Online Joint Seminar with University in Ukraine

– How to Continue Learning in Emergency Situations-

Professor Taro Komatsu, Department of Education

From April to May 2023, in the course “Seminar in International Educational Development” in Department of Education, a joint seminar was conducted between Sophia University and Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) located in Lviv, Ukraine. This collaborative learning format, where students from different countries work together, acquiring intercultural collaboration skills essential for a global society, is known as COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning).

The Russian military invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, has had a significant impact on education in Ukraine. Many schools and universities have been hit by missile attacks, making it unsafe for children and young people to commute to educational institutions. However, due to the advancement of online education during the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts have been made to continue learning as much as possible even during times of war. Lviv, located in western Ukraine, has so far been relatively spared from the effects of the war, but missile strikes do occur. Whenever air raid sirens sound in the middle of the night, students living in the university dormitories evacuate to underground shelters, often leading to sleepless nights. At times, they even have classes in the underground shelters.

In such circumstances, 10 junior and senior students from the Department of Education at Sophia and 18 students studying security subjects from UCU participated in this joint seminar. The preparations involved multiple online meetings between Professor Taro Komatsu and Professor Dmytro Sherengovsky who are in charge of the course in each university, to discuss and determine the students’ learning environment, motivation, and interests, as well as the theme and content of the seminar. The theme chosen was “Continuing Education in Emergency.” Participating students discussed how education can be continued during conflicts, natural disasters, and the spread of infectious diseases, drawing on their respective countries’ and individuals’ experiences and existing research. The online sessions were conducted three times on weekends when it was convenient for both groups to meet. The first session focused on ice-breaking and sharing personal experiences, the second session discussed specific issues related to education in emergencies, such as access, quality, and the use of technology, and ensuring a safe learning environment. The third session focused on the commonalities and differences in experiences between the two countries, with small group discussions. After the final session, each group collaborated to write a joint essay based on the discussions.

Through this collaborative learning, students from both universities understood that there are shared challenges between two countries that are geographically, culturally, and historically different. For Sophia students, it became a valuable opportunity to learn how young people in the midst of war are studying and why they are motivated to learn. For UCU students, it provided a meaningful opportunity to connect with the outside world and share their experiences. One male student from UCU expressed, “I used to dream of studying abroad when I entered university. Currently, men in Ukraine cannot leave the country. In such circumstances, I was happy to connect with students from a Japanese university.” COIL can provide opportunities for universities in physically inaccessible or challenging locations to directly connect and facilitate collaborative learning among students. During the third session, a few students from UCU couldn’t participate due to an air raid alarm the night before. As a result, a new group was quickly formed, and the content was adjusted to carry out the discussion. Such experiences also served as an opportunity for participants to gain a firsthand understanding of global events unfolding around the world.