The European Commission published on July 9 the results of the second call for its new flagship initiative within Erasmus+: European Universities consortia. The European Engineering Learning Innovation & Science Alliance (EELISA), which gathers eight technology universities and graduate engineering schools and two comprehensive universities from seven European countries, representing more than 170,000 students, is among the 24 projects selected including 164 higher education institutions.
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain) as coordinator, Budapesti Műszaki és Gazdaságtudományi Egyetem (Hungary), Universitatea Politehnica din București (Romania), İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi (Turkey), Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany) – and in France École des Ponts ParisTech and University PSL with Chimie ParisTech – PSL and MINES ParisTech - PSL – joined their forces to create EELISA, together with the European Network for Accreditation of Engineering Education (ENAEE) as an associate partner. The consortium was launched on January 28-29, 2019 during the rectors’ meeting in Madrid and extended to Italian partners on January 20, 2020 in Erlangen.
After a twenty-year relationship within the ATHENS network, the EELISA partners intend to show how they help to bring their students and staff to collaborate closer on a European Engineering Degree. They will also share their experience in education linked to industry and research, plus tackling societal challenges Green, Smart and Resilient Cities and Industry for the future. ENAEE brings a unique experience in European cooperation in the sector.
EELISA will encourage and support mobility for engineering students as well as academic and administrative staff. Initially focussing on the master level, the partners will then develop their cooperation at bachelor and PhD levels.
EELISA will empower its students’ citizenship participation and improve their employability, aligning the universities’ strategy with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and in doing so contribute to solve societal challenges. EELISA will be a consolidator for the progress of European Union values in general, and a major role model for higher education institutions in all sectors within the European Higher Education Area and beyond.
Diversity will be a key driver for EELISA. It will first support social inclusion by supporting the implementation of part-time study (apprenticeship) in engineering curricula all over Europe. Then, it will commit to gender balance as a prominent European goal, but also specifically in STEM careers. Activities will be developed on the different campuses to enable all students develop their capacities and competences to build an inclusive EELISA campus.
EELISA partners are eager to deepen their cooperation within the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area and acknowledge the trust of the European Commission for this important recognition and the 5 million € funding that is granted to selected candidates.
On June 9, ParisTech drew attention on the situation of international students expected to start their studies in its schools in September 2020. Indeed, full immersion in France, and full integration into student life are key factors in these students’ success.
ParisTech schools drew the attention of French authorities to the case of international students on June 9. At a time when mobility is gradually resuming in the business world, it indeed seemed essential that it could also resume in higher education, including with countries outside the European Union.
International students are an integral part of the economic and social life of our country, both during their stay and when they return to their countries. They establish lasting bonds with France during their studies, be it on a personal or a professional level.
The internships they carry out in French companies during their stay contribute to integrating them into French culture, and to make them understand French know-how. The training received in our schools, the savoir-faire acquired in companies make them future ambassadors of France in their country of origin and all over the world.
Christian Lerminiaux, president of ParisTech, sent a welcome message to international students on June 10. For several weeks now, schools have been doing everything they can to welcome them in the best conditions.
ParisTech is therefore delighted that the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs stated on June 12 in a press release that "international students will be allowed, regardless of their country of origin, to come to France, and the arrangements for their reception will be facilitated. Their requests for visas and residence permits will be given priority”.
The academic year starts at the end of August / beginning of September in the engineering schools of ParisTech. Time is running out for students to prepare their arrival in good conditions. The issuance of visas and the resumption of flights to France will be crucial.
On average, international students account for 30% of the student body of the ParisTech schools. Hailing from Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia and Russia, they join the schools as second-year students, having undergone a rigorous selection process. These students learn French before coming to France and are eager to get here and put what they’ve learned into practice. Each year, students from all over Europe, Asia, Africa and America also come to Paris on the bilateral exchange programmes run by the schools.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the ParisTech schools are hard at work preparing for the new academic year, with the first semester due to start in late August/early September as planned. Staff are doing their utmost to ensure that each school is ready to welcome students in the best possible conditions and in line with the latest health and safety guidelines from the government.
