characteristics are one of the areas most highly valued by the educational community and which have been highlighted as a central factor," said Sangrà, who emphasized that particular attention must be paid to assessment. The need to "recreate and reimagine different ways of assessment in these different contexts, and to move towards some degree of diversification of assessment methods, is another basic task," he said.

Finally, a fourth factor identified as crucial in the university education of the future is interaction and collaboration between students, as well as between students and teaching staff. According to Sangrà, any solution, whether hybrid or online, must avoid being limited to a passive consumption of content. On the contrary, the ideal scenario is one designed with elements of interaction that offer and foster opportunities for contact between students, regardless of whether this contact is synchronous or asynchronous. "It isn't essential that the interaction take place at the same time; the important thing is to establish models that allow the interaction to take place," he said. "The future of learning and teaching is not exclusively online or exclusively face-to-face, but instead a future with complementary learning modes to address the different needs of students around the world," said Jensen. She added that although the pandemic brought numerous challenges, "it's also brought us closer, despite our differences, and provided new opportunities to share knowledge and experiences across borders."

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