The start of the 2020-2021 academic year was marked by multiple changes imposed by the pandemic triggered in March. Elena Guțu, host of the show Obiectiv Comun broadcasted by Tvr Moldova, invited several representatives of the academic environment to a dialogue on how higher education adapts to the conditions of Covid-19.
The existing situation posed a challenge for students to be more creative and eager to get involved, and the teachers – to reconfirm their vocation. In turn, the rectors, in agreement with officials from the ministry, have established to keep education online during the first two weeks, and, from September 14, some students, especially freshmen, will start attending classes at the University.
UNIVERSITY YEAR 2020-2021, CHALLENGES
The rector of UTM, prof., Dr. Viorel BOSTAN, mentioned that the Technical University of Moldova has adapted and successfully coped with the situation.
– Being a university focused on information technologies, we gladly accepted the proposal to be partners of the “Educație online” project, initiated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research. Given that this large-scale project is aimed at children of pre-university education, we offered them spaces, and used our experience and the expertise we had to launch that platform. Later, we thought of having a similar platform at the Technical University. In the Informatization Strategy of UTM, at one point, we were thinking of creating a repository of digital content, such as video lessons recorded by our teachers – lectures, seminars, laboratories. We also plan to introduce virtual or augmented reality laboratories. All these ideas, which at that moment were just some beautiful aspirations, were “hurried” by the pandemic – the situation made us implement them much faster.
Since September 14, several higher education institutions have conducted some of their academic activities in auditoriums, especially seminars, practical works and internships. Currently, 16 universities are implementing the mixed study system, which means that about 6,500 students take theoretical courses online, and the practical ones – in classrooms. The other group of universities will continue their studies online during September, and from October, they will comply with the decisions they will adopt until then. It is a complicated situation for both teachers and students, and for the faculties where studying in the auditoriums has been adopted, the students are more than happy to attend them, for the opportunity to see each other again after a long time.
Nadejda VELIȘCO, head of the Higher Education Department within the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research, stressed that this process of rethinking and reorganizing studies required a reassessment of resources. On September 15, the project “Învățământul superior din Moldova” (Higher Education in Moldova) was launched, financed by the World Bank – a continual partner, and two days ago, the minister of Education, Culture and Research, Igor ȘAROV, had an online conversation with the director of the World Bank Office in Moldova . It is the only project financed by the World Bank worth 35.7 million Euros. The project is intended for higher education institutions, as well as pedagogical colleges, having an important component related to the labor market. The main objectives of the project are focused on developing qualification standards, strengthening the accreditation process of higher education institutions, with a special focus on Master’s and doctoral programs – an important support for the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Education and Research, process that will culminate, in 2-3 years, with the registration of ANACEC in the European Register for quality assurance in higher education. An important component of this project is related to the consolidation of the university infrastructure, but also to the investments in this infrastructure. The main focus is on the establishment of centers dedicated to future teachers, special attention in this regard being paid to pedagogical institutions. The center of attention was also the consolidation of the IT sector, the health field, but also the engineering professions, respectively the study programs in these 4 priority areas for the national economy. Universities that promote and develop such study programs will be able to benefit from grants worth 2 million Euros, for investments in the system.
In the current pandemic conditions, universities were the first to implement a modern teaching system: online or a mix of online and standard. A big plus in this sense was the previous involvement in various projects, such as ERASMUS, through which the institutions were equipped with computers, programs, media platforms. Consequently, in 3 months of online studies, 90 percent of teachers successfully coped with this process, and 85 percent of students were effectively included in synchronous or asynchronous online activities. The most requested online platform is MOODLE, preferred by 19 of the 24 universities. Teachers have made a colossal effort to take their courses online – they have rethought them in this new format, placed them on platforms, checked the extent to which students can access them, assimilate them, and now maintain a continuous dialogue with their disciples, for which Ms. Nadejda VELIȘCO thanked them, on behalf of MECC, for this special effort.
