Our second Christmas in the time of coronavirus seems to be more cheerful than last year. As the country eases into what appears to be a more benign coronavirus scenario, schools are gearing for the possibility of being able to resume face-to-face learning in greater numbers, including those for younger students.
Among the sectors preparing for a reopening scenario are colleges and universities (LCUs) under the aegis of local governments. The Association of Local Colleges and Universities Council on Accreditation (ALCUCOA) is holding its 13th national conference today with the theme: Transition and Transformation in Higher Education: The LCUs Post Pandemic Scenario.
As a resource speaker in this forum, I have opted to focus on the concept of the Smart University. Broadly speaking, a Smart University is one that “provides innovative ways of working, learning and teaching” among smart students, smart teachers and smart administrators. More than five years ago, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) started providing budgetary support to state universities and colleges for establishing a Smart University platform in their campuses.
Early this year, CHED launched the Global Academic Leadership Program (GALP) in cooperation with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) for enabling presidents and senior administrators of SUCs to boost their Smart University initiatives. It is time that the city-sponsored universities level up, too. Local colleges and universities are also well poised to transition and transform themselves. Technology is the key enabler.
Digital acceleration is one of the beneficial outcomes of lockdown and quarantine. Resistance to digital technology has been replaced with reliance.
As mental barriers have been removed, the adoption of technology-enabled educational methods is being facilitated.
The use of learning management systems (LMS) provided faculty and students in higher educational institutions with a ready platform for issuing assignments and turning in accomplished work as virtual classes became the norm. Accessing online learning resources has also augmented learning outside of the synchronous virtual classes.
Those in the medical and allied health sciences were the first to transition to blended or hybrid learning as vital skills could not be learned virtually and have to be acquired hands-on — through actual use of machines and implements — in a real-life setting. Their experience in the “new normal” guided the transition to face-to-face learning in other spheres.
In addition to face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) were used. Flexiglass barriers were initially installed in classrooms and laboratories; these were removed in later phases as it was determined that proper physical distancing was sufficient.
Vaccination of teachers and students also increased the level of confidence in the safe conduct of face-to-face learning.
Transition and transformation require a shift in mindset from the pandemic and crisis mode to a recovery and regeneration scenario.
VUCA — which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity — has a flipside, VUCA Prime, that stands for Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Ability.
Behavior modification is vital to a mindset shift. Prolonged preoccupation with the disruptive elements of the pandemic leads to risk aversion and inordinate fear of the unknown. Through purposive self-reflection and brainstorming, one discerns the availability of resources — including people — who could initiate progress toward new alternative directions.
Uncertainty spawns analysis paralysis. Understanding of the new realities calls for actively engaging all relevant stakeholders in dialogue and sharing of new insights learned from the crucible of crisis experience. Administrators could call in teachers and students so that their collective talents could be pooled and harnessed in the massive task of rebuilding a better normal.
Clarity is the response to complexity. By focusing on the essentials, priorities could be established and energies directed to actions that would produce the highest impact.
Finally, agility trumps ambiguity. Self-doubt and collective hesitancy should be replaced by openness to fresh possibilities for growth. A bias for action, or what works, as opposed to endless imagining and speculation — tempered by a clear-headed assessment of opportunities and risks — is clearly the best way forward.
The VUCA Prime mindset needs to be complemented by a purposive heart set.
Mindset is what one believes that, in turn, shapes what one perceives and how one views the world. Mindset or the way of thinking also determines ways of doing. Heart set is “your why that takes you in the direction of your deepest desires.”
Former Education Secretary Armin Luistro, FSC, framed the significance of heart set when he addressed parents and teachers who were grappling with the difficulties of home-based learning during the pandemic:
“Parents and teachers: Learning happens when there is trust and love. Trust your instincts. Trust your heart. Believe that you have the power within you to touch the learners, to transform fears to opportunities, to rename and re-imagine our world. The children love and trust you back. With love and trust you will never go wrong.”