Jordi Miralbell, 67 years old. I have a PhD in Philosophy and I am a journalist. I am currently the Director on the Experience Campus at the International University of Catalonia (UIC Barcelona), which started its activities in April 2019. My experience in adult education -although in other facets- dates back to 2006. I am interested in following the best models in this field and, now, after the COVID-19 crisis, specifically, in the blended methodology, face-to-face and online, for adult education.
Salvador Vidal, 68 years old. I have a PhD in Educational Sciences (University of Barcelona) and a Degree in Chemical Sciences, (University of Barcelona). Currently, I am the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Education at the International University of Catalonia and an Associate Professor of Didactics of Mathematics and Group Dynamics. I belong to the consolidated research group SGR, SEI (Sustainability and Integral Education). I also coordinate the Experience Campus. I am a teacher trainer and I have participated in numerous continuing training courses for Institutes of Educational Sciences (ICE) from different universities such as UPC, UB, UAB, UPV, URL. Working on human relations and affectivity, the productivity is improved and you feel happier. Our objective on the Experience Campus is to improve our students’ quality of life, keeping them active. Group dynamics have proven to be an effective tool.
We found out about EPALE through the ERASMUS + projects in the field of adult education, because, as well as teaching, UIC Barcelona Experience Campus aimed to start a line of research on the subject. EPALE has helped us to prepare a proposal for an ERASMUS + project. During the COVID19 crisis, EPALE has shown us what resources we have at our disposal. EPALE is particularly helpful at the moment, as it provides overviews, useful guides and techniques for the current circumstances. It is our “go-to place” for any query that is presented to us. We are preparing two lines of research for two PhD students and EPALE provides us with very interesting reference material.
Our provision to adults, the UIC Barcelona Experience Campus, is still developing. Inspired by other universities, it offers a curriculum based on three full courses, preceded by an Introductory Module that runs from April to June of the previous year. At the time of the lockdown of the universities in Spain, we had 59 learners studying the first course of our own degree and 30 people pre-registered on the Introductory Module that was due to start on 16th April.
The unexpected closure of the Campus of Experience on 12th March did not give us enough time to prepare the teachers or students for the lockdown. However, straight away, together with the rest of our university, we decided to continue all of our activities online through the Moodle platform.
In the end, we only missed one school day. Although the older students needed help that could only be provided online, the response has been surprisingly positive. With personalised student support during the first few days, or in some cases the first few weeks, class attendance has remained at 86%: only 7 out of the 59 1st-year-old students have not moved to our online teaching yet.
We immediately noticed the extent to which these lessons provided the students with not just knowledge, but also the opportunity to socialise, which they particularly valued during the lockdown.
The following are some good practices:
- The students, in groups of 6 or 7, have had to carry out research work as a team. This work has been accompanied by seminars to guide them. This follow-up allows questions to be answered and means the students are supported until they achieve the challenge they have been tasked with. Together with the text and the appropriate bibliography, the task includes an online oral presentation with the help of a graphic presentation. They have also had support in preparing the presentation. Note that in the set groups, we always try to ensure that at least one of them has some knowledge of PowerPoint. These research papers are eventually published on the Campus website. These groups have had to maintain an intense telematic relationship, which has taken place parallel to the lessons. The sessions dedicated to the presentations have generated lively debate. In order not to miss lessons, the presentations have been held on a day which previously had no timetabled commitment.
- Online meetings have been held with the students who coordinate each research group. These meetings have helped to improve the methodology of the online lessons with valuable contributions.
- Although initially we reduced the number of lessons, as older people find it harder to stay focused in online classes, especially if the lessons are back to back, the high degree of interest shown by the students has forced us to stick to the original number of sessions. Nevertheless, we try to avoid having more than one online lesson in a row and, instead, spread them out over more weekdays, which is possible given the lockdown.
- These new teaching days have allowed us to offer conferences on "COVID-19" or "The new prostheses" and Bioengineering, and also to share some virtual walks through the Romanesque Barcelona, the Gothic Barcelona, etc in which all students have participated. These sessions have allowed us to make observations that would have been more difficult to make in a face-to-face context.
- Finally, since face-to-face meetings are unlikely to recommence before the course ends, an online session has been planned (“The trunk of memories”) in which each student will have a minute to tell their most memorable anecdote from the course or the time when they have felt most emotional and/or satisfied since beginning the program. We have also asked them to send us this anecdote by email so that we can put them together as a collection of the positive experiences we have had during the lockdown. They will be put together in an "anecdote booklet" which will be given to the students at the end of the course.
However, it must be said that these first-year students already knew each other before lockdown, so it was relatively easy to continue online.
The biggest challenge has been to start the Introductory Module, for which there had been no previous face-to-face relationship prior to going into lockdown.
Nevertheless, we decided to try it online anyway, having seen how much our students valued the lessons during this time of intense isolation. We thought it was a service that we should not stop offering, given the current circumstances. Out of all those who were signed up to the module, only 25 remained interested in the online offer. The experience has been positive.
The following are some of the things that we have found helpful:
• Ask each student to present in class -online, of course- a painting that they particularly like, and that will help them to introduce themselves to others. Using the work of art as a starting point, they should share their concerns and the reasons why they have chosen to study the program. Each day, before lessons, a few minutes have been devoted to these presentations. This task has been coordinated by Professor Salvador Vidal, who was particularly thinking of socialisation awareness. The result has been positive.
• Likewise, with the help of the University Student Service, a team of volunteer junior students has been created in order to help the students taking the Module to overcome the difficulties they encounter when trying to fully adjust to the digital environment. Help is offered over the phone and involves asssistance using a webcam or accessing our virtual campus.
We still have a lot of work ahead: improvement of the online teaching methodology in anticipation of blended learning, teacher training, provision of technological means, training, etc.
We can be certain, however, that, if the motivation to learn and socialise is high, adult learners in our environment manage to bridge the digital gap, which in many cases they thought to be beyond them.
Our students are filled with a sense of satisfaction: they smile on screen at being able to see us and at being seen by others.
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