HOW ARE WE DOING?
April 2020. University’s corridors seem deserted. No sounds coming from laboratories or lecture rooms can be heard. From time to time one can bump into someone passing by wearing mask and saying hello from a distance. The pandemic has had a great impact on the everyday life of our university. But does that mean that there is no life whatsoever? Not at all!
The University of Wrocław is comprised of ten very diverse faculties: Faculty of Biotechnology, Faculty of Chemistry, Faculty of Letters, Faculty of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Historical and Pedagogical Sciences, Faculty of Earth Sciences and Environmental Management, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Faculty of Law, Administration and Economy. During this time, they all work as usual but not exactly in the ordinary way. Teaching, research, contact with students, administrative work – all this still happens but somewhat differently. Let us read how we are handling the situation.
Due to the pandemic, rector of UWr decided that all the teaching be conducted online. Some of the teachers had had the chance of doing it in this way. For many others, however, it was a novelty that they had to bring into effect immediately. They had to contact their students, settle the time and platform on which the lectures would be conducted. Technological problems and network congestion did not help.
Dr Filip Duszyński from the Institute of Geography and Regional Development says: “Surely, not many of us realised how powerful online tools like MS Teams or E-EDU platform are. Before the epidemic, they were just a titbit that I did not intend to make us of. Eventually, it turned out that the new reality forced all of us to quickly learn these new methods.”
Most often, lecturers go for MS Teams (being part of MS Office 365), but also USOSweb, E-EDU, Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, MS Whiteboard, OBS Studio, or Wacom. In order to support the teachers, faculties offered their aid by providing them with self-teaching books, tutorials, manuals, instructional films, MS Teams training, advices distributed through e-mail, courses, etc.
Thanks to the Internet, it was feasable to organise events that would seem to be possible to happen only at the campus. One of them were open days for the candidates at the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Sciences. Another were lectures at the Astronomical Institute that, after having been published on Facebook and YouTube, attracted such a great attention that there were many more views that chairs in the lecture room.
When it comes to classes that cannot be conducted with the use of technology and only in the field or in a laboratory, there is no other way than to wait until the ‘traditional’ workshops are allowed. As for the exams, some students have already had taken them and they are now waiting for their diplomas.
Although it might seem that most of us have handled this sudden necessity to move all the work on to a different level well, we have to remember that it is an unusual situation. Changes were not planned and they were not implemented gradually, so not everyone had the chance to become acquainted with the new reality equally. It is worth to draw a conclusion from this experience for the future that investment in new tools is equally crucial as investment in educating the staff how to use them.
And finally, as Dr Duszyński emphasizes, “Online classes will never replace traditional on-campus workshops and lectures! First and foremost, ‘classes’ means a discussion, inspiring students to creative acting and thinking. It is a student-master relation, which is being built during consecutive face-to-face meetings. Even the most state-of-the-art technology is not able to match that.”
The current situation forced a change in doing research, too. Some people just moved from their office desk to home desk. Is the only thing just to tell the other residents at home to stay silent? Unfortunately, in practice it is not that simple as that.
“Most of the tasks connected with my research has been suspended. In April, I was supposed to go to Switzerland. I hope I will be able to do it in the autumn this year. I have also suspended a project that is funded by NCN – there is no way for me to conduct interviews, gather photographic documentation, or have field visits. I intend to come back to these activities in Septeber,” says Professor Katarzyna Kajdanek from the Institute of Sociology. “I naively thought that I would be writing more – a long-delayed article or a new chapter of the book. However, the general feeling of anxiety leads me to focusing on minor home tasks or on maintaining mental balance of me and my students, for whom I am responsible as the coordinator of study-programmes in English and the Erasmus programme at UWr.”
Some research work cannot be done in the current way. Field trips are cancelled and research centres are closed. However, research groups remain in touch with one another. Additionally, a lot of research is being done but with certain modifications: laboratories are available to the staff and PhD students who do a research there, a shift work has been introduced, physicists make measurements that can be done by one person, some scientists do their work in a laboratory or outside the campus, following all the safety regulations. The projects that do not require conducting experiments are being done undisturbed, and the astronomical observations in Białków is being done as usual.
How do students handle this unusual situation? On the one hand, new technologies are nothing new to them. On the other, most of them took part in online classes for the first time.
The vast majority of students have met the challenge and they are ‘present’ at the meetings. What they appreciate most are those meeting when they can see and interact with lecturers. However, classes that boil down to only e-mail correspondence are being deemed less attractive. As Robert Dąbrowski – a student of psychology and philosophy says, “The synchronous online classes on MS Teams or Zoom are very similar to the traditional ones as long as their character does not require an in-person attendance. With the asynchronous ones, on the other hand, sometimes I have a worse experience, as they usually demand more work with less feedback, which in turn does not help with learning and may cause the feeling of being left alone.”
Students of all faculties have regular online classes and are in constant contact with their teachers, they keep writing bachelor’s or master’s theses, and are being examined virtually. There are many other measures that proved extremely helpful: chat box that enabled contacting the authorities within a department, catalogues and mobile apps in Polish and English, website with all the information about the pandemic and with FAQ, or regular YouTube transmissions during which the dean answers questions.
Students are facing a lot of problems. Among them, there is lack of proper equipment, software, broadband Internet, or not having their own quiet space in the house. Part-time students still have to pay the full amount for their studies. Foreign students are in a particularly difficult position. Only a tiny number of them went back to their countries and the remaining ones are still waiting for information that will help them decide whether to stay or leave. Not all of these problems can be fixed, and certainly not at once.
In all departments, the administrative work has been scheduled in such a way that the functioning of faculties is undisturbed. Of course, for safety reasons, direct contacts with other people has been limited and e-mail and phone communication has been encouraged. Many of the employees are working remotely from home.
If you have an impression that nothing is happening at the University of Wrocław, it is just an illusion. New ideas constantly come up, knowledge is being spread, everything works, just differently – with the help of Internet. And this is yet another thing that connects us – the community of UWr.
*We recommend getting acquainted with the tutorials below (in Polish):