The online conference “Digital Education 2020”, which was organised by the Centre for Educational Technologies in the Western Balkans “Edtech Centre Western Balkans”, in cooperation with the Institute for the Improvement of Education, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit, Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development, Institute for Evaluation of the Quality of Education, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia and the Petlja Foundation, was held on April 10 and 11, 2020. The Conference was attended by professionals working in preschool institutions, schools, universities and other organisations dealing with education. The aim of the conference was to provide a platform for the exchange of knowledge for professionals working in education, as well as to enable them to present examples of good practice with regard to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in teaching, innovative practice and teaching methods.
The first day of the Conference was dedicated to common horizontal themes in the education sector. The Conference was opened by Saša Stojanović, the Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development in charge of digitalisation in education, who spoke about innovations related to digitalisation in education, primarily about the establishment of infrastructure (providing access to the Internet, supplying equipment to digital classrooms, organising training required for the use of this equipment, development of digital teaching materials, etc.) necessary for the digitalisation of primary and secondary schools. Mr Stojanović highlighted the importance of strengthening human resources and introducing various free digital services such as electronic class registers and the Unified Education Information System. “The previous period was spent intensively working on establishing the resource My school and Edu service, which supports colleagues in their teaching,” said Mr Stojanović.
Branislav Ranđelović, Director of the Institute for Evaluation of the Quality of Education, pointed out that he saw the Conference as a historic moment in education because it was the first online conference dedicated to education aimed at teachers. “However, it is a historic moment for the entire education system, which entered the second phase by taking a seven-mile step and in a very short time organised itself and switched to a digital environment”, said Mr Ranđelović and explained that further activities related to the pilot final exam on the digital platform with analyses and future policy implications were planned. “The Institute now has a new focus, which is the quality of digital education with all the challenges it brings,” said Mr Ranđelović and concluded that the pandemic brought an opportunity to improve education.
Nebojša Vasiljević, Director of the Petlja Foundation, said that the conference had the misfortune, and on the other hand, it also had the privilege to be organised at a time when the digitalisation of education and digital technology was the most current issue in education since it began. He expressed hope that everyone would learn the lessons and incorporate what had been learned into the policies. “Within its scope, the Foundation supports the provision of numerous resources for teachers, from now on also available on RTS. In addition, the project Net Cabinet for distance learning is planned”, explained Mr Vasiljević.
In his address, Aleksandar Borisavljević, the CEO of the Centre for Educational Technologies in the Western Balkans and the organiser of the Conference, expressed special gratitude to the participants and lecturers without whom the Conference could not have existed.
The main lecture on the subject of Digital Education, Distance Education and Corona Distance Education was given by Danijela Šćepanović, Education Policy Analyst and Educational Technologist from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, and Katarina Aleksić, Head of the Centre for Education Technology at the Institute for the Evaluation of the Quality of Education. Within the lecture, a distinction was made regarding the meaning of these three types of education, but their interconnectedness was also emphasised. Furthermore, the concept known as home-schooling, within which parents and students bare the large part of the responsibility for education, was explained. Systemic instruments such as Digital Competence Framework – Teacher for a Digital Age 2019 (6 areas, 24 competencies, 3 levels of mastery), European Framework for Digitally Competent Educational Organisations (7 areas, 15 sub-areas and 74 descriptors) and the SELFI Instrument, which is derived from it and used for self-assessment and assessment of institution’s digital capacities may represent an important support for both teachers and schools, at the moment. Something that still awaits us in the future is the piloting of the programme Digital School.
The issues related to the electronic maturity of institutions and the concept of learning from home during a pandemic were opened during a panel discussion. The panel was moderated by Ms Katarina Anđelković, Programme Coordinator from the Petlja Foundation, and the panellists were Ms Jasna Marković, Principal of the Lazarevac Grammar school, Ms Dragana Malidžan Vinkić, Education Coordinator from the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit, Mr Uglješa Marjanović, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Technical Sciences, University of Novi Sad, and Ms Nataša Vrapčević from the pre-school institution Naša radost (Our joy). The panellists discussed issues related to the readiness of institutions to respond to the current needs of the education system. It was concluded that the previous professional development of teachers and supplying schools with the necessary equipment fulfilled the precondition for the transition to digital teaching and distance learning. Teachers and educators used the communication channels they had previously used with students and parents to maintain contact and quickly resume working with their students. Furthermore, many teachers and educators already use new digital tools and they are committed to further improving the competencies for their use.
