Pond Island —-With an attendance of 78 students and instructors, the University of St. Martin (USM) held its first ever virtual town hall assembly on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. The purpose of said event was to provide an opportunity for administration to receive feedback from the academic community on the temporary transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the electronic platform Zoom, popular among colleges and universities worldwide, participants were able to see each other, have their questions answered,express their appreciation for this alternative and share their concerns about the challenges to working and studying from home.
“We can all feel proud of ourselves and what we have achieved until now”, said USM President Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez in his opening remarks. “Classes at the local university were moved online within days.
“It is truly amazing! We have never gone through something like this before but in no time our own faculty members trained their own colleagues on the use of electronic platforms such as Canvas and Zoom. Good to see your faces; now we want to know how you are doing.” said Carmona.
The assembly saw over 20 vocal interventions from students and faculty members; to this is added the questions and shout-outs within the chat section of the Zoom template. Hopeful graduates of the class of 2020 expressed their concern for graduation, while those who lost their internships due to the coronavirus pandemic questioned how they will be able to make up this very important part of their learning experience. Still needing some attention is accessibility to a stable internet connection for some students. In the interim, however, instructors have resorted to recording lectures and this has proved to be effective.
Veteran USM instructors who have seen the institution evolve over the last thirty years, like Mr. Roberto Arrindell and Ms. Patricia Arrindell, also participated in the assembly and testified to the success of the temporary solution to hold classes and even one-on-one tutoring via the internet.
“Our aim 1 month ago was to have a rapid but effective transition to online learning while maintaining quality. From the feedback received thus far, I can say that we were successful. While for some this is a new and sometimes challenging experience, I was particularly pleased to witness multiple students express words of appreciation to their instructors for their hard work, dedication and creativity in this season.” said Dr.. Rolinda Carter, Dean of Academics
The trial run of the town hall assembly was actually held a week before, when USM held its first ever virtual staff meeting with 20 participants. With Zoom, USM now has the capacity to hold a meeting of up to 300 people. Such interaction is seen as necessary because everyone experiences the lockdown differently as individuals and families. There are students and faculty who live in the French territory; their virtual and material reality can differ greatly from someone who lives in Dutch Quarter or St. Peters.
“We really do hope that this is temporary, we look forward to the day when we can embrace each other, shake hands and talk to our students and colleagues face-to-face,” Carmona stated. “Nothing can replace that in-house experience which builds character.”
USM is expecting pledged support from the Ansary Foundation in order to improve infrastructure, internet accessibility and curriculum development. Additionally, USM Board and Management hope that the newly installed government will take the brave step to finally passing the ordinance on higher education, which will guarantee structural funding.
“We hope that when we get back to physically being on campus, USM will be able to flourish in serving St. Martin North and South, as its founders intended, and the English-speaking part of the Dutch Kingdom. Our capability of holding meetings like this will also find its place in the future. We dream of joint courses and degree programs with partnering universities, scientific seminars and student exchange where St. Martin is not just a participant, but an initiator,” concluded Carmona.