Academia in the time of Corona: Letter from Prof. Shlomo Biderman

President of the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo addresses the great challenge the virus outbreak poses to the higher education system and examines whether Academia is still relevant

The Corona virus presents the higher education system with a challenge it has never experienced before. Alongside the immediate threat of the spread of the virus, it is also an opportunity for the Israeli academia to conduct a "general rehearsal" in preparation for the future of higher education: relevant, digital learning, one that is connected to our constantly changing contemporary reality.

These days, when campuses remain empty through no will of their own, and although frontal teaching is of great value, the opportunity has arisen to experiment with additional teaching methods, ones that add a new dimension to academia. The Corona virus can drive and accelerate the processes of change that the higher education system can no longer ignore.

Online teaching, even if it occurs in a state of emergency, uncertainty and concern, is not just a technical or technological change. It has the potential to transform the very essence of higher education today and, even more, to generate a new definition of the teacher-student relationship. There is no denying that the transitioning from direct and dialogic to online, virtual communication is a difficult act that involves not only giving up on the direct, unmediated contact, which is so important for the learning process. But online learning should not be anonymous learning. On the contrary, in more than one sense, it can create a "learning community" that accesses knowledge in a faster, more relevant language. Furthermore, online learning can provide students with tools for independent and collaborative learning, ones that help them successfully cope with the accelerated pace of change that their current life demands.

The "version update" that the Corona virus is forcing us to pursue is a dual one. It is shaking and accelerating higher education institutions’ efforts to become more innovative and daring. The “new version” is preparing students for continuous available learning. Personal teaching will always remain essential, but integrating it with innovative technologies will enable effective learning from which faculty and students alike can benefit.

Humanity’s means of addressing the risks of the Corona virus teaches us that mutual responsibility and community commitment are values ​​whose preservation can save lives. Interestingly, the community in this context actually means isolation, in the shared understanding that a fruitful interpersonal relationship does not necessarily involve the existence of a physical group. Similarly, a virtual learning community can realize these social values, even after we eradicate this deadly virus.

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