During the second semester of the 2019-2020 academic year, the schools rapidly adapted to new ways of working so that teaching and learning could continue despite lockdown. Live lectures and seminars, pre-recorded classes, online platforms, remote support… blended learning quickly became the new normal. And all of that is going to prove useful as things move forward too. Staff will continue to make use of these new methods and technologies when the schools re-open so that any students who cannot physically attend classes can still access all of the relevant materials and teaching content.
The schools are of course especially conscious of the need to support their international students in this respect, as many of them will be unable to get to France in time for the start of term due to the current travel restrictions and the suspension of visa services. These young people have chosen to pursue their studies in France, motivated by the chance to develop their language skills in an immersive environment. Preparations are therefore underway to allow French language classes to run remotely in order to accommodate those who have had to remain overseas. Students will be able to attend the sessions either from home or via their university. This set-up will be maintained for as long as is necessary, whether that’s a few weeks or a few months, but the schools are ready to welcome their students in person just as soon as they can obtain a visa.
It is therefore now imperative that the French authorities do all they can to help get these students to France. This means working with institutions in the students’ home countries so that visas can be issued in time for the new academic year. The students all have an excellent academic record and the majority have already obtained funding from either the French government, their own government or a corporate sponsor. They have made the effort to learn our language in order to come and train as engineers in our country. These are the people who will help us achieve our goal of promoting the French engineering education system as a model of excellence – our future ambassadors. It is thus absolutely vital that they can immerse themselves in French culture as soon as possible and experience all that student life offers at the same time as their French classmates: the chance to make connections, to participate in extra-curricular activities, to meet the schools’ industrial partners and so on.
Many international graduates from the ParisTech schools go on to contribute to the economic development of our country. Some remain in France, helping to boost the growth of French companies. Others choose to return to their home country to work for French businesses that are seeking to increase their production capacity or export volumes. The companies benefit from the experience and bicultural knowledge of their highly-qualified new recruits, who are perfectly equipped to tackle ambitious projects.
These future engineers have the potential to enhance the attractiveness of the French higher education system, the French economy, and France in general. We must not let them down!
ParisTech is part of three Franco-Chinese institutes: Chimie Pékin (Beijing), SPEIT (Shanghai) and ICARE (Wuhan).
We asked Anouk Galtayries and Van-Bao Ta (co-directors of Chimie Pékin), Frédéric Toumazet (Dean of SPEIT), Michel Farine (European Dean of ICARE) and Laura Villette (ParisTech director in China) about their experience of the Covid-19 crisis.
What has it been like in China during the crisis? What support did you receive?
F.T.: In China, or in Shanghai to be precise, everyone seemed to be in a kind of stupor at first. The city was already empty because people had left for the Chinese New Year holiday, and the situation seemed surreal. After the first few days, the restrictions began: masks, sometimes gloves too, and stringent health checks.
L.V.: Somewhat paradoxically, the crisis has brought us closer to our Chinese partners. In February the ParisTech China Office sent messages of support to the directors of international relations at our partner universities. Christian Lerminiaux, President of ParisTech, followed up on this by writing letters of support to the presidents of those universities. And then when the crisis reached France, the roles were reversed and our Chinese partners reached out to us with words of encouragement and support.
How have things changed for your students?
M.F.: ICARE, which is part of HUST, is located in Wuhan, which was of course the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. Classes did not start up again after spring break and HUST is still closed to students. Teaching staff have just recently started returning to their labs, but are subject to strict health checks. We’ve felt fully supported by the Chinese-European team, who were all 100% committed to putting students’ needs first as we worked out how to best manage the crisis.
A.G./VB.T.: At Chimie Pékin, the management team decided to move teaching online. One challenge we’ve faced was the time difference, because some of our academic staff are still stuck in France. Using large-scale video conferencing tools and cloud storage solutions we’ve been able to set up two types of online classes: pre-recorded video sessions, and live broadcasts.
