The EIT Manufacturing Winter School takes the students on a learning journey in digital technologies and industry 4.0. Pedro Senna, Portugal, is sharing his experience of learning in a fully digital environment.

Tell us about your typical day in a digital classroom (Laval Virtual World)?

The typical day in a digital classroom is very similar to my normal routine as a Ph.D. student. I have to do my early chores, and get ready for class. Once I log into the Laval Virtual World, there is always a helpful hand from Arts et Métiers to welcome and provide insight as to the whereabouts of my next session. Classes are very similar to those in the real world, with most of us focused on the presentation being shown by the Professors and taking notes on important complements. Here, I believe, is where the difference between the real world and virtual world stand out the most: the silence. It is really silent in the Virtual World, without any background noise. There is little to take our attention away when it comes to “sound surprises” or other diverging factors. On the other hand, given that we are at the privacy of our home, the Virtual World requires a not so small amount of resolve from us, given that all virtual distractions are just a “click” away. Due to the availability of the material at-hand, and the fact that we are at our homes, it is easy to finish a class and immediately review most important topics discussed in order to truly cement the knowledge. That is my go-to activity after classes are done, whenever possible.

How do you interact with other students and lecturers?

The Laval Virtual World enables an interesting experience regarding the interactions with other students and lecturers. The lecture itself, when presented in the form of a “speech” or “presentation”, is a good example of this change, given that it is done without interruptions and in a very fluid manner. The conversations with colleagues during group discussions are also done in a very straightforward manner, and generally are much more structured and easy to follow when compared to a real world environment. Here, the Virtual world has a clear advantage: the private spaces that are artificially created really help with establishing meaningful discussion within the groups. This is not possible on the real world, since it would require some sort of device that neglects all environmental noise and allows only the people on a particular discussion group.

How do you organise your schedule? 

My schedule organization is mainly done through the digital calendar, usually using the Outlook calendar. I have already assigned appointments to all classes and activities of the Winter School, and, when necessary, I can easily check the topic of the next course, the speaker and the virtual environment for that particular session (Laval or Teams). The digital calendar has a bonus advantage: it reminds me of the classes while I am working on other tasks from may day-to-day job or from the Ph.D. thesis, with enough preparation time beforehand. This enables me to go into the course’s syllabus and download all the available material before the classes, which is a very helping feature to be fully prepared for the lecture. Also, I keep a notebook with my personal appointments taken from the courses, which help me after classes are done to refresh contents and assimilate the knowledge better.

What do you like the most from this experience working and educating in the virtual world?

I believe the best part from this virtual world experience is the interactions with others in terms of comprehensive communication. Personally, I have some difficult hearing others when there is a lot of unnecessary noise in the background, and in the virtual world that noise is minimized. This is true both for the open classes, where everyone can talk, and, particularly, for the group discussions in which we are within the private spaces that mute all other non-participants. Also, some interactions with online tools, such as surveys, are better done in the virtual world, and enable faster responses and more knowledge sharing from all participants.

Do you think that this 100% digital and interactive experience will make the future of education?

This is a tricky question, and I am biased to answer. Being an introvert, I am inclined to say that the trend is to move towards a more digital and interactive experience, certainly. But I do not think that, for the mid-term future, virtual worlds should completely replace real environments for longer courses. The Winter School is a short course, not a full University course, meaning that it takes only 1 month and not the usual 4-5 months. During this 1 month, it is reasonable to accept the virtual world as a replacement for the real networking and human interactions we would have in a real environment. Long-term, I do not believe that most student would feel too comfortable without much human interaction, especially off-courses. Additionally, it is still too early to assess the true knowledge that can be gathered and retained in this virtual environment compared to the real counterpart. Some students, such as myself, have an inherent characteristic of enjoying quiet and more personal spaces, and this virtual environment certainly contributes to that. On the other hand, other students are of a more extrovert nature and require social interactions with much higher degrees, and much more frequently, which cannot be fully achieved through the virtual world and the digital education. In short, I believe we are transitioning towards a more digital and interactive experience, but I do not think it will ever reach 100% digital and virtual.

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