AUA Online: Distance Learning in the Time of COVID-194 min read
By now, you have likely reached your pandemic-related content quota. Every single organization, company, news network, and social media page is disseminating content surrounding COVID-19. While this could be overwhelming, it is also pivotal to our understanding. People and institutions all over the world are finding themselves transitioning to remote work and distance learning.
Transitioning to Online Learning
Educational institutions worldwide have been experiencing disruptions in their operations and are adopting new ways of addressing the challenges of the current situation. A strong foundation in technology-integrated teaching and learning practices has allowed the American University of Armenia (AUA) to make a quick transition to distance learning. The AUA community has had access to e-journals and e-books through the AGBU Papazian Library, and 60% of the library resources are available to our students online. Moreover, AUA classes have been conducted using Moodle for already several years. Thus, the University has made only a few adjustments to its face-to-face mode of instruction to ensure that classes continue without interruption. On Friday, March 13, an e-workshop on transitioning to online modes of instruction was attended by over 80 faculty members. By the following Monday, March 16, AUA operations and classes had transitioned to online platforms, such as Moodle combined with the introduction of Zoom. Every semester, AUA offers over 320 courses; this transition was no small task.
“I was really pleased to see how our classes transitioned to online platforms so quickly. Studying online is amazing because it has the same effectiveness as our regular classes. Even though I miss my friends in this period of time, I’m very happy to continue my studies while practicing social distancing for the safety of the whole community,” says Amaras Mehrabi (BS ES ‘22).
Facilitating student-centered learning with new means of communication is essential in our virtual classrooms. As Alen Amirkhanian, director of the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment and lecturer notes, a variety of tools are used, such as online discussion forums, to engage students in dynamic interactions. Encouragement and guidance by instructors and the provision of real-time feedback are very effective and motivational.
AUA students have adjusted to their new virtual classrooms and are progressing smoothly through the semester. “We can still raise hands and ask questions; presentations can be viewed full-screen or on the side while researching information on a topic, and professors can directly address the students to ask questions,” observes Rafayel Avagyan (BAB ‘20).
Strengths and Challenges of Distance Learning
Aside from gaining valuable new tools to better manage these changes, online learning also has brought additional benefits. Learning from the safety and comfort of one’s own home can be pleasant for some students, and is unique to this time. “I really like distance learning. For me, it’s enjoyable to study from home while benefiting from the comfort it offers,” notes Karlen Avagyan (BAB ’22).
The compulsory transition to a technology-based remote learning environment has allowed AUA students to create their own suitable learning conditions, while offering other advantages. “I enjoy the flexibility of my schedule and comfort during my virtual classes. I really appreciate the ability to learn from the presentations provided by our professors,” remarks Shantal Adajian (BS ES ’22).
Although beset with challenges during the transition, distance learning has created new opportunities for students to hone their tech skills, according to LL.M. Program Chair Adelaida Baghdasaryan. “Certainly, learning new IT tools, coping with technology and different platforms, law students will graduate more prepared for new world challenges with novel business, social, and legal requirements.”
“Moving quickly to online instruction comes with many challenges both for professors and students. Of course, keeping students engaged in a remote learning environment is difficult, particularly when they’re not used to distance learning. The commitment, creativity, and innovation of the AUA faculty, staff, and institutional leaders have played a fundamental role in overcoming this challenge,” remarks Dr. Hayk Nersisyan, chair of the BS in Computer Science (BS CS) program.
For AUA students, the most pressing concern is social isolation. Education is a social process in which not only do students interact with faculty, but also with one another. This lively engagement can be compromised in the transition to online learning. The implementation of discussion forums and other mechanisms to keep conversations going and people connected cannot fully replicate the face-to-face experience. Along with e-workshops organized by the AUA Counseling Services, the University will schedule a variety of activities to help students, faculty, and staff cope with the social distancing and isolation measures.
Overcoming the current national and global health crisis will be difficult. But through creative approaches to teaching, AUA is moving forward. In addition to online classes offered by the University and AUA Open Education, all campus support systems are remotely accessible to our students, faculty, and staff. AUA remains committed to providing 100% compensation to its employees during this state of emergency and to the provision of services to members of our community. The support of our Board of Trustees, donors, faculty, and staff has ensured the continuity of high-quality education during these challenging times. True to the AUA mission and vision, our community will successfully move through the time of COVID-19 with a sustained focus on our students’ wellbeing and academic success.
Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.