Publish Date: 17.04.2020

Category: News from the University

It has been a month since higher education institutions were put under lockdown, which demanded immediate work adjustments and implementation of distance learning. The adjustments at the University of Ljubljana have been successful both in terms of the staff’s work and a major portion of the academic process, with thesis defences also taking place remotely without any problems. Till 16 April, 130 theses have already been defended successfully. 

Based on the recommendations by the competent authorities at the start of the lockdown, the University of Ljubljana immediately introduced electronic forms of instruction and communication. “With the help of our devoted employees we have established numerous forms of distance learning because the academic programmes must be maintained. Our students must complete them,” commented the University Rector, Igor Papič, on the situation, adding that the Digital University project had already been carried out at the University for some time. “In the past month, we have made significantly greater progress in understanding the use of modern technologies in instruction than over the past few years. It is interesting that all the technologies used have already been available for some time, but apparently some sociological momentum was required,” said the Rector.

The Ljubljana Faculty of Biotechnology uses the block system, and so midterm tests and part of the exams had to be carried out remotely. “We mostly use e-classrooms (Moodle), but also work with MS Teams and This has been quite a challenge for all the instructors, because none of them had much experience of this before. We have also adopted the practice of certain German and Austrian universities that switched to this method. Because we had to reduce the risk of possible fraud, it was important to identify the students taking the exam. Cameras are thus turned on during exams. The software we use allows questions to be created for every individual. Priority is given to problem-based and essay-type questions, which are more demanding for students. The results are comparable with previous exams, which suggests there are no additional risks involved. During this time our faculty has made a quantum leap in digitization,” said the Faculty Dean, Emil Erjavec.

Most University of Ljubljana member institutions are already offering remote final thesis defences, for which detailed protocols have been put in place. The online apps used include Skype, MS Teams, ZOOM, GoToMeeting, Webex and online classes. “The experience so far has shown that the protocol and implementation are very good, and we have also received extremely positive feedback from the students or graduates,” reports the Ljubljana School of Economics and Business, which has recorded the largest number of remote thesis defences (as many as twenty-three) during the coronavirus lockdown. Klemen Bauer, a biathlete and student at the Ljubljana School of Economics and Business, was the first to successfully defend his graduate thesis in this manner: “My experience was very good. Everything went smoothly. A week before the scheduled defence I received a notice saying that I could defend my thesis remotely or reschedule the defence. I opted for the remote defence, I had enough time to prepare and I think I made the right choice. I think that if the student is well prepared, there’s absolutely no need to be afraid of the defence, regardless of what form it takes. A remote defence may be even more relaxed because you’re doing it in your home environment,” Bauer reported. 

A teacher at the Ljubljana Faculty of Electrical Engineering, who recently attended a remote master’s thesis defence, described it as follows: “The defence on Skype was the same as a conventional thesis defence. It started with a conference call, during which the evaluation committee members reviewed the thesis. The student’s advisor explained how the thesis was created and its background. Then the student was invited to join the video conference. The committee chair held an introductory speech, after which the student presented his thesis to the committee via screen sharing. After the presentation, the student was asked questions. The student was then asked to leave the conversation. We agreed on the grade and completed all the required forms. We then called the student back and the committee chair concluded the defence following the standard protocol. The committee members then congratulated the student.” Another encouraging example is a defence that took place in the Faculty’s online classroom, with the committee convening in parallel on MS Teams. The entire defence was open to the public, with the student’s family and a friend of his also attending the event online. “Everything ran smoothly,” the Faculty reported. 

The Ljubljana Faculty of Architecture reports that their defence protocols have been prepared in a form that is as user-friendly and accessible as possible for students, committees and advisors. They have proved to be extremely effective and successful in practice. The theses were reviewed and defended in the same way as before, the only difference was that by the specified deadline the students had to upload their theses to the online classroom following detailed instructions. The e-classroom namely provides a special platform for submitting theses to the relevant committees. The relevant committee then emailed any comments to the student. A mandatory part of the defence is also an exhibition of the work produced as part of the thesis. This was held digitally following special instructions. The students uploaded their exhibition displays and a complete master’s thesis in .pdf format to the online classroom under “Master’s Thesis: Exhibition”. Theses defences are posted on the Faculty’s website, where they open to the public. The master’s thesis defences took place on ZOOM. Students could also invite other individuals to join the video conference at their own discretion.

Yesterday, the University of Ljubljana adopted the resolution that during the 2019/2020 academic year, instruction will take place online wherever possible and without compromising quality. Recommendations to conduct oral exams and thesis defences remotely continue to apply, as do recommendations for conducting written exams online or their substitution with other forms. Until further notice, learning and teaching in larger groups at teaching institutions, such as hospitals, retirement homes or classrooms, are postponed until the end of the epidemic. If the Slovenian Government decrees so allow, practical training will take place in the form of one-on-one training with an advisor (research, training in a simulated environment or classroom), one-on-one training (e.g., clinical training) at teaching institutions if this is made possible by the institution, and other forms of instruction may be carried out if specific conditions are met.