New Academic Year at Vilnius University: Changes in the Study Process and Innovative Distance Learning Methods

V Jaskunas 1 1Due to the coronavirus pandemic, that broke out in the world in the spring, adapting to remote working and learning very rapidly was necessary even though there was not enough time to prepare properly for the arising challenges. Therefore, as the new academic year approaches Vilnius University (VU) takes into account the possibility of the recurrence of possible threats: new study methods are adopted, various learning tools are applied and the needs of the community of VU are being considered. VU Vice-Rector for Studies Dr Valdas Jaskūnas says that if the situation worsens, VU is ready to proceed with distance learning.

 VU is prepared for distance learning

According to V. Jaskūnas, although VU will start the autumn semester in the usual way, taking into account the changed timetable of the entrance period, studies will begin gradually: "Master studies will start at the usual time - from September 1, and for all bachelor students and students of integrated study programmes - from September 14."

VU aims to create the best possible conditions and ensure contact learning for first year students because this is very important for academic integration and motivation to learn. However, V. Jaskūnas says, when the activities of the autumn semester were planned, the possible re-emergence of the pandemic was taken into consideration in advance; therefore, despite the studies begin as usual, Vilnius University is ready to switch to distance learning.

“All lecturers who will teach in the autumn semester are preparing to continue the learning process remotely as well. We have developed recommendations for the organisation of distance studies and acquired material and technical resources to carry out studies in a remote, mixed and hybrid way. In addition, both teachers and students will receive training on distance and other forms of learning and will be provided with all necessary methodological support,” V. Jaskūnas points out.

The special recommendations will ensure more efficient organisation of distance learning and help to explain how to teach, evaluate results remotely, and participate effectively in lectures and other sessions. Meanwhile, direct contact session will be carried out in line with all requirements of the decisions of the Minister of Health of the Republic of Lithuania - the Head of State-level Emergency Operations and the Working Group for Coronavirus Prevention at VU.

Diverse learning methods will be applied

V. Jaskūnas emphasises that certain distance learning methods are proposed from the beginning of the new academic year: “We plan to take advantage of some of the principles of distance learning since the autumn, because this is particularly relevant in streaming lectures that often involve several hundred students. We plan to use hybrid and mixed learning alongside distance learning.”

The mixed way of learning allows students to participate physically in lectures and classes and to perform other tasks remotely, that is virtually. Meanwhile, the hybrid learning method will be used in cases where for certain reasons students do not have the possibility to take part in the lectures physically, for example, when access to Lithuania is difficult due to limited transport possibilities.

“By applying hybrid learning, we will seek to create equal opportunities for all students – for those who can attend lectures in the usual way – physically, as well as for those who are only able to attend remote lectures, such as foreign students. Students learning in a hybrid way will perform tasks virtually," V. Jaskūnas says, speaking about different learning ways.

According to V. Jaskūnas, the inability to physically participate in the lectures should not become a decisive factor in interrupting or stopping studies in VU, therefore it is planned to apply the hybrid learning method much more widely in the future: “This method can become the usual form of learning, used not only during pandemics.”

Each VU academic unit organizes study activities independently, taking into account the situation in the country and in VU, the size of the classrooms and the number of students – these factors will determine which learning method will be applied.

Changes are made due to lessons learned

V. Jaskūnas says that the quarantine that has already passed showed that certain infrastructural changes are needed; therefore, the methodology of studies conducted in various forms of learning has been updated.

“Already in the autumn semester faculties will be equipped with classrooms suitable for remote or hybrid learning and work. Teachers as well as students will be provided with the necessary methodological assistance and trainings will be organised,” V. Jaskūnas alleges.

Although VU follows the Government's instructions and recommendations regarding remote work and study and applies specific security measures, some changes are implemented immediately in response to the expectations of the community.

“We received various suggestions from students and professors and took them into consideration. This encouraged us to look for new ways of teaching. This is especially relevant when working with foreign students. The opinions expressed have helped to make various decisions on the study process and to create more favourable conditions for students to start or continue their studies efficiently in any circumstances,” V. Jaskūnas says.

 

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