Vice Rector: The combination of full-time and online studies can become a long-term solution

Given the rapid spread of the virus, more and more universities are deciding to move to distance learning. It also served as a solution in March, when a state of emergency was declared. Will distance learning be a long-term solution and how to address the lack of socialization that arises from studying and working remotely? Daina Vasilevska, Vice Rector for Science and Academic Affairs of Turība University, explains that without knowing how the virus will spread, we need to think about digital tools that would allow us to develop skills in the e-environment that otherwise we usually acquire by communicating and collaborating with colleagues. She points out that distance learning breaks down distance barriers, allowing students from remote regions to study in Riga without worrying about finding a place to live or travelling.

Various digital tools and platforms

When assessing the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning, various factors must be considered, however, for many students today it is a daily reality. For students of medicine, natural sciences, and technology, this will of course not be a long-term solution, because in this way it is possible to acquire only theoretical sections of study subjects. Of course, there are a number of examples in the world when even operations are performed remotely via the latest technologies, but this is not yet a story about the daily life of Latvian higher education institutions. At present, distance learning is easier to implement in the humanities and social sciences, provided that various digital tools and platforms are used.

Solutions for different age groups

There should be no confusion between remote studies and distance learning or e-learning. Given that distance learning means greater student involvement, individual work and time planning, it will be more suitable for students who are already in the labor market and who clearly know why they are studying. For young people who have recently graduated from high school, remote learning will mostly be suitable, which means scheduling specific classes and working with a teacher, albeit without face-to-face contact.

A combination of face-to-face and online

Communication through face-to-face meetings is clearly very important, so it would be advisable to use a combination of face-to-face and distance learning when possible. Many experts acknowledge that such a model is very successful in balancing the needs of the study process with the reduction of the risk of spreading the virus. As the daily rhythm increases and our mobility habits change, such a learning process, which combines face-to-face and online, will also be in demand after a pandemic. This will encourage the convergence of Latvian higher education methods with Western practice, when students independently get acquainted with the theory, read certain literature, but meet in joint classes to discuss what they have read, exchange views and interpretations. Such seminars can also take place online. It is possible that in the future, study fields will crystallize in which full-time classes are not necessary or are required only in a limited number of cases.

More choice for students

One thing is clear: the pandemic has broken down many borders. By studying remotely, you can live in one city but study in another without worrying about time spent traveling or looking for a new place to live. It also promotes competition between universities, as the prospective student is no longer geographically limited in their choice.

Will affect communication and social skills

Many students and teachers point out that there is a lack of emotional contact in distance learning, but it must be acknowledged that these are initial feelings. Human is a being who gets used to various changes, including the decrease of direct contact. Such adaptation cannot be unequivocally called good or bad, but it must be kept in mind that it will affect our communication and social skills, such as our ability to formulate opinions.
To avoid such a situation, various solutions should be sought now to develop these skills in the e-environment. Informal and networking activities are also possible remotely, with the reality of everyone being at their own computer or smart device, provided that the participants "meet" with the cameras on and see each other.

Courses and seminars will not replace studies

Remote learning will also promote the quality of higher education, forcing higher education institutions to rethink and improve the content of study programs. If there are various online courses within one click that offer to acquire one or another skill, then higher education institutions must come up with a quality offer so that the prospective student is ready to make a long-term commitment. I would like to emphasize that various courses and online seminars are certainly no substitute for higher education. Graduation is a clear signal to any potential employer that a person is responsible, ready to make commitments, implement a series of requirements and systematic thinking. Seminars and courses will be more for those who already have education and experience that just needs to be supplemented. In addition, when choosing to study at a university, it is possible to choose a study program, in which, in addition to basic skills, there are various personality development competencies.

A more flexible regulatory framework is needed

With regard to the future forecasts of several experts, which highlight the possibility of putting one's diploma as a constructor from the study courses offered by various universities, it should be noted that there is still a long way to go. Mainly from a legislative point of view. In the field of higher education, legislation is not becoming more flexible, on the contrary. At the same time, in the face of global change, it is clear that higher education institutions need to be given more freedom to complete their courses so that students can take what is really needed, by dropping compulsory, statutory courses in at least some professions. The social sciences are certainly one of the areas where more flexibility is possible. The education system must meet modern requirements, its structure and content need changes that will ensure successful socialization and professional self-realization in today's socio-economic space.

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