São Paulo, Brazil
Technology has changed the way we see, do and think about various aspects of everyday life, one of which is teaching and learning. This is the case at Centro Universitario Adventista de São Paulo, which has expanded its learning experiences thanks to e-learning platforms like Blackboard Open LMS.
Centro Universitario Adventista de São Paulo (UNASP) is a higher education institution established over 100 years ago, with four campuses in the city of São Paulo: São Paulo (central headquarters), Engenheiro Coelho, Hortolandia and Virtual. Each campus offers a wide range of technical, undergraduate and postgraduate courses and programs.
UNASP’s philosophy is based on the respect and fostering of Adventist beliefs, and covers a broad range of areas within the spiritual, intellectual, physical and social, through faith in God and respect for the dignity of human beings.
The curriculum has been designed with the aim of promoting academic excellence without overlooking values, beliefs and guiding principles. And although it might be thought that these precepts strictly dictate the university’s educational content and teaching methods, UNASP boasts innovative learning strategies through the use of online tools.
UNASP offers virtual courses, which according to the university’s Virtual Campus Director, Valcenir do Vale Costa, encourages the institution to break away from established paradigms about education in Brazil, and globally, where the teacher is seen as the most important figure in the classroom, as he or she is “the carrier of knowledge and ‘knows everything.’”
Distance education can play a role in changing this often-outdated way of thinking, as the focus is placed on the student who can play a more active and participatory role in the class. This means that the myth that the quality of education provided online is not the same as in face-to-face classes has had to be overcome, which the university has successfully done, due to the significant results achieved since 2005 when distance education was first introduced and supported by Blackboard Open LMS.
“Technology isn’t going to replace the teacher, but if the teacher doesn’t look to incorporate technology, he or she is going to end up outside the classroom [and obsolete].”
This has been a fundamental part of the process because it is “the communication channel between the institute and the student, aside from being where all our material is posted,” explains Valcenir.
Currently, students can complete 20% of their academic load via the online platform. There are approximately 15,000 undergraduate students in face-to-face programs who also study various distance courses, and 300 students in postgraduate programs. Additionally, there are low cost courses for anyone who might be interested in a short-term online learning experience (10 to 40 hours).
The use of diverse online resources for education has opened up new opportunities for learning and collaboration at the university. The country in general is also benefiting greatly from these methods, as teaching and education are being democratized, and innovative practices which other countries have already successfully adopted are coming into Brazil’s education landscape. Distance learning also offers a great benefit in terms of time because of the great distances in a sprawling city like São Paulo, where a student has to travel between their home, place of employment and the university. With distance education, learners can study at their own pace or by arranging their schedules to suit their needs and lifestyle.
Teaching staff at UNASP felt somewhat reluctant when the implementation of online learning began. They thought it was something very new and weren’t totally clear on what they were up against. However, as online classes developed, their perception changed radically. Three key elements began to come together: having the right tools, mastering them, and making the most proper, ideal and harmonious use of online tools.
All faculty members are trained and constantly learning about the applications and the digital space, as “Technology isn’t going to replace the teacher, but if the teacher doesn’t look to incorporate technology, he or she is going to end up outside of the classroom [and obsolete],” affirms Valcenir.
Every effort is therefore constantly being made to train and motivate teaching staff, and ensure they are fully aware of the possibilities within education technology to improve teaching processes and student results.
Where Is UNASP at in Comparison With Other Institutes?
There is great diversity in the field of education in Brazil, and many universities had already introduced online education by the time UNASP made the decision to do so. As a result, the university has taken full advantage of this, since it has learned from the processes used by other higher education institutions and has thus been able to improve its own strategy and ensure quality in its programs.
* Valcenir do Vale Costa, Virtual Campus Director, Centro Universitario Adventista de São Paulo.
* AFP Miguel Schincariol.