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MU shares its hybrid teaching know-how with Ukraine

Last week Masaryk University welcomed a rare delegation of almost forty academic and non-academic staff from ten Ukrainian universities who came to Brno to receive training in hybrid teaching.

The Ukrainian delegation was welcomed at Masaryk University by Rector Martin Bareš.

The Ukrainian delegation came to MU thanks to the newly established project titled Digital University – Open Ukrainian Initiative, or DigiUni for short, which the European Union officially supported in December with a four-year grant of €4.9 million following almost two years of preparation. The EU project has the ambitious goal of helping Ukraine create a national online education platform for some 300 higher education institutions, creating a central hub where Ukrainian university students will be able to access free virtual courses in a range of disciplines, from medicine to philology.

In addition to Ukrainian universities in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Chernivtsi, Sumy and Kherson, the project involves European universities, including Masaryk University, which joined DigiUni primarily through its membership of the European Universities Initiative and the EDUC Alliance (European Digital University). The Ukrainian delegation is planning to visit EU partners in the next six months in order to acquire the best know-how and transfer it to Ukraine. After their first stop at Masaryk University, the Ukrainians will visit France, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany.

“The idea to create the Digital University was born the day after the war in Ukraine started, but figuring out how it would all work and how we could create a common platform for all universities in Ukraine in just four years was very challenging. We really appreciate that the European Union decided to support our idea and gave us a grant. We are grateful that we can now learn from the best in Europe and bring the know-how back home. We are looking forward to the benefits it will bring, even though we know that creating a platform in four years that has taken decades to build elsewhere or doesn't exist at all, will bring new challenges that we can’t even imagine now,” says Sergiy Bronin, the project’s principal investigator from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.

The ‘Digital University for Ukraine’ project kicked off at MU

The series of visits to European universities began last week at Masaryk University, where the delegation was personally welcomed on the first day of the four-day training by Rector Martin Bareš, who rearranged his busy schedule to meet the Ukrainian guests. “Welcome to Masaryk University and allow me to express my sincere gratitude to you and to the whole of Ukraine for defending democracy and the values on which our Western and European society is built. We truly appreciate it and I personally deeply admire you and thank you for that. I hope you will enjoy the four-day programme we have prepared for you and that you will take away many useful tips to put into practice in Ukraine. Our countries are close and we look forward to working together on the project and all that it will bring,” MU Rector Martin Bareš told the Ukrainian delegation.

The delegation was also welcomed by Jan Mysliveček, Director of the Masaryk University Institute of Computer Science. “I believe that the four-day training will prove very useful. You will see our various information systems and learn a lot of interesting information from different areas. We are a leader in Central Europe in the digitisation of administrative tasks, and we have made great strides in digital education during the pandemic, so I believe our expertise will prove useful and inspiring for the whole DigiUni concept. We are also looking forward to making our recorded lectures and other e-learning materials from all ten faculties of Masaryk University available to Ukrainian students,” said Jan Mysliveček.

The delegation was impressed by the hybrid classroom and the tour of the city

The main organiser of the entire programme was Michaela Kortyšová from the MU Bursar’s Office and the Institute of Computer Science, and her colleagues Václav Štefela and Adéla Budjačová, who were responsible for looking after the delegation, from the informal welcome dinner and refreshments to the technical equipment for the training and the social programme, including an afternoon tour of Brno hosted by Jan Pavlík, former director of the Centre for International Cooperation of Masaryk University. His talk about the city and its history proved so interesting to the Ukrainians that part of the delegation asked for another tour, at the request of their colleagues.

The main purpose of the four-day programme, however, was to give the Ukrainians the opportunity to hear about MU’s experience with hybrid teaching from several lecturers from the Faculties of Arts and Medicine, the Support Centre for Students with Special Needs (Teiresiás), the Language Centre (CJV) and the Competence Development Centre (CERPEK). The programme also included a one-hour visit to the Simulation Centre at the Faculty of Medicine, which quite impressed the Ukrainian delegation, and a VR showcase at the Faculty of Arts thanks to experts from the Department of Information and Library Studies (KISK). The Ukrainian visitors also received training in specific areas such as cyber security, Moodle and micro-activities in online learning.

