“Maritime Distance Learning: Reality and Challenges” webinar presented the advantages, disadvantages and challenges of this new digitalized academic era the maritime industry is preparing for and embracing. Throughout the presentations and discussions, maritime education leaders and experts presented their expertise, new training models and methodologies, technologies and innovations serving this sector; in addition to the maritime educational sector’s compatibility with the health and hygienic requirements, possibility of smart academies’ combination, as well as the investment in advanced technologies.
Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), delivered the keynote speech. Her remarks focused on WMU's vision for the maritime industry in the e-learning era taking into account the digital revolution that is transforming the shipping industry.
President Doumbia-Henry highlighted the importance of aligning standards across distance learning programmes with standards for traditional resident programmes. She also emphasized on the potential challenge of “perceived invisibility” of distance learning students, “despite they’re not being physically at WMU, they require, deserve and must receive the same attention as our resident students enjoy.
President Doumbia-Henry identified three main issues - learners, instructors, and curriculum - that have been addressed by scholars in recent years regarding distance learning. For a successful distance learning delivery, the students need to regulate their own activities, instructors need to efficiently use the technology available, and the curriculum needs to align with teaching modes and valid assessments. She noted these areas are of particular importance in relation to Maritime Education and Training and in respect of the Certification requirements for safety, security and environmental protection.
“There is a continuing need to improve the educational standards of seafarers and to expand access to educational programmes at all levels—including postgraduate and doctoral studies, professional development courses, as well as taking into account the legal requirements of the IMO STCW Convention and other relevant instruments,” said President Doumbia-Henry. In addition, she suggested that the educational system of maritime institutions may need to be reshaped to meet the challenges of the information society, technological changes in the industry, and the increasing number of part-time students combining study with work.
Regarding provisions of the STCW Convention, she referred to Section B-I/6 of the Convention which relates to distance learning and e-learning. She added that the ability to deliver certificates of competency electronically may in the near future be fully recognised under the STCW Convention pursuant to amendments that were tabled at IMO in February 2020, but not yet discussed due to COVID-19. A set of Draft Guidelines on the Use of Electronic Certificates and Documents for Seafarers have also been put forward for discussion and adoption.
In closing, President Doumbia-Henry stressed that distance learning is a useful modality and has an important role to play in helping to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, Goal 4 focused on quality education for all, Goal 5 focused on gender equality, Goal 13 focused on climate action and Goal 14 focused on the Life Below Water. Covid-19 should not be an impediment to slow down progress on the implementation of these goals.
Leading the presentations, Ahmed Youssef, PhD - Associate Dean for Sharjah Branch, Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport, shared his views on maritime distance learning, on behalf of Dr. Capt Mohamed Dawood, Vice President for Maritime Affairs at the Academy.
Dr. Youssef talked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over all aspects of life, including the academic careers: "it is true we used to consider distance and online learning, but to be honest it had not been implemented until we faced the challenges of the pandemic, where everyone began to rely on online learning in all aspects of our courses. I think that after this Covid-19 era, much will change significantly and it will align with this shift in the maritime industry.” Dr. Youssef talked about the fourth wave of the maritime industry, an IT based one, which will be perfectly aligned with the maritime distance learning, pointing out that this pandemic has pushed things forward in this matter to be more deep and automated.
Professor Mahad Baawain, Dean of the International Maritime College of Oman (IMCO), gave a detailed presentation on the maritime distance learning, highlighting the challenges of this shift for the higher education, where the choice of the proper online learning platforms and meeting software was challenging: “The sudden shift to online techniques gave no time for improving IT infrastructure, as there was not enough time for training of both instructors and students to use the available tools.”
During his presentation, Professor Baawain ensured the importance of the blended learning process, as the online learning is for theoretical parts of the courses, and on campus training is for practical sessions.
One of the major maritime educational experts presenting the headlines of the webinar was Engineer Maan Massad, Business & Quality Management, Jordan Academy for Maritime Studies (JAMS), who discussed the “Strategic Development for Academic Institutions: Distance Learning Requirements based on Learning Outcomes.” He stressed the role of the pandemic in speeding up the process of adopting various methods of distance learning, pointing to the impact of this new shift on all aspects of education.
Dr. Iliana Christodoulou-Varotsi, Course Leader, Consultant & Industry Trainer at Lloyd’s Maritime Academy UK, believed that the role of humans is crucial in this shift towards distance learning, discussing seafarers’ readiness to accommodate the new environment of learning, and the importance of awareness to develop their potentials to accept the new techniques.
The Effect of Change
From his side, Capt. Tamim Al Imam, Head of Development & Planning at Aqaba Maritime Education & Training Center, Al- Balqa' Applied University (BAU), presented his paper during this webinar “Future of Learning in Maritime Institutes”, mainly discussing the challenges of distance learning, technical issues, fear of change, lack of computer skills, and the difficulty of staying motivated. He also shed the light on the efficiency of E-learning and distance learning, benefits and challenges of VR and AR.
Nicola D’Ella, Sales Expert Simulation, Europe, Wärtsilä and his colleague Kiran Kumar, Sales Expert Simulation, MEA, Wärtsilä, discussed the development of simulation systems upon request, their requirements and technical benefits, explaining Wärtsilä’s services in this aspect.
After the presentations, the webinar opened up for panel discussion & questions with participation from, Associate Professor Aref Fakhry, and Assistant Professor Inga Bartuseviciene, World Maritime University. Participants raised important questions regarding the effectiveness of maritime distance learning, marking this webinar as a significant opportunity for fruitful discussions among maritime education leaders around the world to reach a unified view on the future of maritime education.
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