The university to come: from ‘remote emergency teaching’ to ‘adapted face-to-face’


What will teaching at the university be like next year? No one knows the answer to this question, although there is much speculation about it. To try to find it, we should reflect on what are the needs, problems and realities of the different groups involved in university teaching.

We cannot lose sight of the main objective: the university must offer quality teaching that allows students to acquire the skills of their degree .

The Ministry of Universities has recently published a document with recommendations to adapt the 2020-2021 academic year to what they call “adapted face-to-face” .

An experience-based plan

This document is very generic and leaves universities quite free to make decisions, provided the recommendations of the Ministry of Health are followed. Specifically indicates that universities must define a contingency plan “that allows a massive and immediate change to an online teaching system .” This contingency plan must be based on the experience accumulated in this course.

During the second semester of the 2019-2020 academic year, teachers have had to adapt the teaching of their subjects from one day to the next, and in some cases they have had to improvise on the go. In these circumstances, he has done what he has been able or known based on effort and goodwill, in what we could call “remote emergency teaching”.

The management teams have worked to guarantee the continuity of the course and the students have adapted as best they can, despite the fact that some of them did not have adequate conditions to study at home.

Teaching after confinement

The next course should be designed in such a way that both teaching and evaluation allow a rapid adaptation to regulatory changes caused by a virus outbreak. We have called it “fault tolerant teaching”, and to design it we can take advantage of the experience obtained in the current course.

In face-to-face universities, the next course will probably be blended , since the student groups will be smaller due to the need to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters between students and the universities do not have resources (teachers, classrooms and equipment ) enough to teach completely face-to-face, respecting the health guidelines.

To overcome the challenge we need flexible management teams and facilitators, a trained and resourceful faculty, and active and autonomous students.

Flexible management teams and facilitators

An ECTS credit involves 25 hours of student work during a semester, and the majority of Spanish universities consider that 10 of those hours must be done in the presence of teachers.

This value has been calculated in each university from the teaching staff and the students enrolled, and has been used, for example, to calculate the number of students per group.

It would not be appropriate that, in a blended environment like the one proposed for the next course, this purely administrative restriction would direct the design of the teaching-learning methodologies of the subjects.

University management teams should be flexible with regulations, and trust their professors to design their subjects with the aim of achieving the best possible learning for their students . And since no two subjects are the same, the solution cannot be unique, not even limited to a small group of teaching methodologies.

On the other hand, the management teams of the centers must make efforts to improve the training of their teachers. An important part of the training offered by the universities this course has focused on the use of programs and tools (Zoom, Moodle, Google Meet, Blackboard …). However, a good design of the teaching-learning process adapted to the circumstances is much more important than the technological tool used. The document recently published by the Ministry of Universities specifies that training must be given in both technical and methodological aspects.

Prepared and resourceful teaching staff

A bad design of the teaching-learning process can cause not only that the students do not achieve the expected learning results, but also a large increase in work for both teachers and students, as in fact this course has happened. .

The subjects must be designed following the constructive alignment model proposed by John Biggs and Cathering Tang : the teaching activities must be aligned with the evaluation. This is more important, if possible, the next course and we must take advantage of the fact that the groups are going to be smaller to design the subjects following this model.

It should not be considered as a general option that online teaching is synchronous using a virtual classroom, simply extrapolating the model of master classes to the virtual environment, nor is it convenient to record one or two hour master classes for students to see when you want, thus replacing the face-to-face master class with a video master class.

There is life beyond the master class, and perhaps this is the time to bet on active learning methodologies. Synchrony should not be abused, it should be used only when the interaction between the teaching staff and the student body, or between the student body itself, is significant for the learning process.

It is essential to adequately and balancedly manage synchronous and asynchronous activities, face-to-face and non-face-to-face.

The teaching methodology must be based on the design of learning tasks and continuous evaluation; it must be student-centered and, especially in the case of online teaching, self-learning and self-organization must be promoted.

The use of active methodologies, such as the inverted class or learning based on problems, projects or challenges, supported by a clear definition of the activities to be carried out by the students, would help to develop a continuous assessment distributed throughout the course.

This would also reduce the pressure on the final evaluation, which could be lighter or simply be a short validation test. During the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, a part of the teaching staff has been more concerned that the students do not copy or avoid impersonation in the assessment tests than to assess their real learning.

There is a large bibliography on these topics, but the book How do we learn ? (Héctor Ruiz Martín, Graó 2020 editorial) is a great starting point to understand how students can achieve meaningful, lasting and transferable learning that teachers can use to design their subjects.

Active and self-employed students

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown and exacerbated social and economic inequalities among students. This 2019-2020 academic year we have encountered students who did not have a computer, or who did not have a good Internet connection, or who did not have an appropriate environment to study, or who have experienced personal and professional circumstances derived from the pandemic that have made it difficult for them to follow the planning they had designed for their studies.

The university has taken care to offer students the possibility of having a suitable place of study in their facilities. He will also need help to adapt to teaching next academic year 2020-2021. The document published by the Ministry of Universities explicitly indicates that universities must establish “schedules for tutoring, seminars, etc., in order to guarantee both correct attention to students and a working day in accordance with labor legislation for teachers.”

Students will need to develop transversal competences such as the ability to work independently or the ability to search for information, and they will have to develop new strategies for learning, different from those used in a fully face-to-face teaching.

They therefore need training to learn how to learn, which the university should provide. One way to start may be by reading the book Know your brain to learn to learn (Héctor Ruiz Martín, Graó 2020 editorial), which explains what kinds of actions and circumstances make our brain remember what it learns better.

Five recommendations and a statement

If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is the need to listen to experts. The Association of University Teachers of Informatics, AENUI , of which the authors are part, has recently presented a statement that considers the following risks and opportunities for the next course:

  1. The rules must be flexible. Excessive regulation that prevents or limits adapted, creative and efficient solutions by teachers must be avoided.
  2. There is no need to overload teachers. Efforts should be made to ensure that it has the necessary resources to adapt to the new situation.
  3. The focus should be on learning. The new challenges require a redesign of the teaching-learning process, but it should never be forgotten that the objective is deep and quality learning by students.
  4. Teacher education training must be increased. Most of the teachers who carry out their work in person have little or no experience with other types of teaching, beyond what they have been able to accumulate during these months of improvisation. You need to know new tools but, above all, you must make a deep reflection on the educational model you use in your classes.
  5. Social equity must be promoted. The educational system that is applied during this crisis, or that arises from it, should not increase the social gap between students, but should be an opportunity to reduce it.

It is the responsibility of the management teams of each university to issue regulations to establish a framework that allows teachers to carry out quality teaching.

It is the responsibility of the teaching staff to redesign their subjects to adapt them to the new and changing situation, so that students acquire the competencies defined in their degree.

And it is the responsibility of the students to adapt to new circumstances and give their best, behaving honestly and maintaining a critical spirit with the system that helps us all improve.

Author Bios: Fermín Sánchez Carracedo is a Full professor at the university. Architecture and Computer Technology and David López Álvarez who is Professor in the area of ​​Computer Architecture and Technology both at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech, Pharaoh Llorens Largo is EU Professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Alicante, José Manuel Badía Contelles is a Full Professor of a university specialized in high performance computing at the Universitat Jaume I and Maria Jesus Marco Galindo who is Professor of Computer, Multimedia and Telecommunication Studies, at UOC – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya