Openly voicing her affectionate attitude towards UTM, which she calls “a fortress of modern intellectuals”, the journalist Elena LEWICKA-PAHOMOVA, moderator of the show “Механизм действия” / “Mechanism of action”, broadcast by NTV Moldova, invited Dinu ȚURCANU, UTM’s vice-rector for Informatization, Partnerships, Institutional Image and Communication, for a conversation on how UTM managed to handle the situation imposed by the pandemic, managing to move all academic activities to the online environment considerably fast, since March, and what are the innovations regarding studies within UTM.
Declaring himself honored in regards to the appreciations addressed to the Technical University of Moldova, the vice-rector Dinu ȚURCANU mentioned:
– Indeed, since March, UTM started the process of moving all courses online. The situation did not catch us off guard. The premises of the modernizations were outlined 4 years ago, when, in my new position at that time – head of the Information and Communication Technology Department, I signed a long-term agreement with Microsoft, being the only higher education institution in the Republic of Moldova that was among the partners of this international company. Based on that agreement, we had undertaken the implementation of new technologies and tools in the process of organizing and conducting our classes. Thus, we created the corporate mail, to which every employee and student of UTM should have access – currently, we have over 25 thousand active users. By the way, the e-mail remains active even after graduation (absolutely free) and thus, if an UTM student wants to purchase various tools or download certain Microsoft software, they can benefit from the discounts offered by the company to its loyal customers. Additionally, over 25 other Microsoft IT tools are offered for free – Office, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., but also a space for storing personal files (1 Tb of memory for each user). This partnership with Microsoft has been (and still is!) auspicious for UTM, freeing us from the huge investments that would have been required to create our own data center. Moreover, last year, for example, UTM users downloaded a volume of over 300 Tb of official software from the Education category, to which they also have free access from PC, notebook, tablet, smartphone. In 4 years we managed to train about 35 percent of students and teachers to use these IT tools. Now, in the conditions imposed by the pandemic, they have become indispensable and highly demanded, especially online video conferencing applications – Zoom Meetings, Cisco Webex, Skype, which UTM users can access indefinitely, including for courses, meetings, webinars and other remote work activities.
In April, UTM received a message from Microsoft, revealing extensive statistics on the use of web tools at UTM, which showed that access to some tools has greatly increased. For example, accessing online video conferencing applications exceeded the 18,000 percent index compared to using this tool over the past 4 years. There have also been significant increases in the use of many other Microsoft tools. During March-August, UTM students sent 1 million 800 thousand messages and received 2 million 160 thousand. Based on this data, Microsoft declared UTM a high-tech university, which we owe to the partnership with this international company.
It goes without saying that the pandemic has seriously affected the field of education, and these conditions, which led us to moving the teaching process online, prove that our predictions regarding the need for integration and development of a mixed approach to teaching (in classrooms and remotely) are well justified. This was also confirmed in the Feedback procedure we conducted among current and former UTM students, who also voted (over 80 percent) in favor of the combining of standard teaching and online teaching as a very important technological premise.
At the initiative of the rector, prof., Dr. Viorel BOSTAN, on September 1, UTM launched the platform https://lectii.utm.md/, which includes a vast online library with over 1100 hours of lectures, laboratory works and assignments in video format for 6 fundamental courses of UTM: mathematics, physics, chemistry, mechanics, programming, and technical drawing, in Romanian and Russian. They are broadcast live, according to the study schedule established at each faculty, with the purpose of facilitating students’ access to non-stop studies. Currently, we have over 1100 hours / lessons registered, and on the first day of University, they were accessed by over 800,000 users.
During the first days after the launch, I received dozens of messages in which students (from UTM, but also from other universities) expressed their appreciation for the theory lectures and the laboratory ones; we’ve been asked whether the online library will remain active in the future, after the pandemic, as they find it to be extremely useful; or whether we will expand the online classes schedule. Of course, we will definitely meet these demands. We also plan to record courses in English and French in the future.
At the same time, we are aware that online courses cannot entirely replace the courses conducted in classrooms, which is why we want to return to the lecture rooms as soon as possible. However, the big advantage of online teaching is that students can return and listen to recordings even after attending live lectures, in order to recall certain aspects before exams, whenever they need. It is also useful for when they are absent during classes, or for the simple reason that learning through video is much more effective for them than reading. The same can be done by students which are part of faculties that do not teach certain subjects present in the online library, and it would be interesting and, perhaps, even useful for them to listen to these materials in the future. Access to lessons from the online library is open and unlimited!
The technologicalization, the innovations implemented in the academic process, but also the specialties studied at UTM are a continuous stimulus to the admission rates as well. In the last 3-4 years, statistics have been showing steady growth in applicants, and this year, marked by a pandemic, was no exception. The university places with funding from the state were completed fully during the first stages of the admission. I am glad that there is an improvement in the students’ average grade at admission. For some specialties, most students come with straight 10’s. Among candidates, there is a high demand for specialties for which entrance exams / aptitude tests are provided, especially in the Anglophone and Francophone branches, with tests in mathematics or chemistry (depending on the field) and the foreign language of the branch. Moreover, for the past 2-3 years, we were asked to expand the number of places at these specialties, which is not always possible.
Upon request, the vice-rector Dinu ȚURCANU mentioned some of the newest programs, among which Robotics and Mechatronics, established two years ago within the Bachelor cycle, and the Information Technologies cycle in business – within the Master cycle. At the same time, UTM reviews its materials every year in order to keep up with new technologies; a special emphasis is placed on the quality of teaching, and the result of these efforts are self-evident – our students are solicited by prestigious companies even during their years at University. In addition to that, companies delegate representatives to teach practical courses for free or propose their contribution to the opening of new study spaces or the endowment of existing ones with modern equipment.
In turn, as a sign of gratitude for the professional training development obtained at UTM, students choose to contribute to the promotion of the Alma Mater image through their stories of success, which they deliver through dialogues with high school students from different localities of the country, along with the team of the Information and Career Guidance Center – CEGHID, led by Radu MELNIC. Now, when the pandemic has intervened with restrictions in this regard, videos about the prospects of studying at UTM have spread over social networks.
It is one of the many examples confirming that the Technical University of Moldova is, indeed, a fortress of modern intellectuals.