Last week, the International University of Monaco confirmed to its student body that the rest of this teaching term would be carried out online. A term, which would have ended June 22nd, seems snatched from the hands of many students eager to profit from the Principality’s world-class teaching. Monaco Tribune spoke to students about how they are adapting to the virtual classes, the challenges faced and what the future holds.

The International University of Monaco (IUM) is made up of little more than 500 students, offering just two Bachelor courses and five Masters programmes. Part of the INSEEC Business schools, it is a fundamentally international institution with branches based in France, the UK, the USA and China. Many students choose Monaco due to its proximity to luxury businesses and financial institutions.

Online teaching

A challenge faced in all countries now in lockdown, IUM has had to adapt to the new virtual class format. Online teaching structures differ between courses depending on how professors carried out the curriculum before lockdown. Zoom sessions have taken the place of lectures, as well as pre-recorded slideshows with voice-over explanations. Some classes have converted to wholly independent study.

Alain, a first-year Business Management student, has had roughly half of his lectures transferred to Zoom or have been pre-recorded. The other half focuses on independent work, with online resources to study while tutors remain available via email and Skype. In a typical teaching block, he has 20 contact hours a week and professors expect a similar amount to be completed outside of class, something which is mirrored, but difficult to maintain, during lockdown.

“Overall, the university is working very hard to maintain the quality of education,” said Alain. “We as students can’t expect it to be perfect as this is new for everyone with all of us having to adapt.”

The consensus amongst students seems to be that Zoom is more useful, allowing questions to be asked and being overall more engaging. In project-orientated classes, the group work has continued, although it presents many challenges when all work must be done via video call.

It has made for a significant amount of adaptation amongst students. Alain admitted that at the beginning, for some, it was tough. With changes in working environment exacerbated by external pressures and worry from the evolving COVID-19 situation, some struggled to find motivation. After almost five weeks in isolation, the student body has gradually made the most of the challenge.

International learning

Given the international makeup of IUM, many students who have returned home now find themselves living with several hours time difference to when classes are held. Materials from “live” Zoom classes are available, and sessions are recorded. However, these students must make do with emailing professors if they struggle. Individual professors have changed their schedule to cater for students in a class where the majority live in a different time zone. Yet it is difficult to do so for everyone.

Matt, a second-year Communications and Event Management student, has found the new format challenging. “The problem is if you get lost, that’s it, you get lost. It’s a bit of a disconnect. I miss classes, but this still gets the job done. A lot of my learning comes from the people around me, and that hasn’t been lost. It’s more the class-structure that’s taken a hit, but that has happened worldwide.”

IUM graduation ceremony

International University of Monaco

Assessment

In terms of assessment, the response differs from course to course. Business students, who usually would be marked through participation, group work and a final exam, will sit their final online. It will be personalised for each student to avoid cheating, a sign that the university is well-prepared to adapt to new circumstances.

“This is a pivotal moment for so many students,” said Alain, a first-year Business Management student. “Before you had professors in class push you and hold you accountable for your work. Whereas now with the changing social dynamics through distant-learning it’s made more difficult, with students having to set new routines and discipline themselves to keep up with the work and complete it to a high standard. I think this new situation really tests the students for their perseverance.”

For courses that rely more heavily on group work and presentations, it has been harder to adapt while maintaining the integrity of the teaching block. Some presentations have been cancelled entirely, and weight placed more heavily on individual and group projects carried out during term-time. Elsewhere, Zoom is offering the platform through which students must do their final presentation.

Pastoral care

IUM administration has not forgotten that students will feel a great deal of stress during this time. Given its inherently international makeup, those students who have chosen to stay are in the minority, and often very far from home. Those who have chosen to return home are now experiencing several hours time difference and may rarely have the opportunity to participate in video call sessions.

The administration team have therefore set up a 24/7 hotline which they can use to discuss any worries caused by lockdown with a therapist. More counselling opportunities are available through the INSEEC group, which as a whole has committed itself to safeguard the student body. Specific to Monaco, an optional meeting to ask questions to the Business Management programme director related to the course and the future of their studies runs three times a week.

“The administration [at IUM] is really, really good,” said Matt. “I had one Skype with a lady from admin yesterday who I know for a fact is swamped with work. But she took out 30 minutes of her day to talk to me. This is why I came to this university. I’ve not once seen an administration in any school that is as caring about each individual student as they are here.”

Matt chose to stay in Monaco rather than returning to New York City, where his family is also currently sheltering in place. The American-born student has made a series of videos for the university’s Instagram account with tips and reminders for other students who are in lockdown away from home.

Long-term plans

For many students at IUM, the university requires them to do an internship to complete their degree, but this has become an uncertain territory. Some have had their placements cancelled, and many cannot find one at all. Given the nature of some courses, some students are having to entirely change their career plan due to the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Those who were expected to complete an internship this summer have been allowed to do it next year. Students receive a great deal of help in finding a placement from the faculty and have been advised to work around industries which are worst affected.

Overall, students remain as much in the dark as the rest of the world about their long-term plans. Matt had a positive message for those currently struggling in lockdown.

“The world is on pause right now, which is unprecedented. So take the time to reflect on yourself and fix things that you otherwise wouldn’t have had the time to fix. There are so many things you can do around the house after the shock of being locked in sets in.”

Lockdown in Monaco will be lifted in the coming weeks.