WMU - Staying Connected in Uncertain Times
The threat of the novel coronavirus is having a global impact as countries try to curb the spread of the virus and individuals take measures to shelter in place and practice physical distancing. Across the WMU community, students, staff and faculty are all adjusting to new ways of staying connected to ensure that the World Maritime University (WMU) is continuing its mission and ensuring the delivery of quality education, research and capacity building.
As of 17 March, all classes and lectures for the Malmö MSc programme moved to online learning, and teleworking was encouraged for all faculty staff and researchers as of 19 March. It is essentially “business as usual,” but in new and unusual ways. Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of WMU said, “The speed with which we all have adapted to these uncertain times and new working and teaching methods is impressive. We are fortunate to be able to stay virtually connected during this important time of physical distancing, and I am heartened regarding the different ways the WMU community is maintaining close connections and continuing our important work. Classes are taking place online, colleagues are staying virtually connected, and we held our Executive Board meeting, as scheduled, via distance as well.”
A Message from the WMU Chancellor
Mr. Kitack Lim, Secretary of the International Maritime Organization and WMU Chancellor, issued a message to all staff and students at both WMU and her sister institution, the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI). As a WMU alumnus, Mr. Lim has a particular appreciation for the close connections established among those who work and study at WMU. He expressed his appreciation that lectures are continuing remotely and commended the proactive attitude and effective precautions taken by all concerned to adjust to the challenging circumstances. He also stressed the importance of staying connected socially, while maintaining physical distance.
“It is very important to start to explore ways of how to keep you engaged, motivated and resilient by working/studying virtually. Wherever you are, near or far, I urge you all to continue supporting each other as one big family. I want to reassure you that we will continue to care for our staff, students and families alike, and truly do hope everyone remains safe and calm through this turbulent situation,” said Mr. Lim.
Malmö students are currently in their second term when they focus on courses specific to their respective seven specializations that include: Maritime Education & Training, Maritime Energy Management; Maritime Law & Policy; Maritime Safety & Environmental Administration; Ocean Sustainability, Governance & Management; Port Management; and Shipping Management and Logistics. Lectures by both faculty and guest lecturers are continuing via Zoom, and lecturers are communicating with the students extensively through emails and also inquiring about wellbeing via Zoom.
All but a handful of WMU students in the Malmö MSc programme live at the Henrik Smith Residence (HSR) which is located about 2.5km from the university. Students in Malmö come from roughly 50 countries each year, so they are used to being far away from home and keeping in touch with loved ones remotely. Now they are taking advantage of their expertise in keeping in touch to participate in classes from their private apartments using Zoom.
Professor Jens-Uwe Schröder-Hinrichs, Vice President (Academic), noted that WMU has significant experience in delivering distance learning programmes and that particular expertise has proved to be an asset in the move to online learning. “The faculty have done an impressive job with ensuring that the students are able to seamlessly continue their studies, and the students have adjusted to, and embraced, the new learning environment,” he said.
WMU Associate Professor, Henning Jessen, teaches in the Maritime Law and Policy specialization and has led lectures via Zoom from his home, as well as from the University headquarters in Malmö. “I am definitely missing having direct interaction and communication with the participants in the seminar room, but in Zoom it is still possible for the students to ask questions or to comment on the substance of the lecture, albeit in a more structured manner,” he said. He acknowledged the need to adjust quickly to the new reality of lecturing by distance and is interested in ways to enhance the online experience through methods such as blended learning as well as structured question and answer sessions that foster student engagement.
The majority of classes are following the regular schedule that was set prior to the move to online learning. Syntyche Baba Haruna from Nigeria serves as President of the WMU Women’s Association. She commented that the online learning experience is working out well and everyone is adjusting to the new format. “The classes were very quiet in the beginning, but now it's very interactive,” she said.
Mohammed Aziem Rujub from South Africa is Vice President of the Student Council and noted that the students are appreciative of the University’s efforts to ensure that they can continue to pursue their studies online while physical distancing is encouraged. He said, “Naturally, everyone is anxious to know how long it will be before things return to a sense of normal. The biggest challenge now is that everyone is worried about their families and friends afar and what is happening back home.”
Library staff remain available online during normal operating hours on Google Hangouts, Zoom, and email, and will continue making acquisitions, providing reference assistance, and teaching classes online. The library also offers reduced hours and special conditions to make print materials available, such as library staff retrieving all materials from the shelves, patrons using gloves to handle materials, and accommodating "fair use" scanning of materials for the various specializations, assisting with permissions that prohibit emailing, downloading or printing of copyrighted materials.
