With the beginning of the academic year approaching, students are excitedly preparing to commence their studies in universities across the world. There is of course uncertainty as to how campus life will be as Covid-19 continues to affect us globally.
Prague is increasingly known as an international destination for university education. Students from all over the Czech Republic and the world come for quality training, the relatively affordable living expenses, and let’s be honest, the fun nightlife!
Nights out may be curtailed with the government’s decision to shut clubs and restaurants by midnight, but what else can students expect when they start university? We asked the Deputy Director & Head of Academic Services at Prague College, Jeff Buehler, for his thoughts.
You usually have students coming from the Czech Republic, Europe, and further abroad to Prague, to start their studies. Have their plans changed due to Covid-19?
Yes and No. Students are still very interested in continuing their studies and starting new degree programs, but Covid has been an issue for those who need visas. Many embassies were closed causing delays in visa applications, adding to this are a few countries who will not grant permission for their citizens to leave. We realized these issues early on, so we have been fully committed to developing ‘hybrid’ classrooms which means that ALL our students can attend classes in real-time, either in-person or online via our Digital Campus.
When it comes to both our local and international students, the most important thing has been to keep them and their parents fully informed of our policies and contingency plans. This has given our students the confidence to travel to Prague; they’ll either make it on time or join us at a later date when travel and visas make it possible. Either way, we can continue to educate them, regardless of their location.
What can students expect when they set foot on campus?
Well firstly, everyone will be required to wear masks in common areas and in classrooms if a government directive comes through. Hand sanitizer stations will be available in common areas and classrooms.
The biggest change is that a number of students won’t be physically here, but still present in the classroom thanks to a combination of software and investment in new camera technology, creating what we call ‘hybrid’ classrooms. Our ‘hybrid’ classroom model was successfully tested during our Summer School in June, where our on-campus students in Prague worked in real-time alongside their fellow students, for example, residing in India and Austria.
What safety measures has your university taken to keep students and staff safe?
For in-person lessons we have implemented a “week-in” with teaching on campus, followed by a “week-out” with teaching in the Digital Campus to minimize the risk of infection transmission; our college also has small class sizes so social distancing is more manageable. We ensure that classroom windows are kept open as long as possible and are opened, in-between classes. Students and teachers are able to wipe down surfaces with disinfectant and wipes provided by the college.
Our students will experience a mix of in-person teaching and online delivery via our Digital Campus. It very much depends on the program as some of our subjects require the use of specialized equipment, dedicated studio spaces, and also collaborative, hands-on group work.
How about the social aspect of university life?
With a large group of creative students and teachers, our university naturally offers a rich program of art exhibitions, a bi-monthly Visiting Artist Lecture program, and regular student parties and activities. These will continue with personal distance measures in place and be limited in numbers. They will also be offered to our remote students online via our Digital Campus. During lockdown our events team and students from the Creative Media Production program managed to run online parties, quizzes, exhibitions, and lectures after mastering live streaming technologies, which actually increased our audience reach.
What will happen if the government decides to close down schools and universities?
Back in March, we were very proud to be the first university to switch to online classes the day after the government directive. We had been training our staff and students in the months beforehand in anticipation of a shut down, so the process went surprisingly smoothly. We feel confident that with our new investment in hybrid classrooms and our resilient staff and students that we will be able to thrive and adapt as before.
How do you see the future?
Until a vaccine is available, we need to accept the ‘new norms’ of mask wearing, personal distancing, increased hygiene measures, and be adaptable to ensuring education can continue regardless of the conditions. No matter the long-term outlook, our university is committed to maintaining hybrid classrooms for flexible learning opportunities regardless of circumstances and location. When the pandemic is finally defeated some of these practices will remain, for instance, more opportunities for distance learning, and the use of conferencing software such as Zoom and live-streaming of physical events.
It’s been a challenging year, but creative. I’m proud of our students and lecturers and how they still bring such energy and enthusiasm to class, under unprecedented circumstances. We are looking forward to welcoming our new and returning students this semester and supporting their academic success.
Established in 2004, Prague College has become one of the most successful universities in Central Europe, offering British Foundation, Bachelor’s and Master’s level degrees in Business, Art & Design, Creative Media Production & IT through their strategic partnership with Teesside University in the United Kingdom.