Several times, throughout this year and during the pandemic period, we wanted to give voice to a group of people who always move discreetly behind the scenes and ensure that all the work happens. Subtle and silent, many were those who worked late at night to predict and plan all the implementation paths so that students never lost academic routines, whether in person or at a distance.
We were missing the report from the Academic Area group and so we got it. Through Dolores Machado, head of division, and Pedro Marçal, coordinator of the academic unit, here are the words of those who take care of the organization between Faculty and students on a daily basis.
A change that started in March and that altered almost the entire system as we knew it, 8 months later how are we working? What has changed? Are there things that this crisis has taught us to deal with differently? How have students reacted to the changes?
In an area where face-to-face contact with students and other users is very strong, and where many of the procedures are computerised, starting telework in March 2020 and seeing many of the basic assumptions of our procedures changed, led to the need to stop and, for each situation, identify the best way to obtain the same results in a different way. Have the most appropriate procedures always been adopted? Looking back today, I may say no, but today we have the experience of having lived those moments and being able to analyse what went well and what could have gone better.
In late February, we started to be contacted by students who had been in Italy for the Mardi Gras period; incoming Erasmus students, namely Italians who had also gone home at that time and outgoing Erasmus students who were in pandemic risk areas and who were torn between staying or ending their mobility and return to Portugal.
As the days went by and following the pandemic situation in Italy, we began to realize that this was not going to be a quick-fix crisis.
In March, we had to think about what we could do to respond to needs, in a quick way because time was short and changes in procedures were many and transversal to all sectors of the Academic Area. It was necessary to formulate response plans in a timely manner to ensure the stability of academic procedures, particularly critical in relation to graduation, enrolment, registration of new students and receipt of documentation.
There were many changes that the Academic Area was faced with, such as:
- Suspension of year 6 clinical internships;
- Impossibility of face-to-face discussion of the Final Works of the Integrated Master Degree in Medicine;
- Impossibility of receiving documentation from Partner Health Institutions on paper;
- Change in the assessment formats of the course units, which made it impossible to carry out computerized procedures;
- Elimination of face-to-face assessment in paper and pencil exams and participation in the online assessment model through QuizOne. Unlike the paper-based, a stable and intensive assessment of the last decade, QuizOne was a totally new reality, for which it was necessary to fill the entire structure in a very short time (degrees, course units, students and user profiles);
- Alteration in the teaching modes of classes and need to articulate face-to-face classes with videoconference classes;
- Change in the size of the classrooms in order to comply with the social distance rules defined by the DGS;
- Interruption of ongoing mobility and cancellation of mobility for 2020/2021;
- Suspension of the Special Exam for Access to the Medical Degree for Holders of a Bachelor Degree;
- Cancellation of the Examination Period for Specific Recognition of Foreign Degrees;
These are just a few examples to illustrate some of the changes that have occurred in the various sectors of the Academic Area.
If in certain situations the impossibility of being able to perform our tasks in person has led to the implementation of online procedures that will be maintained for the added value they have brought, such as the implementation of the online re-entry application, which allows candidates to do their entire application without having to go to the Faculty, there were other situations when the changes introduced meant losing the automatic procedures that took us years to introduce in the students' academic management system.
The change in the course units' assessment model, motivated by the impossibility of performing them in person, and the cancellation of the year 6 clinical internship, prevented the automatic execution of the procedures for launching grades, enrolment in grade improvement exams and calculation of the final classification of the year 6 clinical internship, becoming procedures that had to be performed manually, with a substantial increase in the tasks to be conducted by all those who are assigned to these areas, whether they are colleagues in the Academic Area or colleagues in the Administrative Area sectors, a sector that has a very direct connection to the Academic Area in certain areas.
As time went by, and because the Faculty cannot stop, procedures were rethought and interrupted processes were resumed, as was the case of the Special Exam for Access to the Medical Degree for Holders of a Bachelor Degree (making it possible to allow enrolment and registration of these new students together with year 1 students, 1st time, entered through the National Access Exam). Candidates to the Specific Recognition to the Integrated Study Cycle of the Master Degree in Medicine of Portuguese Medical Schools were welcomed after an alternative date was established.
The enrolment/registration of year 1 students, 1st time, without physically going to the Faculty was also a challenge. The academic management system was prepared by the Vice Chancellor’s Office of the University of Lisbon to receive documentation, but sometimes what is done for the first time requires last minute adjustments and improvements that for sure next year will already be implemented, but that posed difficulties that had to be addressed at the time. All the sharing and interaction between students from more advanced years and freshmen and between freshmen did not exist. Was that good? No, but it was what was possible and new students already walk our corridors, less often, but certainly with a lot of will and belief that the old normality will return and that they will be able to fully enjoy their academic life.
Eight months later, we are still in a pandemic situation, and for this reason, some of the constraints remain. Although teleworking is privileged, in compliance with the legal provisions in force, we physically maintain a permanent colleague in each of the sectors. This facilitates the articulation between those who are teleworking and those working at the Faculty.
With the experience acquired in the past, we are trying to recover the automatic procedures lost in the last semester and maintain those developed during the first wave of the pandemic.
What we also have to value was the permanent interaction between the Academic Area and the AEFML and the Course Committees, always available to support all procedures and to provide the necessary information to all students in the best possible way so that none of them lost information about changed procedures or information needed for their academic paths.
With eyes on the future, and the growing desire to recover what we lost at a certain point, the academic mobility sector organised clarification sessions with a view to resuming mobility in the academic year 2021/2022. We believe, or at least we hope, that in the next academic year we can have circulation restored again and that there are conditions for our students to enjoy an enriching experience in another country and higher education institutions and to enable us to welcome students from other countries at our institution so that they can also learn from us.
Additionally, remote work put on the agenda skills derived from the intensive use of technologies. For illustrative purposes we can indicate that 275 final works of the Integrated Master Degree in Medicine were discussed through videoconference, 53 interviews were carried out with candidates to the Special Exam for Bachelor Degree Holders and 20 tests in the scope of the degree recognition process of foreign doctors were discussed.
It is necessary to give due recognition to all colleagues in the Academic Area.
In the context of managing teams in a digital environment, in a crisis environment, teleworking and at the same time reinforcing collaboration links at a distance, it was only possible to achieve good results thanks to the availability of colleagues, who used their personal computers and mobile phones, and to the great team spirit, dedication, extraordinary commitment and a sense of belonging to the institution.
The colleagues developed all the procedures that allowed that, at the end of the academic year, everything that needed to be completed indeed was, and at the beginning of the new academic year, everything that needed to be prepared, effectively was.
We shall continue investing to achieve the objectives defined for the Academic Area, believing that we will soon overcome the pandemic situation, with the certainty that as long as we are in a pandemic situation, together we will be able to give response to adversity, to evolve and innovate.
Academic Area Head of Division
Coordinator of the Academic Unit