Ingus Skadiņš, Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Medicine: We Have Survived the Cold Shower
Assistant Professor Ingus Skadiņš, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU), describes the rapid transition from on-site to remote studies as a cold shower. However, Asst. Prof. Skadiņš emphasises that the university as a whole, including the Faculty of Medicine, has successfully survived this sudden shock and adapted to the new circumstances together with students. Every cloud has a silver lining and the global pandemic has opened up new opportunities and skills in IT and shown the faculty what needs to be developed and improved after the pandemic when the university returns to its normal study process.
What are some remote study practices, and what changes have been introduced to daily life?
The Medical Microbiology study course has been broken down into several weekly topics, for example. The work takes place on Zoom, through video lectures and pre-prepared video materials. We planned lectures and other classes in a timely manner at the beginning of the academic semester, but the pandemic made us need to re-evaluate and make changes to the schedules. It is very important for us to be flexible when planning our work for both Latvian and international students.
Why do you need to be flexible when planning classes for international students?
There are several aspects that you need to understand when planning for international students. First, there are the different time zones. If a class has been scheduled for eight in the morning Latvian time, it might not be the best option for someone living in Western Europe or even further. They would need to get up very early, or even at night. Second, you have to understand the daily rhythm of international students in their home countries. If, for example, there is an international student participating in activities aimed to restrict the spread of the virus the student might be volunteering during the day. Therefore, we need to be flexible when planning lectures. We need to offer consultations at times that these students are able to attend them, or create an e-study base for international students to be able to watch lectures at a time convenient to them, which might be evenings or weekends. In one case I did a consultation for German students on a Saturday in order to discuss the study programme and other matters, which are currently of concern for students.
How do you communicate with international students?
E-mail is the standard. We contact group leaders and semester leaders, who forward the information further afield, and we also contact students individually. However, I believe that it is better to use the e-studies platform that was created and is hosted by RSU. The e-studies platform has an information forum where we post all the urgent news about consultations, colloquia, examination format and organisation, as well as general information.
The main thing to making remote studies a success is to communicate with students so that they are not left alone and to make it clear to them how the study process will happen, what they have to do to successfully complete the course and pass their tests.
We should understand that this is an emotional time for both local and international students, because they not only think about studies, but also see and experience what is happening in society due to the virus. Families also tend to feel anxious about different situations, which is a factor that affects studies. We need to provide clear information to assure students that we will help them in the study process.
This is a time when we should support one another. The university and the Faculty of Medicine should do everything in its power to help students so that they worry as little as possible.
What new teaching forms might be used after the pandemic?
This time has provided us with the opportunity to introduce many solutions for remote studying faster than planned. We hope that we will be able use them in the future as not all classes might go back to the on-site format, whether this be e-lectures or online consultations. In the future examinations might be organised remotely, for example, so that students don’t need to travel to sit exams early in the morning. We are on our way to implementing a mixed study process using both a remote and on-site format. It is, however, necessary to understand that there are things that cannot happen remotely in medical studies – placements, communication with patients and medical examinations. Therefore, we should be careful about evaluating in which study year and in what proportions we should implement remote and on-site studies for the right balance.
RSU recently conducted a student survey that showed that 76% of students from the Faculty of Medicine surveyed believe that one of the biggest benefits of remote studies is the possibility to study flexibly, to plan their own time and place for studies. 63% of students admitted that they currently devote more time to studies than before the pandemic.