On the wave of change in education

27.03.2020, Aihe: Kansainvälistyminen / Kirjoittaja Jaana Lehto

Earlier we were talking about digitalization triggering changes also in the education sector. Now the trigger is a small virus that has become a pandemic, and digitalization in a form of on-line courses is used as a response. While still on the first steps of the process there are already signs of transformative changes, with profound conversations ahead about the consistent and robust way of delivering education in the future. How the present situation turns out from the perspective of RMIT, Melbourne situated in the heart of Victoria – the Education State.

The RMIT-University in Melbourne has a high-sounding name: The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Although this royal name refers to the British roots, the culture of the university seems to have been influenced by the Yankee culture as well. The USA norms are followed for instance in titles; when in the British system you would be an assistant professor, here the equivalent title is lecturer. From both cultures stems the focus on sports. There are plenty of leisure activities for students in the form of clubs, and the university has its own sports teams for basketball, rowing and … just name it. Practical experience and implementing research into practice is valued. It also appears in one of the university’s slogans: “Why study problems when you can solve them?”

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RMIT is by far not the only university in Melbourne, there must be at least 10 of them with hundreds of thousands of students. No wonder, the state of Victoria is called the” Education State”. This really shows in its’ capital city Melbourne. Australia is among leading countries in exporting education. Universities have subsidiaries abroad, and the number of international students here is very visible. Streets are crowded with students from various countries and air thick of multicultural atmosphere.

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Students flock to the park to begin the fall semester in early March.

Or was - before COVID-19. Now universities are closed, and all education has gone on-line. RMIT was among the first in transferring face-to-face trainings on-line, as already before the virus began to spread around the world, it was obvious that Chinese students could not start their term in time, due to the 14 days period they should have spent in another country before entering Australia. By now all education and research are on-line, and the university buildings and campus are empty.

This all must have an influence on the future of education in the whole world. No doubt this situation reinforces on-line trainings as both educators and students in every level get used to operating through the network, and as a result learn to demand more on-line courses, and more value for money of their on-line courses. New on-line pedagogy will extend and emerge – efficient and versatile ways to learn - and on-line education will spread to the areas it has been seldom used.

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RMIT Campus

Could all trainings go on-line? Probably could as they already are, but how influential it would be in the long run is another question. At least when thinking about the future competences of next level co-operation and other social skills. “In terms of technology, RMIT was ready for this transition and we continued the semester without any disruptions. But I think this is a great time to test the robustness of online delivery modes not only technologically, but to explore which courses and skills fit the online education platform, and which ones still need major elements of face-to-face interaction to future proof education of the generation.” states Nader Naderpajouh, Senior Lecturer of Project Management in RMIT.

Socializing is also an important part of study life - to be a member of the flock and to build your own network. Rowing alone must be a quite lonely experience – it doesn’t sound like a dream future at least to me.

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Clubs introduce themselves.

A discussion of resilience of education – alike safety and resilience of everything – is bound to arise. How strong is a national infrastructure of education in case it is not possible to lean on international education organizations? What are vital areas of expertise that each country should retain? And, moreover, as it is extremely vital to have international surroundings especially for higher education, how these structures and training procedures should be built in order to be resilient during the next crisis?

Referring to the slogan of RMIT, these questions should be both studied and solved. And they will, as the times we are now going through will someday not be just tragic, but also bring along creativity and innovative actions renewing the education industry.  In this boat we all row together.

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Jaana Lehto on Kiinteistöalan Koulutussäätiön rehtori, joka viettää kevään 2020 vierailevana tutkijana Melbournen RMIT-yliopistossa.

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