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Courage in higher education in the era of COVID-19

Courage has become a familiar companion to lecturers soldiering on and encountering new challenges head on every day during the past year of remote learning.


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 23.03.2021

Courage: the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation

Cambridge Dictionary

Courage, bravery or fortitude have become familiar companions to many lecturers who have been soldiering on and encountering new challenges head on every day during the past year of remote learning and working.

Letting go – to change and transform

Change: to make or become different
Transform: to change completely the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved

Cambridge Dictionary

We all want change, but are we willing to change? In the world of higher education, we need to reinvent ourselves and update curricula to keep up with the changes in the society and the future of work. It is time to think about the future and to let go of old ways. We have to unlearn and leave behind some of the old baggage. That is perhaps the most difficult thing in change and transformation.

It is comforting to hold on to things familiar. It is human nature. Too many traditional topics continue to spark joy among educators. However, to develop, we must make room for new ideas and ways of thinking. We need to rethink and be brave to learn new things and unlearn those that do not serve us anymore. We need to step outside of our comfort zones, as we have been doing all year long.

Encourage curiosity and creativity – to nudge and pivot

Nudge: to encourage or persuade someone to do something in a way that is gentle rather than forceful or direct.
Pivot: to change your opinions, statements, decisions, etc. so that they are different to what they were before.

Cambridge Dictionary

Our daily work involves many opportunities to nudge our students towards right directions. As teachers we are co-learners and facilitators of learning. We try to create an inspiring and encouraging learning environment for our students. Actions to encourage curiosity and creativity are present everyday as we nudge our students to read more, to keep their cameras on in Zoom, to discuss current topics and to give a positive impression of themselves.

We are no TED Talkers ourselves, but during this past year we have surely had to upgrade our presentation skills. That has taken courage and a change of mindset for many of us. However, in the process we have also learnt many useful digital skills and had hours of training. We are happy to take our students along that online ride with us.

Higher education should be able to help students pivot into confident individuals and competent collaborators who can offer creative solutions to future challenges. We can put students on the right track on their journey of continuous learning – an essential skill to survive in the future workplaces.

The American organisational psychologist and author Adam Grant stated that ”The role of higher education in society is to stoke curiosity, fuel discovery, foster debate, encourage critical thinking, and develop the next generation into more sophisticated learners”.

Rethinking learning and working – resilience and recovery

Resilience: the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened.
Recovery: the process of becoming successful or normal again after problems.

Cambridge Dictionary

There is no going back to how things were before COVID-19 changed higher education. We have already adapted to digital ways of working and will continue to use hybrid models with blended learning also in the future. Working from home this past year has meant tackling problems independently, finding new ways to connect with colleagues and to engage students in learning. We have shown resilience throughout the pandemic year. The post-pandemic recovery will require even more courage.

In the future, we need to show perseverance to continue living with constant change, and allow transformation. We will continue adapting to diverse situations and embracing life-long learning. In addition to all the brave deeds we do in everyday situations as educators, we need to stick to the newly found courage and keep painting the bigger picture.

We encourage educators a adopt courageous mindset in our Erasmus+ funded project SUCSESS – Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity.