There are basically two things which most clearly distinguish Catholic universities from their secular peers – their commitment to the integral human development of their students and their appreciation of the community both in terms of celebrating a communal way of life and preparing students for service in their communities.
Pope Francis stated, "that educating is not only filling the head with concepts but teaching how to use the three languages: the language of the mind, the language of the heart, the language of the hand." A Catholic university following this philosophy of education could become a life-changing story for young people encountering the world and their role in it with joy, gratitude, responsibility, spiritual strength and freedom.
Another principal vocation of a Catholic university is to celebrate community and contribute to the common good, to make young people learn to strive and work for the good that transcends their private interests and preoccupations. To make it happen, a Catholic university strives to be a community of service par excellence and rediscover what it means to be close to the needy and poor.
That is why the pandemics by forcing the quarantine upon and pushing universities off campus hurts a Catholic university even more than any natural force majeure. How to move online what could be done primarily or even only offline?! How to organize our work online to achieve the same quality education and still offer community experience and opportunity for the integral human development of our students?
Shifting education to the distance format
After the outbreak of the pandemic in Ukraine, UCU was one of the first Ukrainian universities to respond swiftly to the threat. The transition to online learning was realized within a few days. There were prerequisites for this. All faculty members have been working with the Learning Management System based on the Moodle platform for several years and already have had their courses at least in a basic format in the LMS. We began to prepare for a full online transition two weeks in advance of the quarantine. Considering the rapid spread of COVID-19 worldwide, it became clear that quarantine in schools and educational institutions was inevitable. Therefore, upon its announcement, the education process at UCU did not stop, but gradually changed to another format.
The first step of the emergency transfer to online learning was a series of training sessions and webinars on creating e-courses, conducting videoconferences (webinars), using instruments for immediate two-way communication and group work, and also channels of communication. We also regularly offer for reading a collection of articles by experts in online education. We gather and distribute the reflections of our teachers on successful and interesting decisions in teaching in the distance format.
However, to fully realize the potential of distance learning, it is not enough simply to transfer the course materials and assignments and discussion of themes from classroom to online. All teachers had an experience of teaching courses online. But this is not an experience of teaching a distance course, strictly speaking. After the university went online, the next steps were re-thinking the teaching style for distance format.
In addition, since the Coursera platform announced the possibility of free access to courses and certificates for universities interested in the initiative, within a few days, UCU was among 16,000 university communities around the world that took advantage of the offer and gained free access to educational content.
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