COVID-19 forces the adoption of technology in the university

For this post I decided to reflect on the importance of one specific technology in teaching that has been available for a while… the Internet. It may seem foolish to discuss the importance of the internet, as it’s been around for many years now, and newer generations don’t even know what it’s like to be in a world without one. And I would agree with that argument if we were talking about other fields other than education. The rate in which other human fields have adopted the internet to perform daily tasks is remarkable (Take, for instance, transportation! You can click on a button in your phone, and a car will pick you up in the next 10 minutes and take you anywhere you wish to go). But we can’t say the same about the use of technology in education. The use of internet to deliver education has always been seen with skepticism. That was, until 2020.

In 2020 internet was the only way in which education was possible to happen. We all remember how uncertain we were, early in 2020 summer, about whether the fall semester would even happen or not. The only way it was made possible to happen, is because the majority of the classes are being held online, and education could be safely delivered.  Another educational impact driven by the COVID-19 pandemics was that companies, and universities would share their extension work, with expert speakers, online with the incapacity of holding in-person events. These lectures are always free and are great opportunities for professional development.

I believe that there are many features of the internet that have been forced into the educational system in 2020 that have come to stay. I expect that we will have much more use of internet for teaching after COVID-19 than we had prior to it, and I believe this is good! Zoom, for example, has proven to be an efficient way to deliver education, and often facilitates the life of both the students and the teacher (based on my experience as a student… Feel free to disagree).

Despite of my support for adopting of internet in education, I also strongly believe that universities must return to in-person classes as soon as possible, specially for lab classes. Some of the content we teach can not be delivered properly without live exercises, and if we remain teaching only through the internet, universities won’t be very different than Youtube, for example.


How Dan Brown taught me the importance of Open access

You probably know Dan Brown stories from the movie theater. The adventures lived by Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, in the different countries, solving all the symbolic riddles, are breathtaking. However, in my opinion, the factor that makes those stories so fascinating (factor you can only get right by reading the book) is the deep reflection the author offers to problems the world faces nowadays.

In the book Inferno (spoiler alert), the author explains how the population currently grows in geometric progression, and how the overpopulation we’ll face in the future is capable of creating catastrophe. By increasing the population, the resources available for maintaining the population will become scarce, which in turn would result in wars between countries for those resources, and so on. In this book, Robert Langdon has to stop the spread of a genetically engineered virus, that was designed to solve the issue of this overgrowing population.

Yet, in another book, “The Lost Symbol”, the author shows us how the technologies that we have available nowadays, also grow and develop in a geometric progression, and would be responsible for solving many problems and avoiding many conflicts. The author’s exact words are:

“The power of human thought grows exponentially with the number of minds that share that thought.”

That is because often the solution for a problem in one area, can also be the solution in another one. Take for example CRISPR-Cas9, the new gene editing technique that yielded the Nobel prize for Drs. Doudna and Charpentier. CRISPR is nothing but an immunologic tool that some bacteria developed through evolution to cut down DNA from viruses that would infect them. This tool was then manipulated to edit genes, and is a promising technology for healing many diseases. This shows how knowledge generated from microbiologists yielded the development of the greatest gene editing tool ever created.

You’re probably asking yourself, how does all of this has to do with open access journals? And my answer to that question is everything! We currently live in a world where access to fake news and lies is much easier than access to good quality scientific knowledge. We live in a world where we care much more to discuss about conspiracy theories, than to discuss problems that affect our society. Why do we live in a world where fake news are fed to us for free, whereas good scientific knowledge is restrict for people who work in land grant universities? Science should be free and available for everyone, and not expensive and restrict to a handful of people.

Open access journals is the promising way that people can access scientific knowledge, rather than fake news. I believe that the scientific community should push to publish their work in journals that will be available for everyone. I think that, combined with more qualified peer review process of those journals, is what will ultimately allow the spread of good science.