IE University undergraduate student Donovan Schar Davis chats with faculty member Jessica Tollete about their experiences on an international campus during a global pandemic, and how Liquid Learning adapted to meet the demands of the times.

Second-year Bachelor in International Relations student Donovan (Don) Schar Davis and professor Jessica Tollette share their experiences with Liquid Learning and all its ups and downs during times of COVID-19. They discuss how Liquid Learning has changed over the almost two-year pandemic, as well as its unforeseen challenges and benefits. 

In the initial months of the pandemic, Spain was subject to an extremely strict lockdown. At IE University, all classes made the shift to fully online learning essentially overnight. Jessica described this period, the spring of 2020, as “crisis mode.” Although there were plenty of tools to facilitate remote learning—like Adobe Connect and later on Zoom—adapting a traditional syllabus to the online format proved to be far more complex than a simple change of environment might imply.

Over the summer, students and professors alike had the chance to adjust to the new reality of the pandemic. “Liquid Learning was really born in September when we were able to bring to life the new syllabi prepared for our students that had a mix of live interactions through synchronous and asynchronous teaching,” says Jessica. In this way, IE University was able to provide the best possible learning experience for students given the necessary restrictions imposed by the pandemic. 

Adapting and growing

The first priority has always been health and safety. So, the true challenge became how to deliver an effective, modern and personalized education without dramatically increasing the risk of COVID-19.

Don, who began his Bachelor in International Relations in September, recognized the difficulty of the situation. From the start, he was willing to give “a little bit of grace” and “flexibility” to his program and professors. In fact, he highlighted how thanks to Liquid Learning, he and his peers could still “attend a lot of classes in person while still abiding by regulations.” Noting that he sincerely appreciated the chance to watch interesting videos and participate in discussion forums led by his professors that he might not have been able to access otherwise.

Jessica describes Liquid Learning as a “pandemic-proof learning model.” The summer of 2020 was an exciting opportunity for IE University community members to really zero-in on what was most important about the learning experience and how to effectively transmit and absorb that information regardless of the medium. It required professors to rethink their learning objectives, and it required students to become more autonomous and self-motivated in their learning.

liquid learning

The lasting effects

This pandemic has changed the way the world works and learns indefinitely. As Jessica reminded us, “very few of us had ever heard of Zoom before March 2020, but now, it is second nature.” Whether in academia or in the workforce, graduates need the tech and interpersonal skills they have developed these past few years thanks to Liquid Learning in order to be successful. 

For example, knowing the ins-and-outs of screen sharing on Zoom, practicing remote relationship-building, coordinating with teams across time zones, and effectively combining independent learning at home with traditional classroom-style learning, will be critical to success in future careers. Students and faculty alike are now prepared for swift adaptation when the next crisis arrives, whatever it may be. There are unexpected benefits to the online options as well. While some teaching activities can’t be replicated online, Don explained that often Zoom discussions could be even “more intimate” than a socially distanced classroom with everyone wearing masks. Jessica described how seeing unmasked faces on Zoom helped her learn students’ names and faces. 

The “continuous evolution” of the post-pandemic education model gives students like Don the opportunity to learn from educators from across the world. Before COVID-19, many international companies or speakers might not have imagined giving an online lecture or traveling all the way to Madrid. But with the blended option, doors all over the world are now open to students at IE University. Don shared that many of his peers, despite travel restrictions, are getting exciting remote internships with companies worldwide. In some ways, they are “dismissing the boundaries that previously existed.” 

Stepping into the future

Another important change for Don and Jessica this year was the opening of the new undergraduate campus at the IE Tower, located on the Paseo de la Castellana in the heart of northern Madrid’s business district. This modern, technologically fit campus allows students to take full advantage of the IE University experience

Especially attractive, to Don at least, is the option in many bachelor’s programs to split the experience across two cities—completing one or two years in Segovia and the following two or three years in Madrid. Don notes that there is “no difference in regard to the education,” thanks to the world-class professors sharing classes on each campus. But students get to enjoy living in two unique locations. Segovia is rich with quiet Spanish charm and culture, whereas Madrid bursts with energy and professional opportunity. Nowadays, thanks to Liquid Learning, graduates from IE University like Don will be tech-savvy and prepared to adapt to anything the professional world can throw at them. He is excited to “consider options outside of just the bubble right here, without having to completely relocate in life.” 

IE University is dedicated to continuing to improve and adapt the Liquid Learning model to make sure that the educational experience is always relevant to today’s world, no matter the circumstances.