Sofia University is the largest state educational and scientific center in Bulgaria, ranked among the top 50 universities in the EECA, with more than 100 Bachelor’s degrees, and over 400 Master’s degree courses in 16 faculties with 4000+ educational and administrative staff employed full-time. Sofia University works with 20,000 Bulgarian and international students.
What challenges did Sofia University face and how did VEDAMO help?
In 2013, the university piloted its first distance education programs using its asynchronous platform with pre-made materials. Due to a lack of real-time interaction between the lecturers and students, the university team was not able to fully launch online courses and kept on conducting face-to-face sessions as part of the distance learning programs. As a result, a lot of students living outside Sofia or abroad were not able to visit the traditional sessions and complete the distance courses. After the first year, the university started looking for a synchronous e-learning solution to offer fully online programs by ensuring real-time online interaction replacing traditional sessions.
Remote online courses
In 2014, the Faculty of Education conducted several pilot courses using the VEDAMO Virtual Classroom. This allowed the lecturers to add real-time online sessions to their asynchronous Moodle courses. As a result, the first fully online Master’s degree programs were accredited for distance form of learning.
In 2020-2022, the university operated fully online due to the COVID-pandemic. The experience gained by the professors who used VEDAMO in the previous years helped them make a smooth transition from on-site to online teaching without any disruption. They easily transformed all their in-presence courses to fully online delivery combining asynchronous and synchronous tools. Since the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year, all in-person courses were restored.
In the hybrid-learning model, there are students on-site, in the physical classroom, and students online, who participate in the session remotely via a virtual classroom. The students on-site and online cover the same learning content and activities.
Currently, VEDAMO allows Sofia University lecturers to deliver high-quality hybrid sessions and involve the students who are not able to attend the physical classroom.
What technical setup do SU professors use to conduct a hybrid session?
- A big screen in the physical classroom – a multimedia projector or an interactive whiteboard depending on the equipment in the classroom. The professor opens VEDAMO Virtual Classroom and shares their slides and study materials on the virtual classroom whiteboard. Then invites the students who join the session remotely to enter the virtual classroom. Thus, the students on-site and students online are able to see the shared study content with the same quality.
- 2 laptops with web cameras for the professor – one of the laptops is pointed at the professor and the other one – to the classroom. Thus, the students online are able to see not only the learning content and activities, shared on the online whiteboard but also their lecturer and their fellow students.
- Speakers – through the speakers, the students on-site can hear clearly the multimedia content as well as their fellow students online.
- External mobile microphone – it allows the participants in the physical classroom to interact with the students in the virtual classroom.
- Devices for the students on-site – they are needed for when the students on-site and the students online collaborate in the VEDAMO breakout rooms during the session. When the students in the physical classroom have laptops, tablets, or smartphones, they can use the whiteboard in their breakout room and create content along with their peers online.
- A graphic tablet (optional) – it allows the professor to write and draw by hand on the shared virtual classroom whiteboard in the same way as on a physical board with a marker.
What types of learning activities can the professors implement in their hybrid courses?
- Presentation of educational multimedia content – by using the virtual classroom whiteboard, media player, and shared screens.
- Demonstration – through videoconferencing, online whiteboard, shared screens, and media player.
- Whole group discussion – through videoconferencing, online whiteboard, and chat
- Small group collaborative activities – in the breakout rooms and the online whiteboard in them
- Individual assignments – in the breakout rooms and the online whiteboard in them
- Polls and quizzes – through the polls tool
- Icebreakers and educational games – by using the online whiteboard and external interactive educational apps on a shared screen.
What are the key benefits of using VEDAMO to implement a hybrid model?
- Sharing content with the same quality to the students online and on-site
- Ensuring equal active participation for both online and on-site students
- Getting together students online and students on-site in collaborative activities
- Smooth classroom management in both modalities (in-person and remote)
Sofia University lecturers who use VEDAMO shared that they benefit from the virtual classroom due to:
- its user-friendly and accessible interface is suitable for students with diverse technical skills;
- its easy integration into the asynchronous Moodle courses;
- the possibility to work on flexible schedules;
- the opportunity to equally involve students in the learning process irrespective of their location;
- the ability to engage both online and on-site students in interactive activities by using the online whiteboard
- both in the main room and the breakout rooms;
- the variety of tools for group collaboration and individual work;
- the excellent and timely technical support.