Reflections on Corona Virus – working and studying remotely, preparing for a VIRTUAL FUTURE?

Corona Virus (Covid-19) started in Wuhan, Hubei province, China in Dec 2019.  On 3 Feb A group of Authors wrote this article for Bloomberg on “Coronavirus Forces World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment”:

I enjoyed reading this article, taking in a very different but highly relevant perspective on the current outbreak.  In the 11 days since reading this article I have been thinking a lot on this and other ways the outbreak has been affecting us, my business, my clients etc.

The article talks about this outbreak forcing us to undertake the world’s largest experience in working from home.   And with so many organisations all around the world collaborating and working with China, it is forcing us to use tech to carry on with as much business as usual as possible, and doing what we can virtually.   Cities in China a relatively quiet, with people staying in, working from home, only heading out for groceries and chemist supplies.  My Faculty had students placed in Shanghai for summer internships – companies told them and all their employees to go home, but they could not return to Australia.  They have sought refuge with friends/relatives in China and we are working with them to offer them a virtual internship experience as an alternative.  In my Faculty we offer a wonderful Virtual Internship Program, with students grouped to work as consultants with a firm based somewhere overseas – a real business problem, scope, time frames, KPIs etc, and instead of the student interns being face to face onsite in the firm, they collaborate via ZOOM and other platforms to meet with their employer, understand the scope of their project, meet for discussions and be sure they are on track.  At the end the student group presents back to the firm via ZOOM on their findings/report/recommendations.  Our virtual internship program connects students to companies all over the world… and the bonus is the students get credit for this into their degree.

Working in higher education, in a Business/Law Faculty where we have a large number of Chinese students, I would also argue this is also an experiment for Australian universities to collaborate effectively in an online environment with our students currently staying on China mainland.  In a G08 university where we predominantly teach face to face, we are now very rapidly trying to determine can we offer appropriate and sufficient courses online, lectures, tutorials, group work and other forms of learning?  Maintaining learning efficacy and digitising very large volumes of course content to still be interactive, meaningful, visually stimulating etc… across undergrad, postgrad, trimester, semester, intensive mode teaching, across 100’s of degree programs just in my uni alone, well needless to say… the undertaking is massive.   I understand my University also faces tech issues in reaching our students in China, blocked from using the University’s preferred email platform for all formal student correspondence, gmail.  It is a very large and complex problem with many staff contributing their energy supporting newly formed crisis teams/task forces looking into how to rapidly and efficiently respond to these challenges.

One of my colleagues came home early from China when she saw the early stages of the outbreak.  Her and her husband went into their 14 days self-isolation quarantine at home.  We have used zoom, face time, jabber, and teleconferences to continue to work with her, and just for fun sent a pack of goodies to her house with some of her favourite treats including chocolate and a jig saw puzzle just so she knew we missed her here and are looking forward to her being back in the office next week.

Then looking longer term…. What visa and working rights implications will there be for those students who cannot be here on campus to study for a particular duration of their studies – will it affect their eligibility timing for Permanent Residency applications and so forth?  I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions but these are the questions that come to my mind as my University moves forward trying to tackle these challenges head on.  Most university students are likely to all have global futures in some form or another.  Many jobs of the future are not yet known to us. 

This outbreak is suddenly promoting a lot more flexible and remote working conditions and some companies might be taking on such practices for the first time, and other organisations, just never before on this scale. 

Perhaps in addressing ways to remotely teach our Chinese students, Australian universities will find new, more innovative, more rewarding online learning experiences.  Some may know I am mostly optimistic most of the time.  Looking at this current challenge, full of distress, worry and fear,

I can see a silver lining here - what a fantastic way to prepare our modern day students for their global futures.

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