WMU staff are adjusting to teleworking with some staff still working from the office and others working from home. Zoom has replaced in-person meetings and allows for the important work of running the University to continue. Various departments are maintaining daily and weekly meetings from Curriculum Assessment Committee and Academic Council meetings to more lighthearted, typically Swedish “fika” breaks to share a cup of coffee together and stay connected virtually.
Staff members, researchers and PhD candidates closely involved with the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute (GOI) are staying connected through a shared Zoom E-office-space via video link where colleagues dial-in and join each other in the virtual office every morning. Weekly internal and external project meetings, as well as other consultations with donors, take place via video-conferencing, ensuring effective research, project delivery and online lecturing. “Some of the key attributes of the mission of the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute are leadership, resilience and responding to adversity in a range of settings and guises. This adaptive system is working perfectly and ensures a seamless and very effective transition to remote research work, project delivery and online lecturing on a range of University programmes,” said Professor Ronan Long, Director of the GOI.
PhD Progression Seminars
Throughout the doctoral programme, progression seminars are held where the candidates present their work to date and their research plans for the next 12-month period. After every seminar, the Progression Board meets and considers the candidate’s progress and whether s/he will be permitted to progress to the next stage of the research.
The first progression seminar to take place via Zoom was on 18 March with Khaled Hussain presenting on his topic: Development of Sustainable Port Supply Chain Integration in Egypt. This was his third progression seminar, but the first via Zoom. Speaking to the difference between presenting via distance as opposed to in person he said, “The preparation of the virtual and physical presentation does not differ too much. The challenge is keeping eye contact with participants by looking at the camera rather than the screen/participants, and it's important to rehearse to make sure you are handling Zoom effectively.” Systematic progress sheets, daily walks, and video calls with family and friends are helping him to stay focused and socially connected during these unusual times.
Andrei Polejack from Brazil will deliver his first progression seminar on 2 April on his topic of The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as a means to advance science diplomacy - the All Atlantic Research Alliance Case Study. He is maintaining focus on his research and presentation by keeping a routine with clear daily goals. "I think the biggest challenge with presenting virtually will be not having visual contact with an audience that you can see to be able to tell if they are engaged," he said.
Considering the circumstances, the PhD Programme’s experience with virtual progression seminars has been positive. The physical separation has not dampened the spirits and enthusiasm of the candidate or the Board. According to Professor Max Mejia, Director of the PhD Programme, “we are committed to ensuring that there is as little disruption in the delivery of the doctoral programme as possible. Progression seminars, elective classes, and supervisory meetings will continue to be held as planned, even via remote video/voice link.”
Sheltering in Place
Ursula Hoebeke, HSR Supervisor, lives onsite at the student residence which is uncharacteristically quiet now with the majority of students staying in their rooms. “Students are really happy when they do run into each other, but are practicing physical distancing in a big way, standing far apart. Of course, there is uncertainty, but they seem to be keeping their spirits up,” she said. Signs are posted throughout the residence reminding everyone to “Stay safe, stay apart, stay home, stay healthy and wash your hands!”
To help overcome some of the challenges of sheltering in place, the World Bistro, located at the WMU Headquarters building in downtown Malmö, offers the options for students to order meals that are delivered to HSR at noon on weekdays. The Bistro staff are an integral part of the WMU family. They are beloved by staff and students alike and are known for their attention to detail, excellent food, and knowing the special dietary needs of everyone they serve regularly at WMU.
Lyndell Lundahl, Assistant Registrar (Student Services) is sending daily, lighthearted emails to the students to keep spirits up. They range from humorous video clips to inspiring thoughts for the day. These efforts have been well received, as Elsie Mmamokgoshi from South Africa replied, “We appreciate your support while we are away from our loved ones...Other than my studies at WMU, I have learned from your compassion to humanity and listening with your heart.”
Students are also taking the initiative to stay connected with each other. Prior to joining WMU, Sonia Ferreira, a Combat Marine Officer in the South African Navy, served as the Operations Officer of the Maritime Reaction Squadron. Looking for a break from the computer screen, she was thinking of ways she could interact with her classmates at a safe distance. Through the student WhatsApp group, she arranged a stretching session in the residence courtyard for anyone who was interested to participate. She said, “This is not really about exercising, it's about a change of scenery. Doing something different for a change to help the mind out a little. It is ultimately to get the spirits up and the morale going, to see familiar faces and to have a good laugh for a moment. It is a difficult and stressful time for all of us. People cope differently and some don't always have the strength to say that they aren't. I wanted to create a platform, something fun, for everyone to see that they are not alone in this!”