Going Digital Testimonials

Going Digital Testimonials image

Going Digital Testimonials

As the coronavirus pandemic has has placed much of the world on hold, the GCSP has swiftly moved its courses online in order that our clients/participants learning doesn’t suffer as a result. We asked four participants how this transition has affected them, and what lessons can be learned from this shift to remote learning. From avoiding traffic jams to missing Swiss chocolate, our participants relayed the positives and negatives of digital education in the time of COVID-19.

Our four participants who shared their insights are currently attending the Leadership in International Security Course (LISC), which is also part of the Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) in International and European Security, jointly run with the University of Geneva.


What has been your greatest challenge during COVID19?

Beatrice Baiden, Public Affairs Manager, Ghana (LISC/MAS): The announcement that physical classroom activities had been suspended, replaced by a virtual learning system, hit home hard and made my heart sink. The reality dawned on me that COVID-19 was with us and my new classroom would be from home. My dampened spirit was because I would miss the hugs, the pecks, the physical presence and aura of chit-chats, giggles and, my favourite part, passing around either Swiss or Belgian chocolates. I guess this gap in human-to-human interactions with my colleagues is my greatest challenge, especially when I feel the cold walls of my studio apartment stare me hard in the face during this lockdown.

Khaled Hussien, Diplomat, Egypt (LISC/MAS): My greatest challenge has been adapting to the isolating measures to contain the spread of the virus but remain actively connected with my colleagues to pursue the mandate of the LISC/MAS course.

Ivy Banzon, Foreign Service Officer, Philippines (LISC/MAS): As a mother, my greatest challenge is ensuring the safety, togetherness and wellbeing of my family while, at the same time, managing any psychological impact that could challenge my study rhythm and goals until the end of the LISC/MAS course.

Tero, Finland (LISC): I have been worried about my family, especially my daughter, who is part of the risk group because of her asthma. Decision-making between staying in Geneva or moving back to Finland was challenging; I have to balance between emotion and reason. My mind is still there with my classmates.


How has COVID19 affected your LISC experience at GCSP?

Beatrice: I must commend the GCSP and the LISC Directors for the proactive balance of creative digital approaches adopted to maintain the tempo of the learning process, and the sense of the LISC community. In the face of the crisis, the transition from physical to virtual classroom learning systems was swift, smooth and flawless. Sessions have not been interrupted; our resource persons are available, and the beauty of it all is that there are virtual coffee times where LISC’s have time to ourselves. For me, this is what is meant by practicing what we preach: translating the sessions on crisis management into actual practice. Indeed, GCSP is the place where knowledge meets experience.

Khaled: At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to adapt to the significant lack of direct communication and interaction with the instructors and participants. Shortly after the initiations, the transition to interactive online classes was smooth, especially with the good handling by the GCSP of the side effects of the long hours of staying home, by organizing online informal sessions to interact, like discussing a film or having a meditation session on Zoom.

Ivy: I found the transition to full-online mode of the LISC course generally smooth, well-managed and effective. It helped very much that the group was already cohesive as a result of good professional and interpersonal relations during the first two terms, which served as a firm foundation for an effective third term online. I also appreciated how GCSP moderators and facilitators gave enough space (not just perfunctory) to check in on everyone’s wellbeing, devote some time to discussing the personal impact of COVID on each of our situations, and not ignore it just to get on with the course. That human manner was critical to creating the appropriate atmosphere to continue, albeit in an online format, and, thus, is what I believe is the key to the success of GCSP’s management of the transition.

On the other hand, what I did notice was that online groupwork is not as effective as doing them in person, as much of the learning in such formats is obtained through person-to-person interaction (as an online format, the groupwork somehow became reduced to mere information-sharing).

Tero: I feel that we didn’t have the nice ending that our excellent team has deserved. I still hope we meet each other before the end of May. Closing libraries challenges paper writing – we don’t have access to the same level of resources online as LISC-paper writers.

During this crisis, we have learned new ways of coping and we keep up our team spirit via online and WhatsApp. [However] informal information/knowledge sharing has decreased; before COVID-19 we shared much of our personal experiences during breaks and after lectures


In an ever-increasing era of online learning opportunities – although the transition for you has been swift – what are some tips on how to learn ‘at home’?

Beatrice: In learning at home, I will recommend keeping a schedule for study that should include break times; designate a specific area for study away from distractions; switch off the television; mute the phone; keep a timer; and play soothing music in the background.

Khaled: The good things about learning at home are: better time management between work and family or friends; less stress and more flexibility towards work and personal activities; no headaches because of traffic jams or lack of sleeping or not arriving on time – you can repeat the class anytime you want if it is recorded and provided online.

Ivy: I think there is something qualitatively different between time spent in class in physical terms and the time spent in front of a virtual class in front of a computer. It is a paradox that the virtualness somehow elicits a less-than-full human experience even as everyone has the possibility to look at each of the participants’ faces at every moment. I find that more frequent breaks (even short ones, of 10 minutes) in between sessions (or to break up the sessions) facilitate a needed re-orientation to keep attention and interest in the topics discussed throughout the day.

Tero: Learning at home needs more focus and somewhere dedicated to studying. Do not get frustrated if the line is weak or you don’t hear everything. Learning at home is not easier than learning in the class


Finally, have you gained a new skill/discovered something new about yourself within this context?

Beatrice: Within this new context, I have learned so many things. To mention a few: how virtual powerpoint presentations are done during sessions; group work online in breakout rooms; playing virtual games; a better appreciation of spending quality time with family and friends; and I learned to braid my own hair.

Khaled: I have improved my listening skills to compensate for the lack of physical interaction with the instructors – as if I am listening to radio. The new skill I tried to develop is to pay attention to the small details in the instructor’s lecture to make up for the lack of body language and assertive signs of his points of view.

Ivy: I realize the truth in the meaning of learning versus education. I remember an old mentor of mine who told me never to let education stand in the way of learning. This lesson is very poignant in the context of the coronavirus. Indeed, there is much more to be learned not just within the formal curriculum but everything else that surrounds the experience of the LISC formal education … that “surrounding” space is where the life-learning happens (something you retain for the rest of your life), and I am glad that the LISC will always be a part of that for me.

Tero: I am not big fan of online meeting or learning, but I gave it a chance, and now I can say, it really works. It has a lot to do with your own attitude. But I noticed that I really miss face-to-face discussion, company and fun that our course offered.



Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Do you wish to enhance your effectiveness, and advance your career in agencies engaged in international peace and security? We are currently accepting applications for the 2020-2021 edition of these courses. Please see our Master of Advanced Studies in International and European Security and Leadership in International Security Course webpages for further information!