Very popular was the demonstration of the hybrid classroom at the Faculty of Arts, where the staff of the Faculty’s IT Centre, Marie Sedláková and Petr Čučka, showed the Ukrainians how almost all the Faculty’s classrooms and lecture halls are now adapted for hybrid teaching – a point of envy for almost every visitor. So far, the hybrid classrooms have been shown mainly to people from the Czech Republic, so the delegation from Ukraine was the first foreign visit to the Faculty of Arts to have the opportunity to listen to a two-hour explanation of how the whole classroom system works and to hear recommendations for appropriate technical and other equipment.

IT specialists Vasyl Petryshyn and Ihor Yakovenko from the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv particularly enjoyed the tour of the hybrid classroom. “It’s amazing how modern the technology and classroom equipment at Masaryk University is. It is fascinating that everything works so smoothly here. The teacher simply walks into the classroom, and if at the start of the lesson, they find that someone needs to join remotely, they simply plug them in. They see the student on the opposite screen and can interact with both the students in the classroom and those online without it being disruptive to the lesson,” said the two Ukrainian IT specialists, who also asked their colleagues from the Faculty of Arts a lot of questions and explored various technical details of the classroom.

Svitlana Hurkina, a teacher from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, also explored the classroom and had many questions about how teachers use technology and what are some of the biggest hurdles for teachers in hybrid teaching. The MU staff, on the other hand, learned what Ukrainian universities have to deal with as a result of the ongoing war. There was a sombre moment when a Ukrainian teacher stopped at a specially adapted desk for wheelchair users to see how to use it. “Unfortunately, we now have and will continue to have a lot more students who are wheelchair bound or have other disabilities... We will need to buy a lot of these desks,” she explained.

Europe’s help for Ukraine

Few people have an idea of what teaching is like in Ukrainian universities at the moment, says project coordinator Sergiy Bronin. “We have been at war for two years. Some universities are more affected than others. We don’t have enough bomb shelters to accommodate all the students in the combat zones, so for safety reasons, classes are held online. In Kyiv, only first-year students attend classes in person. Some students and teachers have also moved to other cities or even abroad, so online teaching is necessary for them as well. That’s why we see so much value in DigiUni. It will help us maintain the quality of education even while we’re at war,” added Sergiy Bronin.

The visit of the Ukrainian delegation took place in a pleasant atmosphere, despite the sad reality in Ukraine. “We’ve only had three weeks to arrange the whole programme, so it was quite the challenge for us. However, we managed to set everything up in time, for which I am particularly grateful to my colleagues at Masaryk University, who were enthusiastically involved in the expert part of the programme from the very beginning. The result was definitely worth it, as our Ukrainian guests were delighted not only with the practical workshops and inspiring lectures but also with the opportunity to see Brno. The whole week was held in a friendly atmosphere and I believe we’ll also be able to work with the people we’ve met in the years to come. I have to say that Ukrainian universities are a great inspiration for us, especially because of the tenacity with which they provide higher education even in such terrible circumstances,” concluded the main organiser, Michaela Kortyšová.

The Ukrainian delegation will travel to the remaining six European universities in the coming months, after which experts from Ukrainian universities will work for three and a half years to develop the online platform. Masaryk University will have a more advisory role in the project, but this is one of the activities through which the university expresses its solidarity with Ukraine, as is the case with the MUNI Helps Ukraine activities.

Photo gallery:

Michaela Kortyšová, the main organiser of the visit, welcomed the Ukrainians to an informal dinner on Monday evening.
On Tuesday morning, the Ukrainians also met with the MU Rector Martin Bareš.
The delegation spent Tuesday afternoon in the hybrid classroom at the Faculty of Arts.
During the visit, staff from ten Ukrainian universities discussed various topics related to education.
On Wednesday morning, the Ukrainians toured the Simulation Centre at the Faculty of Medicine.
Teachers and administrators from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
Staff from Ukrainian universities also had the opportunity to have a go at virtual reality.
The whole programme was concluded on Thursday afternoon in the building at Komenského náměstí 2.