USJ transitions faster to a digital classroom

Marco Carvalho 

The agility with which the University of Saint Joseph transitioned, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, from regular classes to a digital environment, gave Macau’s Catholic University the tools and the experience to adapt skilfully, quickly and effectively to the sudden alteration of the epidemic panorama in the Special Administrative Region. This was the assessment of José Manuel Simões, Communication & Media Coordinator at the University of Saint Joseph.

A former journalist in Portugal and Macau, José Manuel Simões claims that the success with which the University of Saint Joseph adopted the practices and codes of online learning in the early days of the pandemic, in March 2020, endowed the institution with the assets to react fast and smoothly to sudden changes in Macau’s epidemic panorama.

“At the beginning of this problem, in March last year, we adapted fairly quickly. At that time, we were pioneers in transitioning from a traditional to a digital environment. We were the first University to answer the challenge of going online,” José Manuel Simões recalls. “Our students back then barely missed any classes, once we entered this digital register right away. We had this previous experience and it gave us a certain ability to react and to give an answer to our current situation. The biggest problem nowadays is that we are aware this is not a definitive situation, sooner or later it will change,” the Communication & Media Coordinator at USJ told O Clarim.

As with other educational institutions in the Special Administrative Region, the University of Saint Joseph suspended classroom classes and reinstituted distance learning following the discovery of a community outbreak of SARS-CoV2. The transition to a digital environment, the coordinator of the Department of Communication and Media at Macau’s Catholic university said, happened smoothly, even though the pedagogical approach to a virtual classroom requires commitment and adaptability from teachers and students alike: “The experience, in itself, requires a certain degree of adaptability from teachers and students alike. Teachers –  especially those who tend to give more theoretical lessons – need to create interaction. In our specific case, our classes are undeniably long and, even if you take a break, a teacher cannot dump theoretical knowledge three hours in a row. It won’t work like that,” José Manuel Simões says.

Even though the University of Saint Joseph remains closed to students, most professors chose to teach online classes from the institution’s campus. The transition to a digital teaching environment went smoothly, but in the former journalist’s opinion, nothing compares to a traditional classroom environment: “The academic year is taking its course without any major problems, despite the fact that the human component is amiss. The various components of communication, namely non-verbal communication, are amiss. Human contact, at a more relational level, is sorely lacking. Nothing detracts from the importance of in-person classes,” Mr. Simões claims.The Communication and Media courses at the University of Saint Joseph are not among the academic programs that were awarded the possibility of recruiting students from the People’s Republic of China, but José Manuel Simões believes the department he coordinates will keep strong for years to come: “We are one of the largest courses at the University. We have 22 first-year students, which, compared to other courses, is an exceptional number. And we also have 18 students in the Master’s degree. At a time when the University has had some difficulties in recruiting students for a few courses, ours is still healthy,” the coordinator of the Department of Communication and Media of the University of Saint Joseph claims. (Photo of José Manuel Simões from his Facebook page.)