By Professor Marios Vryonides, Dean, School of Humanities, Social and Education Sciences
Every university, like any living organism, ought to function with characteristics that enable it to be both sustainable and have growth prospects in a rapidly changing social and technological environment. Two such fundamental features are adaptability and innovation. The element of innovation, in particular, is of crucial importance. During the second decade of its operation as a higher education institution, European University Cyprus invested early in this field and it is not surprising that for the second consecutive year it is ranked globally, by the Times Higher Impact Rankings 2020, among the 101+ universities in the world in the innovation category. This very element served as the main mechanism that allowed EUC to successfully manage the challenges of the recent health crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the immediate impact on public health and global health systems, has had an unexpected and unprecedented effect on the smooth functioning of educational organizations at all levels of education. The restrictions imposed on teachers and students, as a measure to limit the spread of the virus, highlighted the need to resort to Distance Learning methodologies that had developed rapidly over the last decade. Those universities that had the foresight to invest in this area and set up Distance Learning mechanisms and procedures adapted very quickly, and the transition from the conventional to remote processes was quick and fully successful. The pandemic and its aftermath reached Cyprus in March 2020 and found European University Cyprus with all the necessary technological means, mechanisms and know-how to make this transition perfectly smooth.
For European University Cyprus, this ‘solution’ was not seen as one of necessity. Early on, the administration and the academic staff acknowledged that Distance Learning methodologies and digital resources had features that made this educational process particularly effective and necessary. Reviewing many international studies, the entire EUC community realized that when digital resources and online procedures are integrated into conventional campus-based programs, unique advantages arise in relation to active learning and more effective learning outcomes.
As early as the autumn of 2015, European University Cyprus started implementing digital technology integration programs in pilot form in selected courses across all its Schools. In the international literature these are referred to as Blended or Hybrid courses. By including online interactive activities in campus-based classes at the amphitheater, the aim was to achieve a number of goals, such as:
- Increased student engagement in learning activities
- Availability of digital course material via laptops, tablets and smartphones.
- Continuous interaction between teachers and students, synchronous and asynchronous discussions and channels of communication and feedback at many levels.
- Learning activities and interactive learning in a direct synchronous or asynchronous format, which allow students to organize their weekly programs with greater flexibility.
The main result is that the above make learning more active and more attractive to students. The 21st century university student demands educational experiences that are customized and utilize digital environments and technologies that he/she already uses in every other aspect of his/her daily life.
For the last 5 years, via a systematic and organized plan, European University Cyprus has been working to gradually achieve this goal and has focused on 5 pillars:
- Defining a comprehensive digital solution integration strategy in all courses offered
- Restructuring organizational processes
- Training teaching staff and students
- Developing and adapting digital material
- Ensuring the availability of the most up-to-date applications in educational digital technology
In the short time that European University Cyprus was forced to operate in this unprecedented state of the pandemic, all its departments and especially its educational activities continued to operate unhindered, offering high-level learning experiences to its students. Both teachers and students made this transition seamlessly. Almost all courses are now carried out this way and in the vast majority student participation ranges from 95-100%. At the same time, a series of online seminars for teachers within the framework of the existing Faculty Development Program offers all educators continuous training in the organization of digital activities and distance examinations. In addition, all of the university’s administrative bodies meet regularly via teleconferences so that there is no gap in the smooth administrative operation of decision-making bodies.
We often hear that the day after the crisis will not be the same as the one we knew before the pandemic. At European University Cyprus, this experience was an early calculated bet that was won. When it was called to adapt to the new realities of the crisis it did so with confidence, speed and absolute success. Confidence in the know-how in which it had invested a long time ago; confidence in its well-trained academic and administrative staff and its complete technological infrastructure and, above all, confidence in its capacity to respond to its mission in the best way possible, continuing to offer quality university education to its students.