By James J. Barney
Professor of Legal Studies, School of Security and Global Studies, American Public University
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the world. The number of deaths and infections across the world continues to climb in the U.S., and fears of a second wave threaten further closures of schools and businesses heading into the fall and winter. COVID-19 has also led many brick-and-mortar schools to conduct their fall semesters in whole or in part through remote or online learning, disrupting the educational model that has dominated the educational landscape for more than a century.
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COVID-19 Has Sparked Innovation in Education that Hints at an Exciting Hybrid Future
While it is hard to see a silver lining in the current situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked some innovation in the field of education that hints at an exciting hybrid future. In this new reality, students and instructors from across the world can use new and exciting technology to collaborate and learn together.
Thus, the line between online and in-person education not only will continue to blur but will become indistinguishable. This new reality will yield a more student-centric education model that focuses on the individual student’s interests and needs.
Restrictions of the Past Will Dissolve and New Exciting Educational Opportunities Will Emerge
In this new hybrid reality, restrictions of the past, including the need for physical proximity of both instructor and students, will dissolve and new exciting educational opportunities will emerge. COVID-19 has hastened trends that I previously thought would take place slowly over a generation.
As a professor at an all-online university, I have long been an advocate for short, voluntary live experiences that can enrich my students’ educational experience and blur the line between online and brick-and-mortar schooling. Participation in debates, model UN conferences and mock trial competitions broaden their education.
Recently, I got a sneak peek into the exciting hybrid future of education when I witnessed a virtual Model United Nations conference using Zoom, a popular video-conferencing platform, over the Labor Day weekend.
APUS Students Represented Four Countries in a Virtual UN Security Council Simulation
A delegation of more than 10 American Public University System students, almost all working adults spread across the United States, participated as delegates at a virtual United Nations Security Council hosted by the Osgood Center. The center, located in Washington, D.C., is an innovator in experiential learning. It offers students a number of programs such as internships and leadership seminars, and it also hosts Model United Nations conferences.
And I plan to attend the Center’s 2021 Virtual Presidential Inauguration Program that will explore the development of leadership skills in a time of crisis as well as contemporary political issues.
APUS Model UN Club Won Six Awards in February Competition in Houston
In February, a small team of APUS students from the school’s Model United Nations Club traveled to Houston, Texas, to participate live in the Osgood Center’s Texas Model United Nations event. At the Houston virtual Model UN conference, these APUS students represented four countries: the United States, Russia, Niger and Belgium. They engaged in role-playing and simulated the Security Council’s 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
In the weeks before the conference, the students invested dozens of hours of their free time to became experts not only on the NPT, but also on their selected country’s positions on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation. Dr. Shelton Williams, the president of the Osgood Center and an expert on the NPT, and Dr. Mily Kao, who teaches International Relations at APUS and is a co-advisor of the Model UN Club, shared their subject matter expertise and gave the students hours of invaluable insight into Model UN conference rules.
The students played a central role in negotiating several resolutions addressing complex disarmament issues with students from brick-and-mortar schools, including the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Houston, Howard University, and Baylor University, to name a few.
Ultimately, the APUS team earned six awards. For the students, this involved hard preparation while juggling work and school, sacrificing their holiday weekend, and teamwork during the event.
Their accomplishment was even more impressive because as delegates, they represented positions they personally disagreed with at times. Their work was further complicated by the occasional heated criticism from their fellow participants who represented the interests of countries with sharply differing national interests.
Virtual Conferences and Other Programming Provide Adult Learners with New Educational Opportunities
Awards are exciting, but virtual events like the Model UN Conference also hint at a future when web conferencing and other technological advances will provide working adults and those in underserved communities with rich educational opportunities and experiences. The diverse range of possibilities engendered by virtual programming and the willingness of working adults to embrace these opportunities are even more significant than the impressive six awards earned at the conference.
Virtual conferences give students and especially working adults access to opportunities they might not otherwise have, due to their obligations and responsibilities. Virtual conferences offer them access to events that they can fit into their busy lives without having to travel, take time off from work or leave their family. Our students’ success again demonstrates that online students can compete successfully against their brick-and-mortar peers when they have access and opportunity.
Adult Learners Will Be the Great Beneficiaries of the Hybrid Education Landscape of the Future
Few would disagree that the COVID-19 crisis has cast a long shadow over 2020 and has had a destructive impact on many lives. However, the pandemic has also sparked a great deal of innovation in education.
While some may believe that these are merely stopgap measures adopted in an emergency, I tend to believe that these virtual conferences and other novel educational programming will play a continuing role in the educational landscape even after the COVID-19 pandemic crisis passes. Indeed, such virtual opportunities provide underserved students, including working adults, with valuable learning opportunities and much-needed access to such opportunities.
The success of APUS students at the recent virtual conference and the opportunities created for possible future such events and conferences hint at a new and exciting future. In such an altered reality, adult learners especially will be the great beneficiaries.
About the Author
James Barney is a Professor of Legal Studies in the School of Security and Global Studies. In addition to possessing a J.D., James possesses several master’s degrees, including one in U.S. foreign policy. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in History. James serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity as well as the Model United Nations Club and is the pre-law advisor at APU.
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