By Juan Felipe Guerrero C.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina suffered one of the most terrible social and political upheavals in its history in 2001. Against the background of an economic crisis that lasted from 1998 to 2002, on the night of December 19, 2001 a revolt that came to be referred to as ‘El Cacerolazo’ occurred, and this led, among other things, to the resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa, who had earlier declared martial law.
Adolfo Rodríguez took over as interim president for seven days, and he was followed by Eduardo Duhalde, likewise in an interim capacity, for a little less than a year and a half. In 2003, Néstor Kirchner was democratically elected as president until 2007, and after him came his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who served two whole periods, until 2015.
The country is currently going through a further period of social and economic transition. After being governed for more than 15 years by the center-left, labor-oriented Justicialista Party, center-right, liberal-economic ideas took center stage when Mauricio Macri was elected.
Times were also bad for Argentina in academic terms during those years of political uncertainty and economic recession. Universities realized that the next step for education lay in technology and, more specifically, in online education. San Andrés University, a ‘young’ institution that was formed in 1988, was no exception, because around eight years ago it began to concern itself with encouraging education proposals that were linked to e-learning.
This technology-based curricula and organizational restructuring process at San Andrés University got under way in 2007.“The university had a repository where some content was stored, but this could only be downloaded; we had no interactive classrooms and no other type of interchange,” Learning Technologies Laboratory Director Alejandro Artopoulos told me in the university’s School of Education. “The need to begin to make better use of educational tools and software in order to complement traditional education was understood.”
However, it was no easy task to implement. The equation was a simple one: if the country was suffering from political instability, then economic and social matters would also be affected. In the last quarter of 2015, Argentina had the third highest unemployment rate in Latin America, behind Colombia and Venezuela. Academia also suffered a big blow because cash flows were not as good as hoped for.
However, despite the situation in Argentina, San Andrés University is one of the soundest in the southern part of the continent: it is one of the private universities that offers most student scholarships, 900 of its graduates live and work abroad (principally in the USA and the United Kingdom), and 82% of its graduates found work in less than three months after they graduated, the highest figure of any Argentinean university. A figure that is as surprising as it is interesting.
Alejandro told me that one of the university’s most typical characteristics is that it is an innovative institution, one that has a very different profile from that of its peers. “We follow an Anglo-Saxon tradition with our education model: during the first two years of their studies, undergraduate students study a common body of subjects and then they specialize,” he said. “It’s a humanistic, research-focused curricular mesh. Most of us teachers who give classes have research experience. We’re definitely not a ‘professional’ university.”
The San Andrés University online education technology implementation project has a fundamental objective, namely to incorporate technological tools without harming the quality of its research teaching, by thinking of the best way to not have to impair the skills of its teachers. The education model is currently 30% virtual and 70% face-to-face. Alejandro stressed that, “Practically half of all students’ classroom hours are in this format. It’s not a pilot program, it’s an established one.”
The need to begin to make better use of educational tools and software in order to complement traditional education was understood.
Moodle is the LMS that is currently used at San Andrés University. Hosting is updated and administered internally, and the system has been implemented with tools from various companies: one for online conferences, another as a materials repository, and another for evaluations, etc. In the long term, this could cost more money, and general administration could be harder.
This is something that Alejandro himself knows. He is fully aware that ideally they should have a system that can be responsible for most e-learning tasks, one that is managed through ‘software as a service’. “We’ve studied different solutions. We’re probably going to unify the system in the near future. But because the institution is currently changing, we’ll have to wait a bit. It also depends on investment times. Argentina is in a recession, and this prevents big investments being made,” he concluded. But he went on to add that he was confident that Macri would do everything possible to improve the situation the country is in and also that the team managed by Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino would win the Centenary Copa America in the United States. A double bet that sounds in no way ridiculous.
*Alejandro Artopoulos, Learning Technologies Laboratory Director, School of Education, San Andrés University.