Due to emergency pandemic orders to shutter all in-person classes, Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) needed to find a way to allow students to continue learning and use their “lockdown” time productively. In addition to stalled synchronous, in-class learning, the university had a number of students who were participating in enterprise internships that they couldn’t complete during the lockdown.
To address these issues, the University needed to make a transition to an exclusively-online learning environment. As an edX member institution, UPV is experienced in developing online content and has the infrastructure to support its creation, such as building a studio for recording simple videos and outfitting over 100 classrooms with self-recording technology.
Yet, even with that advantage, the university faced significant challenges in scale and speed. Transforming in-person instruction to sustainable and effective online learning is a specific discipline and a unique challenge. Despite UPV’s history of creating online courses, most faculty were not prepared to make such a rapid transition. And as an institution with tens of thousands of students and an extensive course catalog, rapidly accelerating on a larger scale was a significant obstacle.
“We had a lot of students, teachers, and staff that did not know what a MOOC is. We are sure that now that they know, and they know how good and valuable edX’s MOOCs are for their careers, that a lot of them will think about edX MOOCs for their future education,"
said Ignoacio Despujol, MOOC Initiative Coordinator at UPV
Using edX Online Campus, UPV was able to make online courses, or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), available to students within one week of closing in-person sessions. Students could choose from a variety of courses and had the opportunity to earn certificates for their coursework. Certificates can be used as benchmarks for awarding credit, as well as standalone signals of knowledge and skill development for use with potential employers. UPV also used the diverse edX course catalog to allow students who were unable to continue their internships in-person to take online courses that aligned with the professional skills the students would have learned during their internships.
"While not exactly the same as a hands-on experience, the MOOCs provided insights into their professional field,” Despujol said. “It was a good way to solve the situation.”
Faculty could also use the edX courses to augment their teaching. One example saw an instructor use a portion of a HarvardX course and incorporate it into his own course curriculum, akin to edX serving as a digital lecturer or TA for asynchronous learning and allowing the faculty member to focus attention on reinforcing ideas, answering questions, and supporting students facing challenges. Faculty and staff could also access the edX courses for professional development, and many took advantage of the opportunity.
At the start of the initiative, UPV provided 8,000 students and staff access to as many as five edX Online Campus courses. Once individuals had completed the first five courses, they could request access to additional courses. As a result, UPV saw more than 20,000 enrollments in Online Campus. It also received a large number requests for additional access to courses with very positive feedback from students and staff requesting additional access.
UPV’s staff has also gotten a lot of value from edX Online Campus. Many staff have added new edX certificates to their digital resumes, which will be taken into account for future promotions.
Given the success so far, UPV plans to survey students and staff who have participated in Online Campus and use that data to gain continued support for the program. Even after the pandemic, Despujol believes that a blended learning environment is here to stay, especially now that many students and staff have seen the advantages of online, asynchronous learning.
"The best learning scenario is blended learning, where students learn online and practice on their own, and then go to the classroom and get teachers and peers to help you," Despujol said.