Emergency Remote Education and Smart Working at Three European Higher Education Institutions

Emergency Remote Education and Smart Working at Three European Higher Education Institutions

Gilberto Marzano (Rezekne Academy of Technologies, Latvia) and Aleksandra Zając (Spoleczna Akademia Nauk, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/IJWLTT.287553
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Abstract

Due to the threat posed by COVID-19, many colleges and universities around the world opted to switch to online courses and smart working to keep their students, professors, and staff safe during the pandemic emergency. Face-to-face classes, including labs and workshops, have been canceled and substituted with online activities. New administrative procedures have also been established to support the emergency remote education. This article analyzes these changes in light of the experiences of three higher education institutions in different countries, namely Latvia, Poland, and Italy. From this analysis, some aspects have emerged that have stimulated a deeper reflection on the use of digital technology in higher education. .
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1. Introduction

We are entering a kind of Digicene (ETF Partners, 2016): digital technology is expanding into all aspects of human life.

The ongoing fourth industrial revolution (Schwab, 2017) is boosting living standards and providing new development opportunities in all productive sectors and areas of society, including that of education.

The consequences are particularly visible in private and business communication and information sharing processes. 

Experts agree that the speed at which digital technologies are spreading nowadays is impressive, and technological advances will produce remarkable and unprecedented changes in the medium-term (Elliott, 2019; Harris, Kimson & Schwedel, 2018; Qian, Zhong & Du, 2017; Sousa, Cruz, Rocha & Sousa, 2019). 

It has been broadly argued that, in the near future, the demand for skilled labor will grow whilst that for the performance of routine activities will decrease (Frey & Osborne, 2017). In this regard, investments in education have been called for to re-skill workers and support continuous learning in order to preserve people’s employability in the jobs market of the future (Larsson & Teigland, 2020).

To sustain the educational endeavor, digital technology is deemed to be increasingly essential, since it can make educational interventions widely accessible at low-cost. It allows the creation of personalized learning paths, accessibility by a large attendance of learners, and hugely reduced costs for teaching-learning activities (Anderson, 2008; Dumford & Miller, 2018).

Recently, the lockdown introduced worldwide in an effort to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the extensive recourse to virtual communications online teaching-learning, and remote working.

However, the use of these means took place suddenly, without adequate planning, experimentation, and user training. The solutions have often been extemporized, especially in schools and universities, the closure of which has forced students, teachers, and administrative staff to operate from home using their own digital devices. 

In many cases, the already existing e-learning platforms have been improved with software tools allowing data sharing, collaborative working, and video conferencing. These tools have often been made available for free by some of the world’s largest and most successful companies in the field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Zoom.

During the lockdown, then, higher education institutions largely continued their activities through digital communication and collaboration platforms, but they encountered many unexpected problems. Indeed, the vast majority of online teaching-learning experiences should more appropriately be referred to as emergency remote teaching (ERT) experiences (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust, & Bond, 2020; Lederman, 2020; Milman, 2020).

Indeed, distance education based on well-planned online courses completely differs from ERT.

According to Bozkurt and Sharma, distance education is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on open educational practices:

By definition, distance education is characterized by the distance in time and/or space between learners and learning resources. While remote education refers to spatial distance, distance education considers distance within the perspective of different angles and strives to explain it through transactional distance. Distance education further places emphasis on interactions between different parties and through different channels to let learners be more engaged in the learning process (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020, p. ii).

Although the organization of remote classes and virtual exams, as well as of the various bureaucratic activities proved very challenging, ERT has been a unique and significant experience. It is reported that more than 1.5 billion learners of all ages from around the globe were affected by school and university closures (UNESCO, 2020; UNICEF, 2020).

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