CASE STUDY – Vedamo
Founded in 1888, Sofia University is the largest state educational and scientific center in Bulgaria. Currently there are 16 faculties, over 1,800 full-time academic staff professionals, more than 100 Bachelor’s and over 400 Master’s degree courses in the humanities and sciences.
Ten years ago, Sofia University took the first steps in introducing distance education programs. They developed blended-learning courses that combined traditional classroom instruction with self-preparation through an asynchronous LMS.
In 2015, the university took the next step towards fully online teaching by adding a web-conferencing virtual classroom to their LMS. The academic staff chose VEDAMO Virtual Classroom because it combines high quality web-conferencing tools, with a rich set of features for collaborative work. This allowed the university to deliver the obligatory face-to-face sessions fully online through VEDAMO and to attract a larger number of international students.
In March 2020, Bulgaria registered the first cases of COVID-19 and all of the educational institutions were immediately closed for about two months. The Minister of Education encouraged all schools and universities to switch to distance education and continue to function online. At that time, only about 20% of all of Sofia University’s courses were designed to be delivered fully online. 65% of the courses were designed for blended-learning delivery, combining lectures on site and self-preparation using an LMS. In addition, 15% of all courses did not use any distance learning practices.
In this unexpected and critical situation, the fully online programs continued functioning without any disruption. VEDAMO Virtual Classroom allows the students enrolled in these programs to study from any location while having online face-to-face communication with their lecturer and fellow students. It also gives them the ability to present their projects using the interactive online whiteboard, to work in small groups in breakout rooms, to demonstrate their work using screen sharing, and many others.
The greatest challenge following the university’s closure was to adapt the blended and traditional courses as soon as possible to the new reality.
The blended courses had to provide options for real-time interaction between the lecturers and the students. Most of them successfully and promptly introduced VEDAMO Virtual Classroom as a substitute to traditional classroom teaching. It seems that designing an asynchronous course is time consuming, but adding on web conferencing to it is quick and easy, especially when the virtual classroom is intuitive and easy to use.
The most challenging part of the new situation was to adapt the delivery of traditional courses, which do not use any distance learning technologies, to the online environment. This process seems to be slow and complex, mainly because of the lecturers’ technical skills and the investment of time and knowledge needed to design an asynchronous course.
One month after the university’s closure and the transition to online teaching, we registered the following results:
- The crisis did not affect the fully online programs. Moreover, it was easier to organize web-conferencing sessions as most of the students did not go to work because of the lockdown.
- With the prompt introduction of web-conferencing virtual classrooms, the blended courses continued to operate without interruption. Currently, the attendance rate of online sessions through videoconferencing is about 90%. Thanks to VEDAMO’s tools, the lecturer can record the online sessions and send them to any students who are absent.
- Most of the lecturers in the fully traditional courses did not adapt their courses for asynchronous delivery through an LMS. Instead, they sent materials and instructions by email to their students. In addition, some of them started using web conferencing to meet with their students online, explain the material, and answer questions. Even with this option, the interaction between the student and the lecturer is not lost and the learning process continues in some form.
The experience so far proves that VEDAMO Virtual Classroom can be easily and quickly integrated into already developed asynchronous courses and can completely replace the need for face-to-face lectures in physical classrooms. In this unexpected crisis, VEDAMO seems to be not only a quick and successful solution, but also a way to optimize the common learning process by extending its scope and reducing a number of costs.