We’ve heard a lot about IE University students and their experiences with Liquid Learning. Francisco Seijo, a professor of Practice of Environmental Politics at the IE School of Global and Public Affairs, shares his experience teaching students amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges at hand, he’s continued to educate students using the resources at his disposal.
The coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a challenge for everyone and educators are among those who have been most impacted. Here at IE University, the professors are the foundation of our diverse community. When classes were moved online in March of 2020, the professors’ entire teaching structure was turned upside down. I had the opportunity to speak with one of my professors, Franciso Seijo, to learn more about his thoughts and experiences as an educator during the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s what he had to say…
How has your experience with Liquid Learning been thus far as a professor here at IE University?
So far it’s been a great experience. Liquid Learning has had its downsides but it’s been quite positive. I like that it allows the university experience to continue despite the pandemic. From what I’ve heard, the United States, among other countries, have experienced far more disruptions to learning during the pandemic than we have at IE University. I teach not only at IE University, but also at several colleges in the United States such as NYU, Middlebury College, Boston University, etc. Two of those universities haven’t even opened, and the others are completely online. After teaching these students through a screen, it’s been so nice to see actual students here at the IE University campus. Our university has truly gone above and beyond in its adaptation to education during COVID-19.
I feel very safe when I go into class and enter the campus environment. The app that we use to track our health forces you to answer questions about how you currently feel as well as your actions over the days before you’re allowed to enter school. This provides me with a good sense of security because I know that the COVID-19 situation is always monitored.
What has been the most difficult aspect of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Engaging the students on Zoom. It’s been difficult to give attention to the individuals who are learning in class alongside the people at home all at the same time. I feel like in class it’s easier to draw the attention of individuals in person, whereas the students learning at home can ultimately do what they like, including not switching on their camera, which makes me uncertain if people are really listening to me or not. Through Zoom fatigue and the lack of direct human interaction, I can imagine it would be quite easy to become distracted or lose interest in what’s happening on the screen in front of you. I always hope that perhaps if the students in the class are truly engaged, the effect will cascade onto those who are at home as well. I feel very thankful for the technology that we’ve been able to use during this pandemic, but it certainly has had its pitfalls in my eyes.
Is Zoom fatigue real? How do you combat the struggles associated with Zoom and other technologies used for Liquid Learning?
Zoom fatigue is real. I will also say that Zoom addiction is real as well. At the same time that Zoom has helped to keep people in touch over these months, there is still an aspect of this teaching method that I’ve found to be alienating. There is something so different about seeing life and other people through a screen.
I would recommend trying to use Zoom less often if at all possible. It’s difficult to do while we are still in the middle of the pandemic, but it’s best if this tool is used in moderation. Try to incorporate other means of connection in your day-to-day life. We’ve reached a point in life where the stimulus from our technologies such as WhatsApp, email, Zoom, and more is overwhelming. Reserve time and space for reflection and writing, away from all of these programs and devices that we’ve become so accustomed to.
What is one thing that you’ve learned from teaching during the past months?
Human beings can adapt to anything. We are like rats—throw us into any environment and after only a few days we learn how to survive. Before the pandemic, I never used PowerPoint. I preferred to write on the whiteboard at the front of the class in a classic lecture style. As uncomfortable as it was for me to adapt my teaching style, I truly don’t know if I would have been able to survive this pandemic without the use of PowerPoint.
I’ve also learned how truly important the interaction between fellow humans is in order to have impactful lectures. Even though IE University gives us the opportunity to use recorded lectures or videoconferences, I try to avoid doing them whenever possible. Without the direct interaction between my students, I find my lectures to be far less impactful than if they’re delivered in person.
Do you have any advice for fellow professors that might be struggling to teach given the hurdles of this pandemic?
I don’t know if this qualifies as advice, but hang in there. This profession is getting essentially refashioned and we have very little control over it. We were already headed towards an even more technologically integrated world, and this pandemic has simply sped this process up. We can’t fight the inevitable. Use this as a learning experience and an opportunity to change your teaching methods.
I believe that this learning model is here to stay. Although we can look at this in a bad light, it’s also really interesting. Due to the digitalization of this profession, the opportunity to teach others and deepen your personal knowledge is going to extend past the current barriers. The use of digital lectures, as paradoxical as it might sound, will enable us to make local, specialized content. If we can educate others without having to displace neither ourselves nor our students, the possibilities ahead of us can be quite cool. Learn how to navigate this situation and use it to your advantage.
After ending my Zoom call with Professor Seijo, I couldn’t help but feel reassured. As difficult as it is to teach during the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic has also been an incredible opportunity to redefine the current boundaries of education as we know them. We have a long way to go until the “perfect” asynchronous or hybrid learning model is created, but I can’t help but feel like we are on the cusp of something amazing after the perspective that we’ve gained over the past months. With motivated professors and the support of IE University, I believe that the future of education is infinite, no matter the circumstances at hand.