A New European Online Course on the Covid-19 Pandemic

This online course is offered by Sorbonne University in partnership with the universities of Charles (in Prague), Milan and Heidelberg. Its goal is to provide students with the necessary knowledge to understand the Covid-19 pandemic better and to exercise their critical thinking skills through a multidisciplinary approach.

How did this project start?

Sabine Bottin-Rousseau : The motivation for this project was two-fold. Firstly, a certain number of questions linked to the current health crisis call for transversal skills that we wish to develop in our students within the framework of the construction of the 4EU+ European University: critical thinking and data culture.

Secondly, this project, led by a European pedagogical team, is an opportunity to innovate in terms of virtual mobility, and to demonstrate the feasibility of joint course with international partners. The framework of the 4EU+ Alliance enables us to promote innovative learning and teaching methods oriented towards the future.

What are its objectives?

S. B.-R. : The Covid-19 crisis raises questions in many fields. Through this course, we want to show that the university can take on major societal issues, and that solid foundations in several disciplines are necessary to resolve them. This multidisciplinary teaching is also an introduction to research very early in the curriculum since it is offered from the first year of the bachelor’s degree.

Moreover, it is intended to be a truly European learning experience. For the student community, it is an opportunity for intercultural exchange, working in English with their peers internationally, and sharing sometimes different European points of view on a common and current issue.

Who can take this course?

S. B.-R. : It will be offered, starting in the second semester of 2020-2021, to students studying a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Sociology and Geography in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, as well as for bachelor’s degrees in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

We hope to welcome nearly 250 students in the four universities of the Alliance—about 50 students per institution.

How will it take place?

S. B.-R. : Entirely online, this three ECTS course will be taught in English. The questions raised by the pandemic will be addressed in the form of short videos through lectures in sociology, philosophy, geography, political science, psychology, gynecology, biochemistry and epidemiology.

In a second phase, students will work on data and statistics to master and understand numerical representations. They will discover what an epidemiology model is and how to apply it to real data. In order to offer this course to both literary and scientific audiences, the statistics course will be modular and designed for different levels.

Finally, students will work in small international groups. They will choose a topic related to the pandemic and report on it in the discipline of their choice. For example, in geography, they may be asked to examine the containment policies in different countries, compare their timing, the evolution of the number of sick people, or how these policies have affected the circulation of the virus, people, goods, and financial activities.

Who will teach this course?

S. B.-R. : The philosophy, geography and sociology courses will be taught by professors from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and the statistics course by a mathematician from the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Sorbonne University. As for me, I will be in charge of the practical work of statistics with a mathematician.

The courses in political science will be presented by experts from the University of Heidelberg and the courses in biology and medicine by professors from the University of Milan and Charles University in Prague.

The teaching community will be supported by the pedagogical centers of the faculties at each institution.

What will be the follow-up of this program?

S. B.-R. : This course is intended to last at least two or three years and will be part of the bachelor’s degree programs of the partner universities. We also plan to develop it into a MOOC (online course) for the 4EU+ Alliance.

In the long term, we hope that it will become an example for developing scientific knowledge, critical thinking and data culture amongst students in a European framework.