M.F.: From the middle of April, our European lecturers started putting up their classes online, usually as PowerPoint presentations with accompanying notes and audio comments, and we plan to continue working like this until August. Our students can therefore work independently from wherever they currently are (many international students have returned home, and our Chinese students are dispersed throughout the country) and then participate in live Q&A sessions with lecturers. Classroom-based exams will be held from September onwards so that students can complete the requirements for their French Master’s qualification.
F.T.: The biggest challenge was how to support our exchange students. In an already a complicated situation, we had to assist French students here who wanted to go home, and then when the crisis reached France, we had to turn our attention to students there who wanted to come back to China. With the crisis unfolding on a different timescale in the two countries, the health guidelines and restrictions were not always the same, and this led to considerable confusion and worry.
Would you say the crisis is over?
A.G./VB.T.: Sadly no, it’s a long way from being over. Yes, the situation has improved, but we’re not back to normal yet.
What arrangements have you made for the new term?
A.G./VB.T.: We already know that this new term is going to be like no other. There will still be restrictions in place, and lots of questions remain to be answered, in particular when and how students will return, what to do about recruiting new students, when travel restrictions will be lifted, etc.
M.F.: If our European staff cannot return to China in September, we will continue to run classes remotely. Chinese lecturers should be able to resume teaching as usual, but we don’t yet have any official information from HUST.
F.T.: We’ve learned a great deal about how to teach online. We’re going to need to continue to build on this and apply everything we’ve discovered during this period to our regular teaching activities.
You can access these interviews in full and read about the experiences of French staff in China here:
Anouk Galtayries, French Dean, and Van-Bao Ta, French Vice-Dean, manage the French-Sino Institute BUCT – Paris Curie Engineering School, also called “Chimie Pékin”, for the French side. A higher education institution, the institute results from a partnership between the Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT) and a consortium of French Graduate Schools of Chemistry, members of the French Fédération Gay-Lussac (FGL), represented by Chimie ParisTech. Chimie Pékin trains its students in chemical engineering (6 year curriculum).
• How did you experience the COVID-19 crisis in China?
The crisis surprised everyone at a time when the country was preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year. The local health situation quickly deteriorated across China, and several clusters appeared in the Beijing municipality. There was a palpable tension in the city.The first days or even weeks of confinement were worthy of a science fiction movie, with streets usually crowded, turning completely empty. We experienced long moments of doubt without knowing how the spread of covid-19 would develop in China. However, the problem was quickly handled seriously by local authorities, and strict and restrictive control measures were then put in place. We felt reassured. At the end of the Chinese New Year holidays, life started to resume timidly, but we had to face the facts: it was impossible to reopen our institute on the dates originally scheduled (February 17).
• How was the crisis managed with regard to the students?
As soon as the students’ return was postponed indefinitely, we immediately informed them of the implementation of online education, starting February 10, 2020. The university supported this approach, and made all necessary tools for the proper organization of these courses available. Despite technical but also geographical constraints, our teaching staff immediately responded to adapt their training content to an online synchronous curriculum (despite the time difference for some teachers).The students were able to familiarize themselves with these new tools and these new methods, enabling them in the end not to accumulate any delay regarding the programs.
• What main tools were used?
At Chimie Pékin, the management team decided to move teaching online. One challenge we’ve faced was the time difference, because some of our academic staff are still stuck in France. Using large-scale video conferencing tools and cloud storage solutions we’ve been able to set up two types of online classes: pre-recorded video sessions, and live broadcasts. In the first case, our teachers provide students with educational resources (videos, handouts, question forms, exercises, etc.). Specific slots were then reserved to allow students to ask questions, and to do tutorials. The second solution, meanwhile, is to teach the courses live.
• Is this crisis over for you?
Sadly no, it’s a long way from being over. Yes, the situation has improved, but we’re not back to normal yet.The administrative team has returned to the premises to ensure the continued operation of the school. On the other hand, the first returns to BUCT of certain students (students in their last year of bachelor and master degrees) are only scheduled for the beginning of June, and do not yet concern our students. Online teaching and tests will therefore continue, even though our students are tangibly and understandably running out of steam.
