Career Advice

Dear Faculty, I See You.

Recap on what’s it like being a professor in the covid era

I don’t know about you, but when I first saw the news on the first Covid case in my country I just thought we’d be able to contain it and that was going to stop there. 

I know, I was too optimistic. I see it now. 

But then we went into a global lockdown and life as we know it stopped completely. 

I remember my last day in the classroom, mocking around with my students about how we’d end up all wearing masks and having a short break from classes. 

I remember rushing with my colleagues to modify the schedules and moving classes to April thinking everything would go back to normal then.

I remember setting up Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and who knows how many other videoconferencing tools and trying to figure out which one was more appropriate, easier to use, and free of course.

I remember playing with my kids and preparing lunch while attending a faculty meeting. 

I remember being grateful for having a yard, good health, and a fast internet connection. 

And then I remember it started to last long, too long.

I imagine this is a familiar scenario for many of you. As any good educator, you’d tried to look at the bright side and adapt to the circumstances, believing that this would be something temporary and that soon we’d be back in our classrooms to do what we love the most. 

Now, two years after that first lockdown, we know that there’s no going back to normal and we just need to learn to live with these new circumstances. But, even after two years, we are still struggling with the unknown. Every day is a new challenge, and no matter how much technology has evolved we haven’t found a sustainable solution to the issues that this pandemic has dismantled.

Because that is the truth. The problems in the education system are not new. 

The struggles that some students face every day are not new. The feeling of exhaustion and abandonment of many faculty is not new. The lack of resources and training in teaching is not new. 

We were all aware of these issues way before the pandemic, only the health crisis highlighted the education crisis and the fragility of the system. Suddenly, it became evident to people outside academia that the education system needed a change.

But two years later we’re still hoping for that change. And is not that we are sitting still waiting for policymakers to enact the change, many of us here are working day and night to see that change happen.

And it hasn’t been easy. 

Because even when the school has no budget for buying appropriate material for remote teaching, we are relying on bricolage and working with what we have available. 

While there’s not enough support and training for remote curriculum design, we are following thousands of youtube tutorials on how to code, create and edit videos, design beautiful material, and split screens. 

While we are stick to our headphones and computer, we’re mastering ubiquitousness 24/7. 

While we have to isolate ourselves when the PCR turns positive, we still manage to work remotely, take care of our family and be as performing as if we were asymptomatic. 

While our payslip isn’t showing any more zeros, we keep working more than those legal 48 weekly hours.

 While only a third of our students are actually participating in our classes, we do our best to make those classes memorable. 

While we don’t have any training in psychology, we are all reaching out to our students even on holidays to make sure they don’t quit. 

While we are new to teaching a subject, we are always there to replace a colleague that’s sick. 

While we want to take that well-deserved break, we keep our schedule free in case classes need to be postponed. 

I know it hasn’t been easy. 

And I know you’re still asking yourself if you will be able to keep going like this. I know you’re having doubts about teaching being your vocation. I know you’re starting to burn out.

So this is for you. 

This short post is not to rant about everything that’s wrong with education today. 

This short post is to celebrate you! 

This is to tell you that you are an awesome human being. To let you know that without you, our youth would be lost today. This is to tell you that I see you, that many people just like you, see you. This is to tell you that you’re not alone, that you are part of a community of people that cares. 

This is to appreciate what you do every day. This is to thank you for not giving up on us, on them.

But this is also to tell you, that is ok to break too. 

It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, tired, sad, lonely, discouraged, abandoned. 

It’s ok if you don’t answer emails on the weekends. It’s ok if you need one week to recover from covid symptoms. It’s ok if you don’t know how to make a perfect video. It’s ok if you say No to your colleagues. It’s ok if you can’t help every and each of your students. It’s ok if you take a two weeks vacation to rest.

Yes, you are awesome. But you’re still human.

Don’t forget that. 

Because you can’t change the world if there is no you in this world. 

So pause for a minute, take a breath. 

You deserve it. 

Education Online Education

A Post-Pandemic Look Into Higher Education

Can we plan for normal?

While In Europe the COVID19 situation seems to be under control, China and Iran are locking down cities and closing everything down, again.

A second wave of the pandemic was a scenario many of us have foreseen.

Still, in Europe, we are already reopening schools and planning for a normal start of the next academic year.

But can we plan for normal? Should we call it normal?

Now, the opinions on how the post-pandemic world will look like are diverse. But the only thing that seems to be a consensual opinion is that education as we know it has to change. But how will it change? That is the answer no one seems to want to answer.

Let me explain.

The online teaching market is having its say

Online teaching practices are not something new, but the pandemic gives them the light it was missing, for sure. Online diplomas and certifications exist for more than 20 years. But these were hardly competitive in the education market.

I mean, having a diploma from the Global University was never something that would shine on your CV. Even an online MIT certification was not something to brag about. At least not when looking to land your first job.

