As is known, in view of the state of emergency, the schedule of the spring semester of the 2019-2020 academic year was modified in all faculties of the University of Pécs based on the instructions of the State Secretary for Higher Education, and between 16 and 22 March the rector's leadership ordered a spring break. During this one week, our School’s instructors also worked hard to implement the transition to digital distance education. They were facing a demanding task, both mentally and professionally, because such preparation would normally take years. Since then, several weeks have passed and we received lots of feedback that their expertise and cooperation has been effective. We talked about the educational aspects of the recent accelerated events, as well as the possibilities and goals of the near future, with dr. Miklós Nyitrai, the Dean of our School.
Written by Rita Schweier
-How could you summarize what happened during the week of the extraordinary spring break? What was the attitude of the instructors from different departments towards the tasks of organizing and modifying education?
-On a Wednesday we received the order that the students cannot enter the buildings of our institutional system, and on the same week, on Friday, our rector, dr. Attila Miseta ordered that next week will be the spring break. The transition until 23 March has given rise to a number of ideas and solutions on how to provide the technological background for education and what forms exist for the online publication of the learning materials. It all happened under incredible pressure and speed. By the middle of the week, it was already clear what the basic directions were along which we could begin, we managed to set up the framework. I kept getting news that our instructors began recording the learning materials, thinking about the methodology of digital education, constantly considering what could, could not, or could in a difficult way be solved online. We did not yet know how these plans would be implemented “live” and what impact they would have on our students.
-Was there a department which others could join because it served as a model for the others in terms of their ideas, or, digital education was no longer new to a greater or lesser extent, only the time constraints made the transition difficult?
-There were many departments that had used digital materials and tools in an innovative way before, and immediately after processing the first news, they started thinking. They quickly started planning and then implementing, and we did not slow them down, we just tried to keep their ideas in the right direction. I noticed that they see a real challenge in this and work without saving time or energy.
-There are also many good solutions for the digitization of practical education, first the new online method to make blood vessel sutures of the Department of Surgical Research and Techniques comes to my mind.
-The development of this surgical skill training is a fine example of how solutions can be found in such a special situation, thanks to the work of a serious research team. This team also took care to find a place for their method among the good practices and thus make it known to others. Fortunately, several similarly great ideas have been implemented at our departments.
Cooperation has always been characteristic of our School but now it has intensified and has become a huge cohesive force. Instructors have done and will do their best to use the various technology platforms to pass on the knowledge based on the high standards we are accustomed to, to students who are grateful for it and also patient. There was no outrageous feedback when signing in to Teams went slower, but they helped the work of their instructors with their written and oral suggestions. The whole School works like a big family in which everyone managed to keep their roles: teachers remained teachers and students remained students. The adverse effects of the external conditions, the epidemiological situation were greatly mitigated by this collaboration. Slowly, the system began to work routinely, which envisaged thinking about the future. As part of this, there were also many suggestions for the future use of the new learning materials, which covers the period when the usual order returns and students attend classes in the traditional way. Experiences were also gathered about the benefits of digital education, with students telling and writing what they enjoy more about it than face-to-face, contact sessions. We will be able to use this knowledge base as an additional curriculum too, it can help with the exams, the preparation for the exams, and in some cases it can function as a replacing element as well.
It is important to see that the epidemiological situation has a constructive nature in addition to the negative effects. It forced us to think even more innovatively, to apply this in our training programs, and the result is excellent learning materials.
When compiling learning materials designed for the digital scene, instructors need to pay even more attention to the needs of students, thus shifting the emphasis and bringing students even more in focus. I am sure that changes in mindset and attitude will have great benefits in the future. So far, we have mainly been concerned with what we need to teach students in order for them to become excellent doctors, dentists or biotechnologists in the light of constantly evolving knowledge, and now we also need to think about how to do this. What the best way is to make the delivered content more learnable, more transparent, easier to manage, more distributable over time without eroding it. Later, the ideal balance and harmony of traditional and new methods will evolve from this.
The activity, receptiveness, and feedback of the students on what the best methods are for them are also important. It can lead to a very serious development in our training and learning culture if, enriched with new methods and learning materials, we work in partnership with the students, and then we do not only survive this period, but we become stronger.
-Let’s talk a little about the platforms that instructors use. To what extent was there an agreement on their application?
-The dean’s leadership has left it to the course directors what platforms they will use, and they have chosen Teams and Zoom, the majority uses Teams. Our serious task is to organize the learning materials created in different systems into a large knowledge base. This is important, on the one hand, so that the student can find everything in one place, grouped accordingly, and on the other hand, so that the contents can be linked to each other, and the redundant elements can also be selected.
Last summer, we started to create the intelligent, digital knowledge base of PotePedia, which is unique in Hungary, and we signed the related contract just the week before the outbreak. So today we have the system that provides the digital background for using PotePedia. The learning materials that are now being created are entered into this system after proper content and image arrangement. This means several months of work, during which we try to reduce the load of the instructors and organize a separate team for the tasks of uploading and formatting the curriculum. We will ask our instructors to start preparing the materials for the semester ahead of us starting in September, as the system will be complete if it covers both the first and second semesters of the academic year. This is also important because right now we do not know yet whether we can start traditional education in September or whether we need to rely primarily on our digital curricula.
-Is there an ongoing exchange of experience between the leadership of the four medical training institutions on this issue as well?
-Yes, we often have a remote discussion several times a week about the curriculum, the timetable, the exams, the regulations, the good practices that have already been gathered. We learn a lot from each other, we use the good methods together. Our task is responsible because the doctors we raise will continue to be important to society, which is why common solutions are important.
-I guess that currently the examination is the most important problem to be solved.
-Indeed, we are brainstorming how to schedule and document the exams and how to resolve any technical issues that may arise. For the time being, it is also a special task to conduct the examinations of students who are not in Hungary. We continuously consult with the Vice-Deans, the heads of offices and the other medical faculties, as well as with Hungarian and foreign students on these issues as well. The development and change of the epidemiological situation greatly influence the planning, therefore we constantly monitor what is happening around us and prioritize the current issues that arise accordingly. In addition, we are open to the things others do and the way they do them, the good practices, and based on this, we try to make good decisions through synthesis.
I am confident that together we will be out of the woods together, jointly, renewed, and successfully.