A Crisis Can Fuel Innovation

The Master Degree Mediterranean Forestry and Natural Resources Management (MEDfOR) is a two-year world-class International Master Programme focuses on the integrating theme of sustainability in Mediterranean forests and woodlands. MEDfOR is offered by the University of Lisbon, University of Padua, University of Lleida, Karadeniz Technical University, University of Valladolid, University of Tuscia, Catholic University of Portugal.

Author: Hiba Mohammad, EMJMD MEDfOR student. See contributors page

My Erasmus Mundus academic journey started in September 2019. Months later, in March 2020, the world was in a race against a pandemic. As a student pursuing my MEDfOR master ‘s degree in Spain, my dominant emotion was anxiety. What direction would the narrative of MEDfOR during COVID-19 take? 

Yet, this pandemic marked an opportunity to renovate the education system so that it better meets the needs of all of us, learners and educators.

The digital learning shift started at the beginning of the 2nd semester at UdL in Spain. Soon, we started online classes taught by our professors in the distance through universities’ portals, attended live webinars, watched pre-recorded lectures, completed assignments, did group projects through online platforms like Google Meets, Zoom and MIRO, wrote reports and passed our final exams. At first, it was hard to get used to being in front of the screen for a long time, we missed field trips and lab work, but together, professors and classmates, we did everything to keep each other motivated. 

In September 2020, I moved to UVa for the 3rd semester. The programme included courses taught on a hybrid mode albeit with masks. We kept the distance in class, we followed the covid protocols, quarantine requirements and we had some of our classes through Cisco Webex and Zoom. Through Zoom we had breakout rooms to discuss different topics related to the course work. Luckily and happily, we had few field trips in which even in the open space we kept caring distance. Although live lectures are more enjoyable, pre-recorded lecturers were useful to revisit the content afterwards to check the class notes. 

In March 2021, I moved to Italy to write my thesis at UniDP. At first, I had few meetings with my supervisor through Zoom because all Italy was in the red zone. As the restrictions were uplifted, I had the chance to have face-to-face meetings with my thesis supervisor to discuss my progress and challenges faced to be able to complete our degree. Finally, I defended my thesis and thanks to the innovative online technologies, distance shrank, and my family was able to attend. Hooray, I graduated and earned my degree. 

However, access to education has never been fair, and the disparities that I saw during covid-19, across countries, were quite staggering. 

While I was a student from The Arab World studying in Europe, enjoying the benefits of the flexible education system, ironically, far too many students in my home country were suffering from parallel pandemics of hunger, violence, and illiteracy.  Why? Simply they did not have access to high-quality online education. Our national education systems did not envision remote learning solutions.

But what we do have at our fingertips are new and evolving opportunities. Tools and technologies that are as inexpensive as they are accessible…and can complement traditional methods – across the World.

During COVID-19 Pandemic, online learning solutions were, literally, a shot in the arm for education for all.

For tips on short video recordings in your subjects: JPROV's Online Teaching Digital Toolbox (aalto.fi)

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