According to UNESCO, more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Morocco, like many other countries, has (rightly) decided to close colleges and universities to stop the spread of the virus. As a result, a number of online teaching initiatives have surfaced during these unprecedented difficult times all over the world, and Morocco was no exception.
The doctoral program “Language, Culture and Society” of Mohammed V University in Rabat sought to devise Morocco’s first extensive academic and scientific online webinar series that were kicked off on May 20 and continued through July 21, 2020, to ensure the continuation of its students’ learning.
The design of the initiative started in early February 2020 through needs analyses surveys sent to both the English department professors who would be willing to partake the program, and to the Doctoral students to tap on their expressed learning needs.
Guided by a central broad goal, this online training program aims at modernizing the practice of not only the way research is done, but also the way it is taught, revisiting practices of key-corners in academic research, such as mentorship, interdisciplinarity, international collaboration, knowledge production, e-learning and educational digitization, as well as personal development of the program’s junior researchers.
Soon after its launch, the 60 day-long webinar series has earned a widespread popularity among doctoral students not only in Morocco, but also at the international level, especially that the webinars were conducted in English, and sometimes simultaneously interpreted into French and Arabic.
“Building an academically and professionally competitive community of young Moroccan researchers, able to compete nationally and globally was the first and main objective of this online learning initiative,” said Dr. Yamina El Kirat El Allame, coordinator of the doctoral program “Language, Culture and Society”. She added, “We also wanted to internalize our doctoral program by involving internationally renowned speakers & mentors. Over one third of our webinar speakers are international academics who are currently based in top-notched universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and beyond.”
The webinar sessions were being recorded and broadcasted live on the Doctoral program’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Doctoral-Program-Language-Culture-and-Society-FLSHR-UM5R-100952624978994), enabling a wide range of national and international audience to watch and interact with the speakers and students. The webcasted webinar sessions have reached over 40 000 people; on average, 4000 people watch the live lectures, and an average of 100 questions and comments are posted for every lecture. So far, the program’s Facebook page is followed by almost 5000 followers.
Besides the 38 video-recorded and webcasted lectures, over 100 digital contents (reading articles, books, PowerPoint presentations) have been developed, compiled and put at the service of the program’s students, in a virtual classroom folder.
It is worth mentioning that the actual number of the enrolled students in the “Language, Culture & Society” Doctoral Program is over 60 doctoral students, ranging from 1st to 5th year students. More than 35 students have already defended their dissertations, all of whom have managed to get recruited in different Moroccan universities or national and international institutions.
After the great success of its first online webinar series, the doctoral program “Language, Culture and Society” of Mohammed V University in Rabat is planning to hold other online training programs. The program coordinators are already working on next fall program, which will involve researchers form different national and international universities.