Interview with Susana Romera, technical director at ESAO in order to know her opinion on the current situation of Covid-19 and the tasting of virgin olive oil.
Confinement due to the spread of the coronavirus has been a challenge for the traditional education system. The usual face-to-face training at ESAO has had to adapt to a new learning system in a context that changes by moments and full of uncertainty.
How has the internal functioning at ESAO been affected by the arrival of the coronavirus?
The coordination of the entire team has been essential to overcome the first moments of the crisis. Despite the fact that rumors of the possibility of a state of alarm were beginning to be heard, I think it was a great surprise for everyone when it was declared, it caught us unexpectedly and with hardly any awareness of what it meant.
The first decision was clear: The need for excellent internal coordination, using the video and audio conference call as the main tool. Both through specific digital platforms for these communications, as well as through WhatsApp and emails. All options were used to coordinate us.
From those moments, we saw that the operation was excellent, and from the beginning it was clear for us that we wanted to continue being coordinated preferentially through video or audio conference calls by using different applications and programs on the market.
How is the On-line olive oil training being in moments of the Coronavirus crisis?
From the beginning, we saw that all the staff had to tackle the task of training in all the cutting edge technology related to training, to approach distance education in a holistic way. We also saw from the beginning that it was necessary to address urgently and deeply, our students' access to technology.
Many of our students were not used to using technology as a way of acquiring knowledge and training, but what worried us was not so much this point.
What most concerned us were the doubts our students had about the effectiveness of online operation for our courses. We quickly saw that this was a labor of time, and that as we were developing the Campus On-line, we were seeing that an immersion would be made in a natural way.
How do you maintain communication with the student?
From the moment the student contacts us, a close communication takes place, all the details of the training he wishes to carry out or the ideal training according to the situation that presents us are explained to him. The person who registers on the campus, from the first moment, goes hand in hand with a tutor who guides him or her in everything needed.
We know that our sector is still a sector with a lot of traditional load, and which is having trouble adjusting to the new situation. However, my assessment is undoubtedly positive, since once the system and operation of the tool are explained and raised to them, they understand that, at least they have to give it a try.
What we really want is that there is a fluid and continuous communication between teachers and students. We are fully aware that these are moments of effort by all parties involved, both ESAO and the Student.
The On-line campus has been able to convey that communication does not necessarily have to go through a visual and face-to-face communication to which we were all used. We have an advantage, and this advantage is that these are times of change and we all know this and we have assumed it.
How do you carry out the monitoring within the Campus?
Both in the figure of the Tutor and the teacher, the daily and individual monitoring that they carry out with their students through the different channels that technology offers us stands out.
The tutor is aware of the monitoring of the student through his control panel.
We can observe how long the student is on line, as well as what subjects are more difficult for them, and in this way we can interact in a more professional way and above all, we can help them more and better.
Discussion forums among students are also an excellent tool to individually monitor students and see their evolution. However, in most courses, each topic is followed by a follow-up exam, where progress is seen and above all we can assess the level of knowledge that students are acquiring.
What are the biggest difficulties you have faced?
During this time in which Covid-19 is the protagonist, the greatest difficulties we are encountering are the following:
Mood of uncertainty. One of the handicaps that the coronavirus has brought us is the continuous state of uncertainty. Uncertainty that results in not being able to guarantee with all the guarantees that the events and scheduled face-to-face courses are carried out in a satisfactory way for everyone.
The reluctance of some agents in the sector to start the Online path. Especially when we talk about the age between 45 and 65, they continue to wait for our face-to-face courses, and prefer to make their reservations in the courses that we have already scheduled. This is caused by a situation of mistrust in technology, a mistrust that will gradually disappear as 100% graduates emerge from the Online system and share their experiences. At this moment we can say that the evaluations and results are fully satisfactory.
Get even higher bonuses than we currently have. We would like the training on the Campus to be totally subsidized, both for workers and freelancers. At the moment we work with Fundae, and our training is subsidized for all workers in the olive sector and who work for others.
How has the Tasting been affected by Covid-19?
Special difficulty we find with the tasting. The tasting, within the school, is one of the pillars that sustains the rest of the training. I mean with this that the tasting, we consider it as the beginning of any training related to the olive sector. Regardless of the area in which we are going to work within the olive oil company, it is undoubtedly essential to know what product we are talking about.
Exporting, elaborating, producing, or being in the field will be conditioned depending on the product that we are handling. Depending on what we want to obtain, this will be the product with which we are marketing or producing. It is not understood a company in which all the workers do not know what the purpose of their company is, or what the quality of their oils is.
When the coronavirus crisis began, at ESAO we were already prepared for OnLine tasting training. We had distance tasting courses in several languages. We have developed and increased our products related to olive oil tasting online but we are encountering difficulties related to certain countries.
Tasting training, despite being a sensorial discipline, where nuances and subtleties are important, it is like working on a product. We try to professionalize our students as much as possible, and after a while they understand that it is a totally natural product and therefore with a high index of susceptibility to change.
Factors such as temperature, light, oxygen, the passage of time ... among others, can modify or deteriorate the product.
We try to create tasters capable of knowing how to interpret different samples, despite the distance with their teacher. We have personalized tutorials sessions where we solve all the difficulties that distance can sometimes cause.
A common difficulty is the entry of packages in certain countries that are reluctant to enter international products. These are countries that do not promote and even block electronic commerce. However, today we are highly committed to the students and we continue to fight to reach every corner with the tasting of virgin olive oil, despite the difficulties that the coronavirus is posing us.
At the moment the evaluations in the oil tasting training are being very positive and this is what leads us to move forward despite all the logistical problems, which are currently being aggravated by Covid-19.
What is your prognosis with the training and the coronavirus in matters of olive oil?
As long as we do not close the borders at the messaging level, in principle we will be able to continue addressing the training that concerns us the most, which is tasting.
We will continue to train anyone interested in keeping up with the sensory analysis of virgin olive oil. We cannot lower the quality of our extra virgins, and the professionalization of the sector in this matter must continue.
The Master Miller and Mechanics courses are positive and the activities and tools that we are using on line do not pose any difficulties.
The Olive Grove Management course is having a great reception, and we have already been doing it online since 2018, with which the coronavirus here would not have such an impact.
The Export and Gastronomy courses should not be influenced by a new state of alarm, since the operation on campus is 100% virtual and the results are positive. The evaluations of the students since June 2020 are all positive.
There is no doubt that a new government decision for a new state of alarm would not help the movement and the economy in general.
The uncertainty caused by a state of alarm, and the discouragement that is implanted in society, does not help the sector to continue with its normal operating routine. Training is undoubtedly an element greatly affected by uncertainty.
However, what we are seeing is that technology is positioned and is going to stay. In training, for ESAO, technology is being very positive, since we are verifying that learning is totally possible and even online tools are sometimes more effective than face-to-face ones.
The school team is highly committed to the Online Campus, and we will continue to train and professionalize all those producers and cooperatives who have always trusted us.
The coronavirus crisis is present right now, and we do not know how long it will last.
You have to adapt to situations, no matter how harmful and dire they may be, and at ESAO we want to set an example of this adaptation. As trainers that we are, we must set an example as an agile and dynamic company, capable of adapting to crises.
What there is no doubt is that technology is another tool and as such it must be used. It will take more and more prominence and we cannot look the other way while waiting for face-to-face training to be the only valid one. Face-to-face training will become one more tool for professionalization, and as such it must be seen.
It must be clear that moments of crisis are to grow and to rethink common operating formats, and this must be used and tried to see it from the most positive perspective possible.
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