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Academic quality underlies faculty’s ability to teach remotely

Online version of Academic Development Seminar offered training to remote teaching to more than 600 participants

28/07/2020 - 10h28
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Photo: John Schnobrich/Unsplash

Aug 10 will see the beginning of the second academic semester of 2020 for most undergraduate students at the University. After a period of challenges and learning for both students and faculty, who had to begin teaching remotely due to the pandemic, the beginning of a new cycle has been carefully prepared to guarantee safe, flexible and effective classes. The Academic Development Seminar, organized by the Office of the Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Continuing Education (Prograd), is being offered entirely online this time. The seminar was designed to promote insights on technological and methodological resources to bring the quality of online teaching to a higher level.

Beginning on Jul 23, with the theme Perspectives of Education in Times of Pandemic, the event featured a number of webinars that ended on Jul 24. It came as an opportunity to highlight and share strategies and cases created during these past few months, mostly guided by the Online Mediation Group and by the Academic School’s Pedagogical Innovation Centers. Participants discussed strategies to promote engagement, to minimize cognitive overload and to assess students’ learning in teaching remote activities.

According to the Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Continuing Education, Br. Manuir Mentges, the transition to remote education in the first semester was quick and smooth. This was only possible due to an effective work of cooperation and flexibility of the teaching and technical staff.

Emergency remote classes X Distance learning

On the first day of activities, School of Technology Professor Dr. Lúcia Giraffa, leader of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Digital Technologies and Distance Education, stressed that the University ended an emergency remote synchronous teaching stage and is now entering a period of planned remote classes.

According to her, face-to-face courses cannot be “transformed” into a remote learning course overnight, nor be seen in this way simply because it is being delivered online in view of the current circumstances. “To adapt face-to-face teaching to remote teaching temporarily is not distance education. We do not have tutors, we have qualified faculty producing material for their courses that would be taught in person, in a personalized way”, she comments.

The new phase involves greater organization and planning, the encouragement of student autonomy and pedagogical mediation, evaluation in remote courses, as well as specific methodologies.

“Technology in education is not something new. We came from more than 30 years of research waiting for digital technologies to have a space in Education. This happened now, as the pandemic emerged, and we are experimenting, creating, adapting and evaluating possibilities. All of this will make us even stronger when we can return to face-to-face teaching, after the pandemic”, she explains.

Technology is a means not the end

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Photo: Austin Distel/Unsplash

PUCRS offers students a complete infrastructure, with services and support for career and life planning, but its greatest asset is the faculty. Relying on qualified faculty and researchers, it is recognized in the country and all over the world for its contributions to science and best practices in their respective academic areas. The Online Undergraduate coordinator, Debora Conforto, points out that the pedagogical and technological model developed at PUCRS is centered on the students, but it values the academic quality of faculty, who now have a multidisciplinary support team to create the courses.

“Technology is always a means, not an end. It is the faculty that gives sense to the mediation. The driving force of our model is the learning objective, which is what the professor is looking at. We are looking for the best resources to offer interactive digital content and a diversity of mediation strategies. We want our students to be protagonists, to be active, this is essential for a researcher”, she highlights.

In the second semester, multimodal texts, animation videos, interactive learning objects, gamified activities, questionnaires, podcasts, forums and cases will increasingly be part of the routine of professors and students. According to Dr. Adriana Kampff, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, concerns about the emergency context, such as interactions, structure, autonomy, training and support for planning, are essential to build assertive emergency plans. “There was a lot of generosity, a lot of quality, a lot of support among fellow professors and that is what makes us a university. We are ready for an online semester. We are flexible and attentive to go on with continuing education until we can return to a face-to-face model that will give more value to technological interaction”, she said.

Replacing the importance of the professor with clear and concrete actions

Students’ profiles, current scenarios and the training paths established from the curricula are elements that challenge the University to revisit and improve its practices. “Our goal is to offer means and tools for PUCRS professors to be part of a vanguard in teaching. Our didactic-pedagogical innovation project aims to ensure that the University endeavors constant movements of continuing education for its faculty and technical staff”, Br. Manuir Mentges says.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the University has overcome numerous challenges. Among them is to offer technological support to students to monitor remote activities; standardize actions and procedures; further enhance contributions to society and offer financial solutions to keep students in school to maintain their career plans. The President of PUCRS, Br. Evilázio Teixeira, opened the Seminar discussing the challenges and responsibilities of a participatory management model that proposes shared responsibilities. Commenting on the developments of the pandemic, such as the need for quick, flexible and dynamic solutions, he thanked everyone for their engagement.

“In our institution everyone has a fundamental role to play. The University is a community of faculty, students and staff who together use their knowledge to improve and transform the world. It is not enough to dictate values, we have to practice what we preach. Hence, after the pandemic we want to continue at the forefront of Education with excellence in teaching, research, innovation and local relevance, offering our best to the community we are in,” he said.