When it comes to faculties, some of them already developed various educational platforms, which have enabled them to continue their work in these circumstances, while others managed to quickly adapt to the online teaching system. In the field of inclusive education, it was pointed out that efforts were made to design measures and recommendations for working with students with disabilities, as well as to procure the equipment for students who do not have access to the Internet or television.
ICT in Inclusive Education
The second day of the Conference was divided by levels of education, with a special session on the subject of information and communication technologies in inclusive education, which was led by the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit and which included seven lectures.
The session began with a lecture on the use of educational platforms presented by Miroslav Marić, Associate Professor at the Department of Computer Science and Informatics, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Belgrade and Ivana Kovačević, the Serbian language and literature teacher at the primary school “Dr Dragan Hercog” in Belgrade. They presented the Educational Software for distance learning, which is a database of created teaching materials, electronic courses and software packages that are publicly available and can be useful to teachers, students, and all other interested users. These materials serve as teaching aids in digital classrooms, for organising tests, preparing homework, rehearsing materials and they are adapted for students with disabilities.
The educational platform – portal “Milanče” was presented by Milan Kalamković, media librarian at the school for primary and secondary education “Milan Petrović” in Novi Sad. The platform contains more than 100 lessons intended for children with disabilities, which were created in accordance with the principles of universal design. From the same school, typography teacher Peter Tot gave a lecture on Personalised teaching, how ICT can help us create teaching materials for students with different abilities, how to combine simple assistive tools and assistive technology, and why repositories of teaching materials are important.
When it comes to teaching materials and the combination of different technologies, Aleksandra Filipović, a teacher from the elementary school “Crnjanski” in Jagodina, presented her work “Digital Classroom – Language Detective Room”, as an example of using the Wix site in teaching elementary reading and writing, which is harmonised and adapted to the students’ prior knowledge and intellectual abilities. By combining different e-tools and using the BlueBot robot, students work independently on the prepared material through educational games and practical activities.
Bojana Anđelković Mitričeski, a teacher from the elementary school “Branislav Nušić” in Niš, spoke about the 3D Astro Club, i.e. specially created digital educational tools that help students who work according to an individual curriculum, but also for visually impaired students to help them see and understand the concepts of celestial bodies, comets, the structure from which they are made, as well as states of matter that can accompany celestial bodies. These innovative teaching aids were created in cooperation with Slađana Jović, a chemistry teacher from the elementary school “Kralj Petar I”
The session also presented examples of interdisciplinary classes in the virtual world in cooperation with experts for students with disabilities. Marijana Bugarski presented how classes can be organised with the help of a video conference (classes via Skype or Zoom). Classes entitled “Bringing students closer to the cultural and historical heritage” were realised in cooperation with curators from museums and galleries throughout Serbia, as well as lecturers from various fields of construction and ecology. Frosina Pantoš, a special education teacher in the elementary school “9 May” in Zrenjanin, presented the virtual tour of the National Museum in Niš, the exhibition “Medieval weapons in Serbia”.
In order to overcome the digital divide between employees and students, the participants of the Conference were invited to cooperate and exchange knowledge and experience. It was highlighted that the biggest challenge in conducting distance learning is students’ unequal access to equipment, as well as that students mastered the technologies very quickly and that they find the online environment to be interesting. It was also emphasised that peer support is extremely important at this moment. In situations where students do not have access to computers or the Internet, the material is printed for them. Furthermore, it was pointed out during the Conference that educational platforms have proven to be an excellent resource in practice, for both teachers and students.
A recording of the entire conference is available on the website of the Centre for Educational Technologies in the Western Balkans “Edtech Centre”, for the first day of the Conference on this link, and for the second day on this link.