This kind of education format was mainly attractive to adult learners. Because working adults looking to continue education, they want just that,to continue education. They are (all) not going for (just) the perks. Adult learners can’t afford to leave their paying jobs to attend a full-time program at a traditional university. And it is also unlikely that their employees would pay the fees of an MBA program at a top tier college. Unless your employer is Apple or Facebook. But also you don’t need a university degree to work on Apple or Facebook.

But when it came to young undergrads looking to study for the first time, traditional on-campus universities were winning on the battlefield. These young adults were (are) looking for the campus experience. Of course they care about the quality of the courses, but they are hoping to live the full college experience. The dorms, the fraternities, the parties, the coffee break, the international exchanges, the face-to-face tutoring, and yes, the classes.

With the lockdown situation and the new sanitary conditions, the trend is reversing, somehow.

The on-campus experience is getting overrated

Small local universities, online-only academies, and flexible colleges are grasping now more attention than ever. Finally, they are getting to compete with the top-tier giants and might have a chance of winning.

Because when you put every institution under the same conditions and rules, well things like on-campus experience weigh less in the decision.

The thing is that these online universities and certification institutions have been doing online teaching for a while now. They are 20 years ahead of us; they have the know-how, the budget, and the technology. They don’t need the campus experience to attract their students.

But reputed (and usually expensive) schools, they are not ready to give up to the face-to-face student learning experience, not just yet. Online programs are just one minor piece of the puzzle for these institutions, they have these programs mainly for having a say on the adult learners population. The on-campus programs are the ones that pay the bills.

The on-campus experience is for these schools the hook to attract the big fish. But when you can’t offer that because of sanitary issues, well the hook seems less attractive.

This is causing freshman to take a gap year and wait until normality comes back to register for college. Others are demanding the reimbursement of their admission and tuition fees because e-learning is not worth the $30k a year.

Now, these demands are hurting the pockets and reputation of traditional private schools. But are opening the way for small, flexible, and open and less traditional education systems.

With that much time in their hands, recently graduated students are not just playing video games, they are looking to educate themselves and develop their skills. MOOCs, Webinars, learning apps, Online Business Academies (like HubSpot or Facebook) YouTube videos, TikTok are some sources that have been gaining momentum in the past months, since the lockdown.

The catch? They are free, they also offer pretty good content and learners actually get to develop their skills.

Of course they are not replacing completely the MBAs, since most of them don’t provide learners with certification. But they are getting the visibility they were lacking until now. And this could be the right opportunity to disrupt the education industry and win.

Back to local education

During the last decade, the international mobility of students has grown at impressive rates. In the US, 5.5% of the student population comes from overseas. This number equals to 20% in the UK, and 10% in France. In 2016 almost 5 Million students were international mobile, compared to 4M in 2012. That’s quite a number.

Most international mobile students in the US come from countries like China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. For Europe, most international students come from Asia, Africa, and other European countries.

International mobility is one of the main economic sources of higher education institutions. Not only because these international students pay for the “full” on-campus experience, but also because they contribute to the international ranking of the schools. The more the institution is able to attract international students, the better it is for its positioning in the international arena.

Now with the pandemic situation, the frontiers being closed and the visas being banned. The situation is getting complicated. Most of the exchange partnerships and programs are hurting and on stand by as the future seems blurred by a possibility of a second wave, and thus a second lockdown.

While this looks bad for big and top tier universities in the US and in Europe, it looks good for smaller and local institutions. It is the time when maybe students (and their parents) will give a better look at the education offered in their countries.

It is also the opportunity for governments to focus on their schools and education system and gain back the interest of their national students.

Not only this will be great news for national schools, but for the nations themselves as they probably lessen the drain of national brains.

Take the example of China. The government has taken several actions to reduce the drain brain of young talented students by improving their national education system. The various reforms in domestic education have reflected on a higher number of degrees granted by the Chinese universities and the repatriation of many Chinese talents living abroad.

The internationalization of both schools and students is important. A cross-cultural classroom is an amazing place to learn about communication, management, diversity, culture. But focusing on attracting international students at all costs is probably not the best way to go.

Maybe there is a way to rebalance the exchange between students and nations.

Flexible Education

If there is something that we can learn from this pandemic is that we need more flexibility. We had to abruptly change our way of working, teaching, learning, socializing. In the beginning, it was overwhelming, especially for organizations and people that were not used to remote working. But then most of us found a way to adapt.

What we’ve learned? We have to be flexible. What happens if a second wave knocks on our door next semester. What if the sanitary conditions demands us to have up to half of our class present in our classroom. What if we get to teach half of the semester and then we are in lockdown again.

We need a more flexible education: flexible schedules, flexible formats, flexible assessments, flexible classrooms, flexible credits. But flexibility also means two times more work — at least. And as much as we think that educators are superhero, we only have two hands. So if there is more work to do, schools will need to hire more staff, more faculty, or at least rebalance the teaching and service responsibilities between them. Students need to be flexible too. Adapt to the different alternatives offered to them.

We need also a more flexible mindset.

Looking at the post-pandemic future is raising questions that many of us, in Academia, have raised a long time ago. Maybe this time we will listen and finally take the actions needed to make our education systems better for everyone.