In relation to the Decision of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria on declaring a state of emergency in the country in view of COVID-19 pandemic and the Order by the Rector, Prof. Dr. Valentin Ignatov, MD, PhD, the training in all programmes at MU-Varna has been completely shifted to electronic environment.
"The training process at MU-Varna proceeds normally," the lecturers explain. "The students participate actively in the training process through the opportunities for discussion, options for understanding the training material, and the feedback the system provides. Blackboard e-Learning system provides a wide range of opportunities for enriching the lecture material and exercises, using video, audio, PPT and PDF formats, which combined with a live connection between lecturers and students, make the training process very effective. A great number of the foreign students at MU-Varna are at their homes and because of the time difference they get up very early in the morning to attend the classes, but they are active and strict," the lecturers add.
The e-learning at Medical University - Varna is conducted with the help of the Blackboard electronic system for managing the training process, acquired and installed in 2014 within project BG051PO001-4.3.04-0068 under OP "Human Resources Development" – "Development of electronic forms of distance learning in the system of Medical University "Prof. Dr. Paraskev Stoyanov"- Varna". Blackboard is a web-based e-learning platform whose main purpose is to improve students' achievement by enhancing their commitment to the educational process through using a variety of tools for interactive teaching and assessment. The solution includes state-of-the-art software that meets the latest trends in education, as well as ancillary services that enable its successful implementation and effective use to support lifelong learning.
For five years, the International Centre for Electronic and Distance Learning (ICEDL) at MU-Varna has pursued a consistent policy of training the teaching staff at the University for autonomous operation with all the tools of the platform, which has allowed within 48 hours after the introduction of the state of emergency, i.e. from the very first working day - 16.03. - the entire training at all Faculties, College and Affiliates to shift to effective e-learning in all the disciplines that allow it.
Particular emphasis has been placed on the following functionalities:
Anti-Plagiarism Module compares students' work (and lecturers' materials) with other works submitted to the system, as well as with materials on the Internet.
- Course Management Module is fundamental to the system. It includes tools for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, creation, editing, recording and deletion of e-courses. The platform provides the opportunity to publish news and announcements, as well as the ability to conduct tests, assessment and control of the work of students and lecturers. It provides offline communication between lecturers and students, and part of the distance learning in the current situation uses tools such as forums (discussions), blogs, journals, Wiki and others.
- Content Management Module enables the establishment of one centralized storage space for all users' materials, used both in the learning process as well as in extra-curricular activities and projects. In this way, the platform enables organized storage, management, sharing and updating users' resources. Lecturers can provide students with text, audio and video materials, external links, textbooks, and links to rich world databases (such as McGraw-Hill).
- Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Module enables lecturers and students to use the most modern and advanced tools for synchronous virtual learning. The platform has video conferencing functionalities, a whiteboard for sharing, and a wealth of additional tools that complement and support traditional teaching methods. Thanks to this module, currently both lectures (with more than 60 attendees) and exercises are being conducted remotely. Online colloquiums are already underway, competitive examinations for assistantships are being conducted, and members of juries are participating at various competitions. Areas have been set up to hold departmental and faculty councils. Automatically generated activity reports provide information on attendance, time duration, and participants' activity. Verification of the learning process is performed online by the Deans. So far, we can report almost 100% student attendance in online learning, including lectures, which far exceeds the data on lecture presence up to the state of emergency.
- Electronic Logbook Module manages and stores grades from exams, tests, homework, group projects, test papers, etc. The module can be configured to communicate and synchronize the data in it with external for the system logbooks, as well as to provide various reports on the students' performance in order to analyze their participation and attendance during the classes.
The application of the Blackboard mobile platform is also increasingly successful, allowing lecturers and students to work with electronic resources anytime, anywhere. The application is used especially intensively by students during the state of emergency in view of their active participation in classes.
The Centre has installed and maintains SECOND free MOODLE LMS platform, which contains online courses for external users in Optometry, Pedagogy, Bulgarian Language for Foreigners and tests. MOODLE's capabilities and functionalities are closer to those of Blackboard, but users' experience is more complicated.
The Schoolhouse Test 4 software is also used to help the exam questions for the entrance exams in Biology and Chemistry to be drawn at random from the database in front of all the applicant students in real time, which ensures maximum transparency and objectivity of the exam process. The Articulate 360 Teams software subscription has been renewed, enabling the creative and maximum effective development of online courses, exercises and video courses by the faculty at MU-Varna with the help of the Centre's personnel.