Old habits die hard - although it seems this too could be a thing of the past. COVID inevitably altered the way we handle change at an unprecedented pace. In other words, change came to stay.
As Universities lead the way for a gradual return, organizations are left facing an invisible enemy for the time being. As we at Catolica move into a phase of adaptation, let us pause for one second and assess what are we truly returning to?
In many ways, a return would imply going back to something we know, that we are comfortable with and can predict. What we thought would be temporary measures will now most likely define our new routines. The remote revolution propelled us into a new learning environment where no one should be left out, but it also needs to encapsulate a hybrid model combining both presence and distance. If anything, this opened our eyes into new possibilities of work, that are no longer geographically, institutionally or even time zone bound while also making clear that technology cannot substitute the privilege of presence.
What started out as crisis a few weeks ago, with most nations and business leaders forced into remote transition, is now paving the way to a more nimble, flexible and at times, less formal framework. We can see how our friends, students and teachers live through their screens, perhaps enabling new socialities. Video conferences may seem to have replaced the classroom, but libraries too will soon reopen for the ones who long to read on paper. A survey applied by Católica’s polling centre (CESOP) to our students has made clear that the affordances of remote lecturing fall sharply short of student’s perception about the intensity of a face to face experience. The splendour of technology has brought a lot of soul-searching both to institutions and their members. And there is no clear path ahead. Because while remote learning may widen access and free the learner from the constrictions of time and space, it also falls short of the empathic engagement between student and scholar that has shaped the university.
While technology is here to stay, so is presence-based experiential learning. COVID and other pandemic related financial troubles may very likely lead to a trimming down of the global higher education network in post-confinement. Survivors will be those who can afford to offer both quality online or on premises, (the elite schools) and those who moved fast to occupy the popular niche of global online education (the innovators). Survivors in other categories also include most State sponsored institutions, because there is no shortage in tax payers contributions; some non-comprehensive HEIs that have created impact in niche areas and those on the bottom of the educational pyramid that compromise quality for the silver dollar. Unfortunately, in times of desperation there is never a shortage of the latter.
Courage lies in leading transformation without compromising the mission. That is what reactivation means at Católica!
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