We are experiencing extraordinary and difficult times. All European countries and their institutions, including universities, are currently tackling with the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
Individual governments have already introduced emergency measures to ensure the consequences of the pandemic have been as much as possible minimized. By nature, these measures also deeply affect the functioning of universities and other educational institutions. The introduction of different forms of distance learning is an unprecedented and in many ways challenging situation for most universities in Central and South Eastern Europe.
Therefore, we have asked the DRC member universities to share their experience, know-how and good practices how they are responding to the current challenging situation. Entries are updated continuously.
Distance or E-Learning has a long tradition at Danube University Krems. As a public (state) university focusing on postgraduate education, we specialize in enhancing the qualifications of working professionals who often study in parallel to employment in so-called low-residency postgraduate programs. These base on the Blended Learning model: short attendance periods on campus accompanied by a high degree of E-Learning. Since the emergency measures due to COVID-19, our university has switched to pure E-Learning and is continuing to develop and apply its competencies in the areas of Online Teaching and Online Learning.
The Service Center for Digital Teaching and Learning supports the faculties with technical infrastructure and know-how in the areas of media didactics and media technology, digital teaching and learning scenarios. The online phases are held using the learning management system Moodle. Online training and tutoring organized by the Service Center for Digital Teaching and Learning accompany teachers from the generation of an idea for E-Learning until its final implementation. Webinars and web conferences are conducted using Zoom and Moodle (Big Blue Button). Written exams can be taken via Moodle and oral examinations conducted via video conference.
These measures ensure the continuation of the semester and will be evaluated at the end of the current situation.
After the central and local governing bodies have ruled the lockdown, the University has immediately alerted the departments to move all lecturing activities online. During the first week, departments have used resources of their own choice (personally I have used OBS to record the lectures and TWITCH to deliver them to the students).
After the first week, the whole university has moved to using Microsoft teams, not only for lectures but also for internal meetings (Board of Trustees, Academic Senate, etc.). At the moment 99% of the courses are regularly delivered online.
We have also graduated master and PhD students online.
At the moment, the only critical issue that we are facing, as far as remote activity is concerned, is in delivering written exams to large batches of students, since the problem of plagiarism is difficult to tackle. Any suggestion on this front is welcome.
On the 28th February, ELTE established the Epidemiological Operative Coordinating Body consisting of 7 members and an epidemiologist advisor to coordinate the tasks in connection with the new coronavirus epidemics. Due to the governmental measurements and the epidemiological emergency situation ordered on 11th March, universities continue their educational activities in the form of distance education in Hungary. Spring break was officially rescheduled to 16–22 March and the distance education has started on 23 March.
During the Spring break, details of the digital operation including distance education has been developed, I hereby present the main changes and measures.
A unique interim Regulations of Training and Examination has been drawn up which serves to provide guidelines for the application of certain provisions of the Academic Regulations for Students under the distance education arrangement in a way that is clear and easy to comply with for a broad circle of the university’s community. The interim Regulations document covers the framework of the distance education arrangement and the way it is to be implemented, including the rights and obligations of students and instructors.
Regarding the method of distance education, the ELTE Epidemiological Operative Coordinating Body drew up the following recommendations:
These recommendations in all cases have to be followed in accordance with faculty regulations.
The colleagues of our IT Directorate fully integrated Neptun (our education administration system) and Teams, added all announced courses to Teams (more than 3000), and assigned the teacher and students to all the courses. Guides and further tools have been published on our website to help students and teachers in this new situation, including methodological guidelines. The e-learning curriculum on Methodology of online courses has been published publicly.
Beside the central e-learning support, we asked e-learning experts from the faculties who can help in handling the more faculty-specific questions, furthermore we increased the number of colleagues working in IT support and at the helpdesk. Meanwhile where it was possible, the processes of operation of the University was digitised and changed to remote working, thus most of the administrative colleagues are working in home office.
All information regarding the digital operation of ELTE and the coronavirus epidemic can be found on the ELTE website.
On the 13 March the government of the Republic of Bulgaria declared an emergency situation and all schools and universities in the country were closed. The rector's council had an urgent meeting and the following measures were taken. We moved to distance learning. The university has its own learning management system, called e-Learning Shell, on which most of the lecturers had published their web based courses. All other lecturers were strongly advised to publish teaching materials on the platform. All teachers had to inform their students about what is expected from them for next several weeks.
In addition, the virtual classroom software BigBlueButton was installed on a university server. It is used for online classes with students and all university management meetings, like rector's, dean's and academic councils and department meetings, are held using this system. We are now discussing the possibility of online exams with students' identification with the BigBlueButton system.
Currently we have two installations of BigBlueButton on two universities servers, as many colleagues are using it.
On March 16th, 2020, we closed all facilities of the university for the students and the public.
At University of Maribor, we have introduced a system of conducting of lectures, seminars, etc. on distance via Microsoft Teams. We have organised electronic instructions and periodical trainings for the handling and use of the materials and tools. All staff and students have access to the systems through their own unique digital identity.
All people involved have received complete instructions on the rules of use of the system. We also organise training on the production of materials and the use of the system for our staff (online via MS Teams), periodically. An important thing for the correctness of the work on distance is also the fluent and complete information of staff and students on the use of the tools. We have therefore produced instructions for all and have also translated them into English, for our guest lecturers and students. Special emphasis was also put on legal regulations of copyright (recording and reproduction or multiplication of online lectures, learning materials, etc.). We also keep track of the use of the introduced system and are satisfied with the use of it.
Regarding the academic aspect, the lectures, seminars, practices of all academic subjects are now carried out on-line . We continue to use Moodle as our Learning Management System as a repository for a study material, which has been now enhanced by the use of MS Teams for video meetings (lectures, seminars, management meetings (Senate, Financial Board, rector’s cabinet, secretary-general meetings with deputies) etc.). The schedule of the lectures shall be maintained, so the students have their ordinary rhythm and we want to provide the possibility to conduct the examination at the end of the academic year. In spite of the new interventional legislation in the field of higher education that enables students to maintain their student status in the coming academic year, if they fail to complete all needed obligations to progress to the next year of their study, we wish our academic staff to adapt ways of teaching with respect for the learning outcomes and competences foreseen by accredited programmes, so the students shall have a chance to pass study obligations in a vast part also in the coming academic year.
However, we are making plans for the examination also for the case that students will not be physically allowed to come to the university. Slovenian Rectors Conference has formed a working group to give some recommendation regarding available online tools and the possibility to provide for a qualitative examination and assessment remotely.