We will also have to manage human resources issues: the return of our teachers stranded abroad (including a new recruit who does not yet have a visa), and the recruitment of new teachers (associate professors, professors for French as a foreign language - FLE) have become very difficultchallenges in a constrained international context. Nonetheless, there are also positive points. We recruited new Chinese teachers: professor of chemistry, post-doc / teaching and research assistant, coordinator and professors of FLE. Confinement or not in China and France, work did not stop: the engineering cycle (that will start next semester) is being built, the expansion of our team did not stop, and so far, we are still following our original agenda. In a nutshell, the entire management and administrative team, both French and Chinese, has adapted perfectly to this crisis. We expect it to continue for some time.
• You are already preparing for the start of the 2020 academic year: what actions are planned for welcoming students and organizing classes?
Our teams are mobilized to prepare for the next school year. We already know that this new term is going to be like no other. There will still be restrictions in place, and lots of questions remain to be answered, in particular when and how students will return, what to do about recruiting new students, when we’ll be able to open the university, when travel restrictions will be lifted, etc. On top of these challenges, we are starting our engineering cycle next September, and welcoming our first teachers on short missions from France. We will have to be very flexible and adaptable.
• What lessons / perspectives do you draw from this crisis?
Despite all the difficulties, the COVID-19 crisis has shown our ability to adapt and find ever more innovative solutions. Our management team is already used to operating remotely, so we did not specifically need time to adapt. It is indeed a great force to be present and active in the two countries simultaneously, to cover working days of 17 hours, without simultaneous holidays, teleworking smoothly with Chinese communication tools etc. This is true in normal times, and proved to be an immediately operational asset in this unexpected context.
The crisis also reaffirmed the strong will of the French schools that founded the project to pursue the development of our institute, within the framework of the FGL, ParisTech and PSL. We are all working in the same direction, and this has made us very effective. In fact, we are working for the present but also for the immediate and more distant future, health crisis or not, and it is very motivating.
To follow Chimie Pékin:
Shanghai Jiao Tong – ParisTech Elite Institute of Technology (SPEIT) is the result of a strategic alliance between ParisTech and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. It unites the strengths of French graduate engineering schools (ENSTA Paris, MINES ParisTech, Telecom Paris, Ecole Polytechnique) and those of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, allowing SPEIT to train top engineers, and guaranteeing educational and research programs quality.
Frédéric Toumazet, French dean since September 2018, and two teachers – Fredy Tabourin, coordinator for FLE (French as a Foreign Language), and Arnaud Martin, teacher and coordinator in physics, deliver their testimonial.
How did you experience the COVID-19 crisis in China?
In China, or in Shanghai to be precise, everyone seemed to be in a kind of stupor at first. The city was already empty because people had left for the Chinese New Year holiday, and the situation seemed surreal. After the first few days, the restrictions began: masks, sometimes gloves too, and stringent health checks.Very quickly, in the first few days of the holidays, our institute administration sought to measure the extent of this crisis, and imagine solutions to deploy and ensure the educational continuum.
How was the crisis managed with regard to the students?
Our students were rapidly informed of the pedagogical decisions taken by SPEIT. Quickly, with great professionalism and a keen sense of responsibility, the teachers responded positively to the deans’ requests to set up online teaching demonstration and test sessions at the return from Chinese New Year holidays.
The validation of these models made it possible to start the semester as serenely as possible, and with only one week of delay on the original calendar.
F.T.: The biggest challenge was how to support our exchange students. In what was already a complicated situation, we had to assist French students here who wanted to go home, and then when the crisis reached France, we had to turn our attention to students there who wanted to come back to China. With the crisis unfolding on a different timescale in the two countries, the health guidelines and restrictions were not always the same, and this led to considerable confusion and worry.
What main tools were used?
F.T.: The tools made available were partly the tools conventionally used at SJTU and SPEIT (Canvas and Moodle), but we also massively used Zoom. Of course, the usual communication tools in China, such as WeChat, made it easier to use the other software. Depending on the discipline, the teachers used the tools made available differently.
