The JVI experience is as much about learning from peers as from lecturers. The discussions during lessons and workshops are but one aspect of the learning process. Equally important are the myriad opportunities for less structured interaction in a relaxed setting, such as counseling, networking, exchange of experiences, discussion of professional problems and solutions, and informal interaction beyond the classroom, in beautiful Vienna.
For now, COVID-19 has rendered face-to-face courses at JVI impossible. To support policy makers and officials in the region in managing the impact of this ‘crisis like no other’ (IMF WEO 2020), JVI management and staff have poured their efforts into adapting selected courses for online delivery, in addition to designing and delivering numerous topical webinars on policy responses to COVID, as well as carrying on with country projects and research.
Successful Delivery of Virtual Courses
By mid-July, JVI and its partners had successfully conducted five virtual courses, which participants rated highly (the average was 4.7 out of 5) and gave very positive feedback on:
Most important, the virtual environment does not seem to hinder learning. Not only did participants report that they learned a lot, but the test results for participants in the virtual courses were similar to those for face-to-face courses.
Lessons Learned from Virtual Delivery
Adapting the courses to the virtual environment was crucial to their success. This required new interactive features, such as polls and discussion questions, homework assignments, redesign of workshops and group work, extended reading lists, and specific counselors’ hours. Most courses were also shifted to early mornings or delivered in twin tracks to account for the time difference between Vienna, Washington, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Some one-week courses were extended to two weeks to allow for the fact that participants might be connecting from either work or home. Finally, shorter sessions proved important to keep the audience focused; the virtual environment is more vulnerable to distractions, both private and professional.
One noticeable drawback is that fewer materials could be presented than in face-to-face courses, which allow for more dense content and easier moderation of directed group learning. Also, the virtual environment interactivity calls for fewer participants to better enable individual support and coaching. Finally, for a few participants, connectivity issues and limitations on use of audio or video made it difficult to fully participate in the virtual course.
Virtual courses are a valid temporary substitute for face-to-face courses, participants are likely to appreciate the effort, and they can help JVI to continuously adapt its offerings as circumstances change. One successful innovation, for instance, was to have participants review the lecture material in advance and each submit a question before every lecture. Participants also appreciated the daily homework review sessions before the lectures began.
Nevertheless, both participants and lecturers miss the unique social interaction, informal communication, and networking opportunities that face-to-face courses provide. While virtual courses and blended teaching will likely become a standard feature of the JVI learning experience, we hope soon to again welcome participants to JVI, and Vienna, in person.
Barbara Dutzler, Senior Economist, JVI