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Valery A. Yukevich of MIPK&PK: "Only Experts in Training Methods Benefit from Distance Learning Technologies"

Valery A. Yukevich Belarusian Universities are increasingly using distance learning. MIPK&PK and the Belarusian National Technical University actively implement this technology in the educational process. Retraining in Logistics often takes distance learning form, and retraining classes for accountants and construction specialists are held online.

We discussed the organization of distance learning at BNTU MIPK&PK with Valery A. Yukevich, MIPK Deputy Director for Information and Analysis, author and trainer in logistics, and project manager for the implementation of distance learning at the Institute.

- Our work with remote technology began six years ago with the introduction of MOODLE system. Webinars came much later. Today's webinar is just one of many tools used in distance learning.

We use synchronous and asynchronous distance learning methods. Synchronous mode means that students participate in an online training event at certain times, for example, attend a webinar. However, asynchronous training mode, when a student participates in training in a convenient time, is used way more often. An example of such work activity is "round tables", which we actively employ on training websites. The teacher visits the training site and gives a problematic issue for discussion at the so-called forum, but his continuous presence is not required. He only comments on the answers as they become available, and offers additional topics for study.

Participants of distance learning sessions at the Institute already number thousands. For example, the database of Economics and Management Department comprises 1455 distance learning students, while that of the Construction and Real Estate Faculty, where the system was introduced later, comprises 873 users. We regularly conduct opinion polls showing that the majority of students believe that these technologies are useful and comfortable. Besides, they neutralize the drawbacks of classical approaches to training.

However, we only use 25-30% of distance learning opportunities available at the Institute so far. It would be great to hit 50% in all areas of training. 

- What was the most difficult in introducing distance learning?

- To convince the participants of the process that distance learning technologies will improve the quality of training. Luckily, we didn't face any insuperable difficulty.

 I am very pleased that we then chose MOODLE system, because it is easy to implement and intuitive, so teachers can successfully use it from the start.

One of our teachers was very suspicious of the new technologies, so we had to thoroughly guide him through the application of these technologies. After a while, working at another educational institution, he asked whether we would allow him to use our website at the new location. Quite an orthodox teacher became the provider of new information technologies in other educational institutions.

Neither the age, nor the level of computer literacy matters. What does matter is the learning objective. First of all, these technologies enhance the communicative component of the educational process and promote customized learning. You can quickly join the studies from any point on the globe at any time. 

- Tell us about the technical side of the matter. What equipment does a student need? How does the teacher's feedback system works? How is attendance monitored in distance learning?

- A student only needs a computer connected to the Internet. Sometimes a webcam or a headset is required. Any computer will do. Sometimes students join sessions using a 3G modem. Classic Internet technologies, such as forums, chats, e-mail, and e-polls, ensure student-teacher communication.

Distance learning technologies are perfectly fit for monitoring. The computer system allows you to pinpoint the exact time, when a student connects, what section and subject he studies, what educational material he addresses, and for how long he stays online. And this applies not only to synchronous, but also to asynchronous sessions.

- Which type of training requires more effort: the traditional learning by correspondence or the new distance learning?

-Judging by our experience, remote classes better structure the learning process between exam periods. As a result, students learn more.

There is an old problem all Belarusian universities face: correspondence training fails to balance students' workload between exam periods. We reckoned that, training by the standard curriculum for Logistics, a student spends on studying about 40 minutes a day. With the remote technology, everyday study time has increased to 2 hours. So we were able to reduce the total period of training in this speciality.

But the increase in the number of remote sessions isn't our ultimate goal. First of all, we must advance the professional competence of those who come to retraining courses. 

- Is it possible to assess the quality of distance learning in comparison to the traditional form?

- I am for integrated approach to training, when both face-to-face meetings and remote sessions are properly organized. Nothing can replace the direct communication between the teacher and his students. Comparing classical and remote approaches from the point of view of their effectiveness is impossible. They complement each other. Pedagogy, methodology of conveying information, and knowledge development come first.

- What skills should a teacher have to teach remotely? Does he have some assistance in preparing lessons?

- First and foremost, a teacher should know pedagogy. Every learning website has an administrator for technical assistance, who solves various technology-related problems. We also financially encourage teachers using remote technology.

The remote learning system has been on for 6 years with no major technical failures on training websites.

Several times the Institute organized internal courses for all who wants to take this new training route. These classes were practically oriented.

The participants developed a specific lesson. For example, the refresher course closed in a Webinar or some other training activity developed by a participant on the distance learning website.

- Can you give some advice to teachers and leaders in education who are just starting to use distance learning? What should a manager consider to ensure successful introduction of the technology in his training center?

- Today, a teacher is no longer an exclusive knowledge provider. His mission consists in helping students to successfully navigate the boundless amounts of professional information and to build up an effective educational trajectory. Therefore, the main advice is to engage in self-development to keep attracting the students' interest. A manager should take into account the mindset of the team he leads and to seek attractive incentives for project participants. Resolving technical issues is a way easier than motivating people. 

by Ekaterina Sidorenko