The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Forced the Digital Transformation of Learning and Teaching Practices: One-Off Organizational Effort for Lasting Change?

The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Forced the Digital Transformation of Learning and Teaching Practices: One-Off Organizational Effort for Lasting Change?

Walter Nuninger
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3600-4.ch010
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Like any organization, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) had to adapt quickly to limit the impact of the COVID pandemic. In France, HEIs complied with the regulation and followed the evolving framework imposed by the state to face the health crisis. First, the universities reacted to provide means to support barrier measures; second, they adapted functioning with teleworking and decrease of audience gauge; finally, they accelerated IT integration in the learning to develop hybrid solutions and online learning. The emergency decision-making aimed at maintaining the training offer, but, over the sanitary containment measures, the needs for the accompaniment of the people became obvious. Based on a set of collected data and quality surveys, this chapter presents the local deployment in an engineer school, putting the focus on the effort to provide means. Then the impact of their usage on the teaching practices. Without claiming to generalize, the goal is to propose the perspectives for a lasting change in higher education training, following the dynamics of a changing society.
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The concerns for learning performance in Higher Education (HE) during the COVID-19 pandemic questioned HEIs’ organization and training efficiency. Different proposals worldwide had already put the focus on the individual training path all lifelong (Nuninger et al., 2020a). In France, the COVID-19 pandemic modified human interactions and work with a rush to convert curriculum to online environment (Crawford et al., 2020; UNESCO, 2020; ISD, 2020). Year 2020 was a test of organizational agility and level of preparation for the learning digital era (Houlden & Veletsianos, 2020). Beyond the immediate disruption of training operations, there will be consequences on the human capital of a generation (skills) and changes in their worldview (Paudel, 2021). To overcome societal and economic issues, preventive actions should be taken to limit student dropouts, compensate the decline in knowledge and skills and allow the continuation of career paths (IAU, 2020; WBG, 2020). The last two years were marked by uncertainties, seemingly blocked horizon and limited free will for population. All stakeholders were submitted to interrelated constraints whether they were recommendations or obligations from steering committees or states through regulations during COVID worldwide spreading. The consequences have been an increase in sick leave with a less available skilled workforce, uneasiness at work and incapacitating societal concerns more or less overcome over time by the citizens, thus the learners and trainers. The main reasons were:

  • The initial lack of knowledge about the infectious agent;

  • Unknown turnkey solution for curative treatments that motivates the vaccine race embodied by the coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (Preet Kaur & Gupta, 2020);

  • and the lower understanding of population with respect to scientific results and decisions motivated by the World Health Organization guidance (WHO, 2020; Preet & Gupta, 2020).

The generalization of teleworking has impacted vocational training paths and internships with fewer opportunities in companies. Training was in degraded mode with a switch to distance learning and virtual face-to-face classroom. The efficiency of educational continuity mostly depended on:

  • The clear governance guidelines;

  • The already available IT network of university (digitization);

  • The level of digitalization supported by the digital tools provided on the ENT (video teleconferencing software programs, Learning Management System (LMS) for distance collaboration…);

  • The involvement of trainers;

  • The commitment of students in the collective effort (Elander, 2017);

  • Then, the stakeholders’ digital competences at a proficiency-user level such as described and recommended in DigCom 2.1 (EUR 28558 EN) and DigCompEdu by EC.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Year in the Training Path: Covers two calendar years from September N to June N+1 with the second training semester starting in February N+1.

Digitization: Is the process of converting the information available into a digital format, i.e. computer-readable data. The expected goal is flexibility in time and space for learning, organization autonomy, and interactivity. The issue lies in the IT means given to the users to change analog to digital form, then access the data. Digitization is prior to the change in learning and teaching ( Gaebel et al., 2021 ) and will impact the social and work-life restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures.

Staff: Includes the academic staff composed of the trainers and researchers from the pedagogical team (faculty members), plus the administrative and technical staff (support service employees).

Blended-Courses: Are context-dependent and mix different pedagogical approaches, materials and means for knowledge ownership. The aim is to support “learning by doing”, benefiting from digital and interaction. This allows students to have some control over the time, place and pace of learning to enhance commitment and collective debriefings. Beforehand prepared activities can be carried out remotely, during the face-to-face course at the school, but also during the virtual classroom. Momentum is ensured by adequate time division.

Digitalization: Quoting Gartner Glossary Information Technology, “ digitalization mostly refers to the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business .” Thus, digitalization allows the “transformation of the world of work” ( Bloomberg, 2018 ). For HEIs, digitalization results from the digital integration into training processes, leading to the change in the organization and learning practices.

Hybrid Lessons During COVID-19 Pandemic: Refers to one kind of ERT promoted by French university (not to be confused with blended-course). The rule requires the trainer to manage a lesson with half-group in the classroom and the other half online, using the provided digital Visio conferencing tool. The solution results in cognitive load and low satisfaction due to disruptive events and multiple synchronous interaction channels.

Barrier Gestures: Refers to physical distance between people greater than 1.5 m in France which leads to COVID gauge in university classrooms (>4 m2 per individuals). Facemask wearing is an obligation: Filtering Face piece Particles, EN 14683 type 1 (or UNS1, AFNOR SPEC S76-001-2020 for no sanitary use; 3 mm 3 90%) as a minimum or higher such as KN95 (FFP2 without valve).

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