FocusOnline Education Special Dialogue: Keypoints and Reflections

On the evening of April 24th, Beijing time, a Special Dialogue co-organized by Tsinghua University and UNESCO was held online. With the theme of “Online Education in COVID-19 Response and Beyond”, the dialogue explored the challenges facing higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic and shared university case studies, best practice, and experience in online education.

The following is a selection of views shared by the Special Dialogue's guest speakers.

Alice Gast, President, Imperial College London: We developed Imperial’s teaching and learning strategy by developing a digital learning hub that helps students participate in open online classes and in machine learning. Online education is an opportunity to move beyond our students, and we have offered STEM expertise to parents and teachers and the rise in home schooling for students is very high around the world. This urgency and emergency is likely to have a permanent impact. We hope we can take our time to reap those broader benefits to make our education much better overall for everybody.

Ferruccio Resta, Rector, Politecnico di Milano: Our plan for the transition to online education was developed according to three main pillars. The individual, placing the human being at the center of our experience. A global campus, providing physical spaces and innovative service to favor integration. A strong impact, increasing our contribution to society. We will need to find the right way to integrate virtual learning and class experience, shaping the concept of "digital but not virtual" education.

Meric Gertler, President, University of Toronto: Success in online education mainly consists of three areas. First, faculty must make a successful shift to online teaching and learning. Second, the quality of what we have achieved in such a rapid transition is, indeed, highly variable. Third, when it is all over, our new normal will be different from what came before, but not that different.

Aiji Tanaka, President, Waseda University: We must use this pandemic as a way to advance our community through our networks and work together. Presidents and leaders should work together to take this opportunity to advance our education in one more step. At Waseda, CTLT uses the flipped classroom in which students take the lecture online beforehand and then meet face to face with professors and fellow students.

Andrew Martin, Chancellor, Washington University in St. Louis: There are several values that we must follow to create successful online education. We must ensure the safety, security, and well-being of all of the people in our community, and enhance lives all around the world. It is important to uplift the values of diversity, equity and inclusion, and consider how this crisis affects individuals from various backgrounds with varying levels of severity, while being as open as possible to our community.

Borhene Chakroun, Director of Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, UNESCO: I would like to focus on three issues. First, equity, inclusion, gender, and equality are very important factors for successful online education. Second, the phasing approach of the responses are very important. Third includes the multi-actors and multi-stakeholders of the intervention.

Brian Schmidt, Vice-chancellor, The Australian National University: Though the digital environment has been resilient and remarkably good, it lacks the person-to-person interaction and ability to perform labs. Universities must find a hybrid of digital and active learning in order to maximize the efficiency of higher education. Online conferences will liberate the need for travel, resulting in more interaction between peers, and help countries like Australia be more connected to the world.

Alberto Barbieri, President of the University of Buenos Aires: This pandemic has revealed the universities’ instrumental role in knowledge, allowing us to overcome a problem triggered by the disease we are currently facing. Globalization has long stood as a widely accepted model in all worldwide universities, boosting the exchange of experiences and research initiatives to help us more rapidly succeed in finding solutions. We must discuss, analyze, and jointly understand how it is affecting us all.

Ennio Vivaldi, Rector, University of Chile: The important thing is having the university be part of the solution in this major issue. We have been helping with developing ventilators, masks, and performing PCRs. Though seeming paradoxical, platform-based teaching has many advantages in improving peer to peer interactions. This is a tremendous opportunity for the University, not only to help society, but to make a strong point.

Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter: In response to the global pandemic, the University of Exeter has established a holistic institutional approach called Project Enhance. We are adapting our labs to conduct COVID-19 testing and at present, all University of Exeter teaching and learning has moved online. We offer a suite of MOOCs in partnership with other thought leaders. Exeter has been designated by UNESCO as a City of Literature.

Sung-Chul Shin, President, KAIST: KAIST founded Education 4.0, a form of smart education, in 2012 in order to transform to a swift learning system for having learners’ active participation in classroom activities. Professors tend to prefer real-time synchronous online education to asynchronous online education which requires them to prepare video content for each class. After this pandemic, online education will undergo a tectonic shift in its development.


Reporter: Guo Lili
Editor: Celina Jiang, Yuan Qianyu, John Olbrich