F.Ta.: For French language courses, we immediately favored tools common to the entire teaching staff, relatively easy to use and most suited to the needs of our courses. Our choice therefore naturally fell on the tools offered by the university, namely Canvas (that allowed the provision of self-learning documents, and the deposit of students’ homework), and Zoom (for live sessions of interaction and Q&A with students). We also used traditional communication tools such as emails and WeChat.
A.M.: For physics, the solutions we adopted for online training were essentially the same as for other classes, so to facilitate access for students. They could easily go to the essential without having to learn how to use the tools, and thus concentrate on the subject taught. The Moodle platform was used to provide PDF documents and mp4. The videos posted there were recordings of lessons prepared by the teachers. They were based on PPT slides and on handouts given to the students, both commented by the teachers. Live online courses were also held: the professor would teach the course, with PPT slides or handouts shared with students, and when necessary, answer the students' questions live.
Is this crisis over for you?
F.T.: Unfortunately, the crisis is not over. We must find back the balance we had before: bring back students, teachers, resume ongoing relationships with our various academic and industrial partners ... It will take time.
You are already preparing for the start of the 2020 academic year: what actions are planned for welcoming students and organizing classes?
F.T.: It is very complicated today to foresee an "ordinary" return to school. On the one hand, we have no certainty on the reopening of campuses over time, neither in France nor in China, and no idea on the reopening of borders. How can we organize exchange semesters in these conditions? How can we welcome our teachers from partner schools for their missions? We’ve learned a great deal about how to teach online. We’re going to need to continue to build on this and apply everything we’ve discovered during this period to our regular teaching activities. We will undoubtedly have to keep in mind the need to cultivate these practices, either to replace or to supplement the traditional pedagogical tools.
What lessons / perspectives do you draw from this crisis?
F.T.: This crisis has undoubtedly shown certain weaknesses in our system. But not only. It has shown us our capacity to mobilize and defend our school and the values it defends, despite many difficulties. As the French Dean, I would like to congratulate and warmly thank the whole SPEIT family for their efforts.
The ICARE program (China-EU Institute for Clean and Renewable Energy), developed jointly with the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), is coordinated by MINES ParisTech. It was born of a desire to contribute to the development of Sino-European exchanges in areas related to renewable energies.
How did you experience the COVID-19 crisis in China? What support was given to you?
ICARE, which is part of HUST, is located in Wuhan, which was of course the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. Classes did not start up again after spring break and HUST is still closed to students. Teaching staff have just recently started returning to their labs, but are subject to strict health checks.
We’ve felt fully supported by the Chinese-European team, who were all 100% committed to putting students’ needs first as we worked out how to best manage the crisis.
How was the crisis managed with regard to the students?
From the middle of April, our European lecturers started putting up their classes online, usually as PowerPoint presentations with accompanying notes and audio comments, and we plan to continue working like this until August. Our students can therefore work independently from wherever they currently are (many international students have returned home, and our Chinese students are dispersed throughout the country) and then participate in live Q&A sessions with lecturers. Classroom-based exams will be held from September onwards so that students can complete the requirements for their French Master’s qualification.
What main tools were used?
Rain Classroom was used. It allows either delayed or real time teaching. Due to the internet connection quality between China and the different European countries present in ICARE, as well as difficulties linked to the jet lag and the fact that European teachers also teach in Europe, deferred training has been used. Some Q&A sessions are done in real time.
Is this crisis over for you?
No, because on the one hand HUST is not yet accessible, and on the other hand we have no assurance that European professors will be authorized by their respective universities to return to China in September 2020 for the start of the academic year.
You are already preparing for the start of the 2020 academic year: what actions are planned for welcoming students and organizing classes?
On May 14 and 15, 2020, we organized the recruitment for the 2020 promotion. It was done via video conference for the candidates. Four Chinese teachers and two Chinese assistants from the European team in a HUST classroom, and two European teachers on WeChat, participated to this conference.
