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Teach different !

Distance learning at HEG-FR

15 Jun 2020

On Friday, 13 March, in an effort to bring the Coronavirus pandemic under control, the Federal Council announced that educational institutions were to be closed indefinitely. The School of Management Fribourg made arrangements for classes to be held remotely, giving teachers one week to prepare as necessary. Text: Danièle Rüeger, Responsable DevPro

 A real-time online communication tool, support, and teaching resources were provided to teaching staff to deal with the urgent situation. On Monday 23 March, classes resumed and students were introduced to distance learning.One week later, a survey of teachers and students provided valuable information on their thoughts about the transition and the difficulties they had encountered. Slightly more than half of the teachers responded, and almost 90% expressed a positive first impression of distance learning. Impressive! 

Adapting the educational setting

Nevertheless, adapting to this new way of working required tremendous effort from both teachers and students. This was particularly apparent among the teachers, who describe the time required as ‘stressful’, ‘enormous’, ‘tremendous’... Because, as summed up very aptly by one teacher: ‘You also need to reinvent the educational setting.’ Indeed, in-person teaching cannot be transposed as is. The core effort will therefore entail ‘putting the presence back into distance’, as the popular expression goes. It will involve finding a way to bring content to life, evaluate the level of students’ comprehension, or organise online work groups, for example. A whole list of requirements...

The viewpoint of Gaby Probst, professor, educational adviser and member of the directorate of the School of Management Fribourg

Gaby, with these three job titles, you have an excellent overview of this transition from classroom teaching to distance learning. According to the survey you conducted, teachers seem to have risen to the challenge with a great deal of commitment. How about students, and yours in particular?

In my case, the level of commitment in the five language classes that I currently teach was excellent at the start. The students were highly motivated and reassured to see that only the form of the class was changing, not the objectives or content. This continuity, combined with clear communication, comforted them at first, when the situation required lots of flexibility from them. However, it’s difficult to keep this motivation going in the long term. The uncertainty regarding exams and the state of public health have left them feeling rather troubled.

Research in the field of distance learning has shown that, in the past, whenever an institution made the decision to introduce this teaching method, the quality of its traditional teaching was enhanced. At the School of Management Fribourg, this was done in an emergency; despite this, do you foresee this same effect when classes resume in person?

As a teaching manager, I wholeheartedly want to share these sometimes very positive experiences with students. So it’s necessary to analyse what worked in favour of independent learning in order to develop these distance learning opportunities and apply them on a broad front. Personally, I’ve been using e-learning platforms and tools for a long time, and I’m very familiar with the possibilities they offer but also the level of effort required to integrate them seamlessly.

Is it possible to envisage distance learning at the School of Management Fribourg in the longer term?

Of course, and as we’ve seen, this is nothing new. For a long-term integration of these methods at the School of Management Fribourg, several aspects need to come together:

  • The willingness of the teachers and the school
  • A good bottom-up integration of the tools
  • Excellent written communication from the teachers
  • Either good technical skills on the part of the teachers or interest in learning these tools together with good support and regular re-examination of the benefits of the tools provided
  • Enthusiasm is also essential! As Henry Ford said, “enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. With it, there is accomplishment.”

Distance learning: not so new!

Some trace it back to the 18th century with the rise of printed material; others, to the 19th with the issuing of stamps by the British Royal Mail. Whatever the case, distance learning subsequently developed in step with the evolution of media to meet the needs of populations with no access to traditional education, particularly those in rural regions. In 1858, for the first time, a major institution, the University of London, awarded degrees to students who had pursued their studies remotely. In the 1970s, two institutions played a fundamental role in developing the educational concept of distance learning: the Open University in the United Kingdom and the TéléUniversité in Quebec. From the 1980s onwards, this method of education would spread with the development of IT and the internet. Since then, with the possibilities offered by online communication and collaboration tools, distance learning has become an integral part of all educational environments in the form of learning support, hybrid methods and flipped classrooms. And eventually, in an emergency, it became mandatory in our teaching institutions.


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