Students & Faculty Adjust to Online Curriculum
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools and universities all over the world to use virtual platforms to accommodate online learning. The College in Carmen Pampa is no different.
On March 13, three days after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Bolivia, the government implemented a swift suspension of all in-person classes nationwide. Since then the College has forged ahead with virtual classes — despite the challenges this presents.
Online learning has been challenging for UAC-CP students. UAC-CP Director General José Luis Beltran explains that the main difficulty is the unreliable and poor quality internet service in Bolivia’s rural communities. Several students have reported that they’ve had to hike up hills or mountains to be able to detect and access cellular data signals to download lectures and homework. Other students find that poor or spotty internet service causes parts of live lectures to cut out intermittently.
As a majority of students don’t have regular access to free WiFi or unlimited data plans, the cost of purchasing cellular data to attend Zoom classes or complete online assignments is also prohibitive. In addition, the cost of phone cards, which are used in Bolivia to purchase cellular data on a pay-as-you-go basis, have increased during the pandemic.
José Luis says the College has tried its best to accommodate students and faculty during this difficult time. The UAC-CP provided special training for professors to help them learn about resources and strategies for online instruction. Staff has also reached out to students who reported not having phones or computers at home to be able to do their school work.
UAC-CP professor Andrés Pardo admits that while the circumstances aren’t ideal, it’s pushed him to discover creative ways to teach that are accessible to all students. He prefers to use the relatively inexpensive WhatsApp phone messaging service to record and send audio lessons, accompanied by readings and assignments that can be downloaded. He has even used WhatsApp to proctor virtual exams.
“It’s definitely more time on our part as professors to teach,” says Andres, who estimates that he spends about twice as much time preparing for his classes than before.
Students and professors at the UAC-CP say they are making the best of the situation using what few resources they have available.
Ecotourism student Bryan Piloy says even though he misses the hands-on nature of in-person classes, he is glad the College is providing online learning, which will allow him to graduate later this year. Although he sometimes struggles with a poor internet signal, he is “making every effort to stay up-to-date with my classes and complete my assignments on time.”
José Luis, who is one of 19 administrators still living and working on campus due to travel restrictions, says he tries to remain focused on the positive. “Without a doubt, it’s a difficult situation — especially considering that the College is known for its hands-on practical approach,” he says. “But we have to adjust to what the present day reality is and hopefully it will give us the opportunity to learn new skills that will serve us once we return to life after this pandemic.”
The College is currently working with Catholic University of Bolivia, which provides academic accreditation for the UAC-CP, to determine how and when to safely re-open, with special consideration for Bolivian law.