If our European staff cannot return to China in September, we will continue to run classes remotely. Chinese lecturers should be able to resume teaching as usual, but we don’t yet have any official information from HUST.
What lessons / perspectives do you draw from this crisis?
The most important lesson is one in optimism: despite the intensity of the epidemy in Wuhan, and its spread to the European countries, members of ICARE, we were able to save the academic year. The Sino-European teams kept working together remotely, provided courses, managed 10 students who stayed in France, and recruited the next promotion. This shows that very strong links exist between all team members (professors and administrators) participating in this adventure.
Developments and prospects will very much depend on these strong links between the team members of this emblematic Sino-European cooperation project…. But not only on them.
Clément Robbe is a senior associate Professor in Physics at Chimie Pékin since September 1, 2018. Chimie Pékin is a Sino-French Institute lead by Chimie ParisTech and Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT). He shares his educational experience in times of pandemic and confinement.
"When my partner and I returned to Beijing on February 19, China was still immersed in the COVID-2019 psychosis. We then imagined the start of the semester being postponed for a few weeks, and we prepared for a return to our respective campuses in early March. We couldn't be more wrong ... Today is May 4, 2020 and we can barely see the blurred outlines of an upcoming reopening.
However, we did not remain inactive during these weeks of semi-isolation, and were able to embark full-time on the great challenge of social distancing: distance education. Our students, thirsty for knowledge and weary of this never-ending vacation, could then rejoice: if they could not go to the university, the university would go to them. In their pajamas, and in the comfort of their family living room, they reveled in the educational wonders concocted by their teachers scattered throughout the four corners of the globe.
Among the vast panel of 2.0 means that the 21st century provides us with, to inflict our courses on our dedicated students, two in particular caught my colleagues’ and I attention:
- “real time” courses at a fixed time, as we would do on campus,
- videos made available every week on a dedicated server.
Teachers then pick one or the other of these methods, or even, for digital adventurers, an intelligent combination of the two.
My personal choice fell on the making of videos, posted every Monday morning, so as to treat half a chapter per week, with a video call with all the students every Friday to answer the questions sent to me during the week. On paper, this formula was ideal for me, it allowed students whose main difficulty lies in understanding the language to consult the content at leisure, as many times as they wanted. This allowed at the end week that only problems related to physics itself would remain, which we would clear up in one video call.
This formula also had the advantage of allowing me to adjust my schedule. With three roommates (some of whom also do distance education), and a cat keen on photobombing, it could indeed be particularly difficult to make a video call from more than 10 minutes without an animal appearing on the screen (cat and roommates included) or sitting on my keyboard (only the cat, my roommates are well trained). In addition to these videos (generally ten or so per week, between 1:30 and 2 hours each), weekly exercises were added, with a work report every two to three weeks, so as to force (if necessary) students to work. After a little over two months of this formula, time had come for an overview.
The first remarks I will make will concern the intrinsic technical quality of my videos. The first observation to make is the following: not everyone who wants to be Stanley Kubrick can be Stanley Kubrick. It is obvious watching my videos that we are far from Hollywood standards. You cannot improvise yourself as a director in a day, especially when all the equipment you have is a smartphone and a computer. Here is, for the anecdote, the way I chose to proceed (technophobes can refrain from reading):
- for each lesson, a slideshow was prepared, then broadcasted on my computer screen;
- a dedicated application allowed me to use my phone as a webcam, by connecting it to my internet box, in order to send the image to VLC media player. My phone then placed on a lectern, judiciously converted for the occasion, allowed me to film a sheet of paper playing the role of the whiteboard;
- a screen capture software then allowed me to record my slideshow, the audio being captured by my headphones’ microphone;
- finally, an editing software allowed me to edit the video (deletion of unnecessary moments, of meowing background noises, or of whiskers appearing on the screen);
- last, the file was to be uploaded to the dedicated server. Once the process well set, the realization of a 15 minute video would take me around 45 minutes (against several hours at the beginning), for a final result relatively satisfying, without being fantastic (I challenge anyone to watch the hours of video I have now compiled in one go without being overwhelmed by a certain intellectual weariness which, in extreme cases, could turn to boredom).
