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The challenge of online teaching at the Gregorian University

This initiative comes from DIR - Roman International Houses
Covid-19 does not stop courses in the Gregorian University. Vatican News interviews the Rector Fr. Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, SJ

In Italy, as in many other parts of the world, schools and universities continue to remain closed due to the health emergency, however, trying, through online teaching, to continue the courses and teachings to end the year without leaving too many gaps in the programs. The same is true for Pontifical Universities. The Gregorian University, which welcomes students from 120 countries around the world, was among the first to deal with coronavirus (January 31, 2020), given the large presence of Chinese students, and to carry out a strong transformation of teaching to continue to guarantee everyone, in total safety, access to one of the most valuable assets that the pandemic has drastically affected, education. The rector, Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, tells to Vatican News how this change occurred and says he is convinced that once the emergency is over, teaching will no longer be the same.

A. – Faced with this emergency, we found ourselves having to make a very rapid transformation in our teaching. Clearly we were not prepared but there has been a great effort, by teachers and students, to transform presidential teaching into teaching mediated with different software and applications. I am amazed at the speed with which this work was done with a great deal commitment from everyone, especially those professors who had to use means and programs they didn’t know. Among other things, speaking with the rectors of the colleges where many of our children live, I take a great effort in following the lessons with different methodologies that help them continue their study. As first, we are all concerned about our health and that of our loved ones, but we also try to overcome these tensions and these fears with a great effort and commitment in the study. I even found out that professors are now more demanding, send more material and students are more punctual.

Q. Have you noticed a loss of quality or interest in classroom teaching?

A. – Frontal teaching and personal meeting are irreplaceable. There is no IT or telematic media that can replace them, but in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, where it is important to stay away from each other to protect us, the media we have available are helping teachers find new ways to continue teaching, and students new ways to study and learn with an always close accompaniment by teachers. So I would say that yes, we live this threat but we are trying to transform it into an opportunity. I am convinced that once this emergency is over, teaching will no longer be as before, it will be more multimedia and more interactive, this will be a lesson that will remain even after this situation!

Q. The Gregorian University is well known for its internationality, in fact it welcomes students from the five continents … When the crisis in China broke out, were you among the first to face the health emergency?

A. Yes, our student body is very international, students come from about 120 countries and 53 percent of them come from outside Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, however when the pandemic broke out they were all already in Rome. Of course with the news coming from China, I have seen many worried students. While we were still living a normal life here, in China they were closing everything and the Chinese students were beginning to be unable to get in touch with their loved ones… then in a moment the situation also precipitated us.

Q. Last Monday, the conference of the CRUIPRO (Conference of Rectors of Universities and Pontifical Roman Institutions) was held by teleconference, convened precisely for a comparison and update on the life of the various institutions in this period of sanitary and epidemiological emergency. What has emerged?

A. It was a very important and useful opportunity for sharing and what I realized was that we all found ourselves in the same situation. Professors from other universities have also had to adapt to online teaching which allows our institutions to move forward. A concern has also emerged regarding the coming year, because the pandemic will continue. Maybe in Europe we can hope that it will improve but in other countries even where it arrived later, it will resolve itself more slowly. So we discussed the arrival of students for the next year: it will certainly be more difficult and we are afraid of a decrease in enrollments. It is a concern that needs to be addressed.

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