IE has been branded as an innovation-driven institution: students get into the tower using face ID, the vending machines take contactless payment, the library is fully virtual and so are students’ exams.
But, the digitality of the university comes with academic costs for its students. IE offers mostly humanities programs – fields that are traditionally writing intensive. Due to cheating concerns, virtual exams have dissuaded many professors from assigning written examinations or research papers.
Humanities students are resultantly placed in a position where their writing capabilities aren’t being developed toward a sharp academic standard. Not to mention, there comes to be a lack of trust between students and IE. As Professor Evangelos Liaras teaches at IE School of Politics and Global Affairs. “Right now the tendency is often not to give students long papers to take home because we don’t know if they’re the ones writing them… It creates a lot of problems, and it’s also not fair because it assumes that the students will cheat,” Professor Liaras said.
While concerns about cheating should not be overlooked, they should not be the determining factor in whether or not students get writing-based assignments. Instead, innovation in academia has to be approached in a meticulous manner. Going fully paperless is an impulsive move, it attempts to instantaneously meet a future of only digital learning, discarding centuries worth of traditional paper-based learning. Said future would have an optimal outcome if it was approached with gradual shifts and with balance; via a hybrid system.
Fanni Antal, a first-year student at IE who just finished exams, said, “The Respondus thing is not exactly the best. Sometimes it freezes, sometimes people have to rent out laptops, which is not really good.” For Antal, the solution is to have a back-up paper-based option, just in case.
The drawbacks of being paperless extend beyond exams; many students learn better with paper, or in a physical library setting as well. “Reading from the screen can be tiresome at some point and some people mind it. So, having access to physical books I think is still important,” Professor Liaras said.
Undoubtedly, a digital library has benefits like accessibility and an extensive variety of resources. Still, there is no harm in balancing such benefits with a physical library space too. Such a space can motivate students to be more productive. In a study conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it was found that there was a positive correlation between hours spent at the library and GPA.
Luckily, “If the student body would like more of a physical library space and physical book experience they can maybe ask the university to think about it because normally the university is responsive to the student body,” Professor Liaras said. So, maybe it is time the IE community addressed this matter.
Even without a library, students often opt for printed versions of their readings. “Many people like to study on paper. And, I think … they should have the option for printing for free [at uni],” Antal said, going to the print shop “takes a lot of time and money and effort.” Additionally, a majority of IE students have to print many documents to get their residence permits or visas anyway. Offering printing at the tower would simplify their processes.
Another non-academic concern about being paperless is reflected in the bathrooms. Blow dryers are used in the restrooms. This is not the most hygienic alternative, paper towels are. And, they can be made of recycled paper, lowering the possible negative impact of using them. Still, students “would really appreciate it if they had paper towels” simply as an option, as Antal said.
Generally, operating fully digital has led to noticeable costs for the student population. IE may face public image benefits from saying that they are paperless, but the reality is different for many students. “I think they focus too much on the marketing side and they are not focusing enough on the well-being of the students,” Antal said, referring to the losses students face from the paperless policy.
The best alternative for this situation is a middle ground. Innovation and changes are always better when approached with a particular goal and precise methods of application to get there. It’s important to take both the students and the progress of the institution into account when making policy. IE should provide certain paper-based resources – like printers, textbooks, and even some paper towels – while still promoting their digitality and moving toward a world of strong digital substitutes.
Featured image: Pixabay