Now let’s talk about the reception of these videos by the students, and my impressions on the quality of the training provided. Firstly, this teaching method can work: I was able to observe in some students a real enthusiasm, and a will to work commanding respect. For serious and hardworking students, this type of training at home, allowing them to organize their own time, can be a successful method. However, this only concerns a small number of students, and today, after several months of weekly videos, even the most serious begin to tire. Over the weeks, questions about the chapters covered have dried up, so much so that my Friday live sessions now boil down to sending out a questionnaire marked "Do you have any questions?", unanimously answered in the negative by 53 students. Others, more optimistic than I am, would attribute this phenomenon to exceptionally clear course materials, and explanatory videos worthy of an oriental "C’est pas sorcier!" TV show. As a moderate pessimist, I rather imagine my courses materials being relegated to a corner of my students' computer, between an episode of "Game of Thrones" and a "League of Legends" play.
I will finally conclude this article by giving my final opinion, of course completely subjective and personal, on this distance learning experience.
My impression is that, by massively resorting to technical means that I had only a partial command of, my profession has gone from being a professor to being a mediocre "entertainer". In the classroom, I already had to fight WeChat and the constant invasion of notifications, reducing the attention span of my students to nothing. Today, I am afraid that the precious megabytes of my time will end up in my students' SPAM mailbox.
Before, like any teacher, I could sometimes get intense satisfaction, when I read in the eyes of these young people a real interest in physics, a discipline that fascinates me. Now I am posting videos, like throwing a bottle into the sea, hoping that they end up somewhere on the shore of their attention. Though we are struggling to invent ways to still organize exams, while avoiding cheating, it seems that my mission is more to justify obtaining a French stamp on a diploma, rather than to really care about each student. In particular to care about those less studious, whom we abandon by the side of the road.
As you will probably have understood by now, I am one of those who believe that a direct student-teacher transmission is necessary for effective learning. I am relatively skeptical about distance education. If it can prove to be a valuable asset in support of traditional teaching, allowing serious students to shine, it cannot, in my opinion, constitute in itself a quality training for the majority of students. We can certainly congratulate ourselves on the success met in recent months by mature and applied students, but above all we must prepare to reintegrate some students who, academically speaking, are today in a situation of distress. Fortunately, as life begins again in Beijing, we can be reassured, everything is going back to normal, and this situation will soon resume."
Ronan Feneux is a Senior Associate Professor in Chemistry, and the Chemistry Coordinator at Chimie Pékin. He works at this Sino-French Institute since September 1, 2019 He delivers his testimonial on distance teaching.
"February 10, the news is now confirmed: Beijing University of Chemical Technology will not re-open its doors the following week, and the first weeks on the new semester must be organized online. Eventually the entire spring semester had to be delivered online. The first question that arose was not "How to teach remotely?", which, apart from practical work, did not seem insurmountable, but rather "How to learn remotely in a foreign language?".
Indeed, in our teaching context, we have to tackle the more specific question of the French language mastery by our Chinese students. After a quick survey, confirming that all our students are well-equipped and connected and that they have a satisfactory workspace, I quickly opted for the solution of offering 2 "live" chemistry lessons each week. This solution made it possible to maintain regular contact with them, a working tempo, and their oral comprehension skills, developed since the start of the preparatory cycle. Specific video lessons made it possible to reinforce precise methodological aspects (e.g. determining the value of a mixed potential or representing a reaction mechanism).
The first experiences of "live" lessons showed that the main challenge was to maintain the attention of our students throughout the course. The teacher had none of the visual indicators that usually allow him to detect if the class is dropping out or not. So, I decided to use online questionnaires (on Microsoft FORMS, functional in China) to instantly check the understanding of a concept developed during the course, or to train students through application exercises. These changes in rhythm allowed each student to regularly adjust his attention, and the teacher to regulate his intervention according to the observed feedback.