The Admission process was also conducted online.The candidates have adapted to the new conditions for submitting applications online, and the final result was surprising: this year,the statistics show 300 more students enrolled than in previous years.
The pandemic also imposed strict epidemiological rules in student dormitories. Accommodation in the 74 dormitories with about 14 thousand available places was done in stages, the students newly enrolled freshmen being favored in this regard. At the moment, 6,500 students are accommodated in dormitories, and the process continues. Another novelty in dormitories is the reduction of the number of beds in rooms – currently, we no longer have rooms with 3 beds, the maximum number allowed being 2. In addition to respecting the social distance, dormitories are continuously disinfected.
VIDEO COURSES FOR FIRST YEAR STUDENTS
After two weeks of online studying, on September 14, UTM resumed its activity in a mixed regime. A special schedule has been developed to avoid congestion in the classrooms. Lectures are given on certain days, and students can listen to them online, from home, the attendance being tracked by QR codes and passwords accessed. Laboratory classes and practical work are done in the University. In the auditoriums, the necessary changes were made in order to respect the social distance. Before every class, the rooms are ventilated and disinfected.
The rector of UTM, prof., Dr. Viorel BOSTAN:
– During the past 2-3 months, we have monitored the development of online education and we have identified some challenges. I noticed the importance of digital education, as, previously, oftentimes teachers relied on content printed on paper, while in online education, digital content / electronic support is indispensable. In June we started the preparations for the “Educație Online” project, a large-scale project, very useful for UTM, in which video lessons with our teachers were filmed, aimed primarily at first-year students. Thus, 5 filming teams were created, teams of editing audio-video content, graphics, as well as methodological teams in all fields taught in the first year: Mathematics, Physics, Mechanics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Technical Drawing and Engineering Graphics. We currently have over 1000 hours of footage, which will be available to students. At the same time, we are open to offer this video content to students from other universities. Moreover, we also recorded an impressive number of visits from Romania. We are going to update the statistics, but we are happy with the interest other countries show for the results of this project.
DEVELOPMENT OF INFORMATION SERVICES
UTM is an umbrella of intentions from several points of view, and adapting to new situations has never been a problem for UTM. What are the university priorities for the new academic year 2020-2021?
Dinu ȚURCANU, vice-rector for Informatization, Partnerships, Institutional Image and Communication at UTM:
– The crisis has also brought us new educational opportunities, especially the widespread use of digital tools, which we will use on a large scale even after fully recovering from this situation, both in the study process and for continuous education. Online training, which is not yet accredited in the Republic of Moldova, is highly valued by students. Video lessons are important both for those who have been absent from class for various reasons, and for recapitulation, especially for exam preparation. In the future, we plan to record video lessons for other disciplines, for the next academic years. Thus, the implementation and development of information tools and services will simplify, but also technologicalize the study process.
In March, when a state of emergency was declared in the Republic of Moldova, UTM, like many other universities, faced a series of challenges, the test-fire was to ensure online studies. Much has been done, various software applications have been experimented, followed by a period of training for teachers, a situation in which partnerships with various companies in the field have greatly facilitated the process of transition to online education. Based on an agreement with Microsoft, we implemented, at UTM, Office 365 Education which has an impressive package of tools that we used in digitizing courses, creating electronic registers, applications related to class attendance, etc. These free tools were a great opportunity during the study process. UTM was one of the few universities to go for online examination sessions during the summer semester, as well as for the defence of the Bachelor’s and Master’s theses. Of course, online education cannot one hundred percent replace the standard one (especially if we refer to the technical-engineering higher education), so after the first 2 weeks of September we implemented the mixed study regime, the students having the possibility to return to classrooms for practical courses. Additionally, the technologization process has also left its mark on the courses conducted in auditoriums, which we continuously modernize through the digital tools we have.
Certainly, at present, the hybrid system is the only solution to ensure the high quality of education.