2 years since the pandemic: Where does the URV stand now?

In the middle of March 2020, EU governments started imposing measures such as quarantines and social distancing practices to contain the spread of COVID-19. Few could have imagined how rapidly the world as we knew it, would change. The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation activities in the private and public sector across all EU countries. This process of digitalization concerned all areas of activity such as business, healthcare, entertainment, travel, without leaving education behind.

As in the rest of Europe, the past two years was a transformative era for higher education in Spain, too. On the 14th of March, the Spanish government declared a state of emergency, and this led to the suspension of onsite classes in the country across all educational levels. The restrictions affected the research and teaching activity and significantly altered university operations. In the outbreak of the pandemic, university administrative staff, teachers, researchers, students, and technicians had to work together to transfer the onsite teaching and research activities online to complete the academic year and research projects. To achieve that, faculty members and students had to rapidly improve their ICT skills and master the use of virtual learning environments and video conference tools. In the case of the University of Rovira i Virgili the Moodle virtual learning environment and Microsoft Teams were used by the community to resume the academic activity online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Learning and Research Resource Centre of the University provided the teaching staff with webinars to support them in transitioning to online teaching. With these webinars the teaching staff obtained practical information and expertise on top issues emerging from the shift to distance learning, such as transitioning student assessment online, digital tools for engaging students in online courses, among others.

As 2 years passed since the beginning of the pandemic restrictions in Spain, the rector of the University of Rovira i Virgili, María José Figueras addressed a message to the academic community. She reported that the University was able to recover the academic and research activities very fast due to the efforts of the community and the available technologies. She also reported that the Learning and Research Resource Centre of the University enabled teachers and researchers to transfer their activity online by providing them with the necessary online resources, software and training courses. The academic community resumed their activity without serious obstructions and adapted to the new circumstances by digitalizing their research and teaching, activity and administrative services. In certain cases, to ensure that all students had access to the online courses, the University provided the ones who struggled financially with the means (ICT resources, internet access, etc.) to continue with their studies. Finally, the University highly values accessibility for online classes and makes important efforts to raise awareness among the members of the academic community. To this end, the Learning and Research Resource Centre of the University elaborated accessibility guidelines providing insight on how to make the online course materials, assignments and digital tools accessible for all students, taking different physical or developmental impairments into consideration.

Despite the difficulties faced, mainly due to the lack of digital skills, available home ICT equipment and connectivity, the academic community adapted to the new circumstances and recovered. The pandemic has shown teachers and students a new way of learning, teaching and working and urged them to learn more about digital technologies and enhance their ICT skills. However, when it comes to teachers’ and students’ ICT skills, there is still room for improvement. The University of Rovira i Virgili, by participating in the Hi-Teach project recognizes the importance of supporting university teachers’ development of digital competence at an EU level. The University of Rovira i Virgili contributes to this joint effort by co-designing and developing educational resources in the area of formative assessment and digital resources. These resources will be part of the Hi-Teach training course targeted to university teachers which will enable them to design, deliver and evaluate student learning in online courses.