Online education brought its first and true advantage. Our classes count between 50 and 80 students: when delivering courses face-to-face, the most brilliant students monopolized most of the teacher-student exchanges, whereas online teaching allowed each student to have the same visibility and the same access to the teacher. For the teacher, these snapshots on some students’ learning process sometimes brought disappointment, but above all constituted a corpus of precious data to adapt his teaching, and offer activities to build up students’ capacities. Capacities that were fragile for the greatest number, and could be now observed without the phase shift observed in a more traditional sequence of courses / evaluation / remediation.
Great prospects are opening up, to develop new teaching strategies for the next school year, and for conventional classroom teaching of course!"
Laura Villette took her post in Shanghai in September 2019. Just arrived, she had to manage the selection of candidates willing to study engineering at ParisTech schools and PhD candidates. She used the confinement period to strengthen ties with ParisTech’s partners in China, and follow up with the selected candidates.
"The pandemic obviously impacted our work: since the end of January 2020, and the closure of university campuses, access to our office (located within Tongji University, in Shanghai), has been restricted. My colleague, Yuan Yuan Shen, can now go there, after obtaining an authorization, but I still can’t.
Higher education has been, and remains, one of the sectors most affected by the crisis. ParisTech is no exception. We recruit Chinese students every year for our engineering degrees (through an international admission program, known as the 9 + 9 program in China), as well as PhD candidates (through the ParisTech - CSC PhD program). To do so, we organize an annual promotion mission in the spring: the directors of International Relations from our schools come to China to present the 9+9 program and their schools, meet with our partner universities.
This year recruitments for the 9+9 program were finalized in January 2020 (for students due to start their degrees in France in September 2020). The recruitment of PhD candidates was underway during the confinement in China. For the former, it was important to maintain regular contact, to ensure that despite the many uncertainties about the world situation, their motivation to go to France was not impacted, that they could continue to learn French despite the shutdown of the Alliances Françaises, and finally, that the procedures to obtain a CSC scholarship (China Scholarship Council) remained fluid. Only very few students withdrew so far, but we must now be reassuring about the situation in France, about the possibility of welcoming them in September, or failing that, to guarantee them educational continuity at the start of the 2020 academic year. We are working on it.
The PhD candidates’ recruitment campaign suffered relatively little impact, most of the procedures being done online (interviews with supervisors, CSC grant applications). Our agreement with the CSC offers 30 doctoral scholarships each year: around forty applications have been submitted, confirming the attractiveness of this program.
The 2020 spring promotion mission was of course cancelled. We therefore reacted in March 2020 to compensate for this, by digitalizing the campaign, with video testimonials from Chinese students in France, videos presenting our schools, our engineering diplomas, etc. We now have new tools. We also participated in webinars organizing by Campus France China. We also organizing one ourselves on May 20, 2020. This webinar took place simultaneously in the countries where we recruit (Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Russia). The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled us to accelerate the digitalization of our communication tools, to explore new ways of reaching students and alumni. We will be able to perpetuate some of these tools in the future.
Somewhat paradoxically, the crisis has brought us closer to our Chinese partners. In February the ParisTech China Office sent messages of support to the directors of international relations at our partner universities. Christian Lerminiaux, President of ParisTech, followed up on this by writing letters of support to the presidents of the various universities. And then when the crisis reached France, the roles were reversed and our Chinese partners reached out to us with words of encouragement and support. These exchanges enabled us to establish or renew ties, and sometimes even to initiate discussions on new agreements.
Our alumni associations also reacted fast, through various initiatives (support for the Red Cross, purchase of medical equipment for France). Long before the French Government took action, ParisTech also launched a fund to support students whose financial situation was damaged during the crisis. This has allowed us to help more than 15 students so far.
Today, China is slowly emerging from the crisis. But it is of course too early to say the crisis is over: how can we encourage human exchanges when most of the borders are still closed, and there is uncertainty about short- and medium-term conditions? Our reflections and work today relate to these questions."
Where to find ParisTech China:
- WeChat (scan the QR code)