by Darko Spasevski, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law “Iustinanus Primus”, University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius”, Skopje, North Macedonia & Participant at “Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) for Scholars on Economics and Business”, hosted by Institute for Training and Development (ITD), Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
March 12, 2020 was the last day I had in-person classes with my students in Classroom no. 7 on the first floor of the Faculty of Law. From then until today, the teaching has taken place online. We started with ZOOM, used Webex and then switched to Microsoft Teams.
What did we gain and what did we lose with online teaching? In conditions of pandemic and global threat from COVID-19, the only way to protect public health, but at the same time to enable teaching to be conducted as planned, was the use of online platforms. Many of these technological tools were almost never used before March 12, 2021 at my Faculty. We quickly got used to them. In a way, we became experts in their use. Of course, these technological tools were the only way to communicate with students, to organize lectures, to assign assignments to students, and so on. But, on the other hand, the main question arises: Have the students forgotten what the Faculty looks like? Classrooms and the library remained empty, corridors deserted, the student affairs office without students. Two years without friendships made in the student cafeteria. And not only that. We all remember March and April 2020. And it was like a science fiction movie. I am remembering March and April 2020 as months in which my colleagues at the Faculty avoided each other out of fear and caution. We did not have that regular morning coffee together. We did not have regular academic talks, nor our everyday conversations. In a way, we all were uncomfortable with the whole situation, but it seems that the best solution was: directly from the parking lot to the office, without any contact with others. All that hysteria was overcome in May 2020. Colleagues began to communicate again. But now of course using masks (some even two masks at the same time). Let’s go back to the students. In these two years we held hundreds of classes, conducted many exams, many students participated in online office hours. However, it happened that at least one generation, enrolled in the 2019/2020 academic year, somehow did not enter the faculty building, for two years. We will see shortly whether these students will complete their studies without entering the faculty building at all. Everyone is looking forward to September, when it will be known whether the classes will continue online or we will return to our classrooms.
In the last three weeks I have had the opportunity to be student again. Namely, as part of the Study of the US Institutes program for 2021, I virtually participated in the activities conducted by the Institute for Training and Development from Amherst, Massachusetts. This program gave me access to great opportunities for professional development. At the same time, I have the opportunity to meet colleagues from all over the world. In the face of the pandemic, the organizers did their best to provide us with everything we would have if we were in Amherst, Massachusetts. I even had the opportunity to meet my virtual homestay host, Mr. Bruce Laure and his wife. We had a great conversation and the opportunity to meet their everyday life as if I was there. At the time of our virtual meeting, it was the Wimbledon finale. So we cheered at the same time. Djokovic was the winner. However, the virtual approach and the in-person approach are different. People are used to communicating face-to-face, to see and experience things that are only available in real life. I hope to have the opportunity to meet in-person with all these people I have met in the past three weeks.
Finally, a few months ago I applied for a program. One of the questions in the form was, what is my super-power. My answer was my students, the classroom, the chalk and the blackboard. Although, virtually my students have been here these two years, in order to have all of my super-powers, I miss my classroom, the chalk and the blackboard. I hope the pandemic will end very soon, and we will be able to return to classroom no. 7, on the first floor of the Faculty of Law.
All opinions expressed by the program participants are their own and do not represent nor reflect official views from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, or of the Institute for Training and Development, Inc.