On Saturday the 22th of February I received an unexpected call from my sister. She was scared to stay in Piacenza, in Northern Italy, where she lives. The municipality there was about to lock down the city in order to avoid the further spread of the coronavirus. In that precise moment I started to realize that the problem was serious.
Since then, we have been living in an emergency mode. Thanks to my wonderful colleagues around Italy and in the States, we were able to bring all of our students back home. Even if this created some frustration, it is comforting to know that our students are close to their loved ones while the situation develops.
Here, in Italy, in the meantime, all the universities and schools have suspended in person classes and were able to continue the teaching activities remotely. Universities have made a massive effort to digitize courses and research activities with unexpected efficiency. Some are able to give exams and hold dissertation defences through web conferencing. Roma Tre, the public university the Arcadia Rome center partners with, was able to graduate 1050 students completely online!
New interesting skills are being developed. The crises has become an opportunity for universities and professors to master digital technologies. We are learning that the new media can not only replace human beings, but they can allow human interactions to take place, the connection with one's own teacher, with one's school, with one's companions, with one’s community.
Arcadia Rome faculty was also able to move all the classes online. For some professors this was not too difficult, for others it meant a drastic change in their teaching approach and method and a good knowledge of online platforms which they hardly used before. Despite the difficulties of the transition, all of them jumped into this new phase with passion and determination, making everything work smoothly. I am proud and grateful to be surrounded by such motivated, creative and smart faculty members!
On the other side of the screen we have, of course, the students. Listening to the other professor’s comments and on the basis of my experience, the interaction can be sometimes challenging. As professors, we have to double the energy we would put in a physical class. We have to remind them procedures and instructions for a much needed stability. And continuously find the balance between support and academic rigor. This can be cumbersome sometimes but the purpose is to help them complete their semester successfully and find in this new phase opportunities for the future. Students can appear sad, scared, often distracted but, for the majority, they are grateful that we are there for them.
And I would like to thank the students who share their screens, smile and interact as much as possible. Thank you for being the protagonist of the incredible times we are living. For returning the passion we, as professors, are putting into it. Let’s take the responsibility of building together the global community we need to go beyond the crises we are living. Let’s play our small but fundamental role.