Speech by the Dean of the Faculty of FFWT
14. 4. 2020 -
Dear fellow colleagues and students,
it would be in its place in these days to address you during these upcoming Easter holidays. Instead, we are experiencing already a month of this strange time, dictated by the risk of spreading COVID-19 and by the measures of the Czech government against this disease.
The government, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, in the words of the ministers, „turned off “or „put in standby mode “among others, the universities, including our Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology of Mendel University in Brno. The reason is clear: in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The Faculty, like other universities, today run in the form of a distance regime. For all of us it is a new and sudden experience which we are trying to come to terms with, without having any previous such experience. Even on the onset, it is important to emphasize that the distance form of studying at Mendel University is not a form of academic vacation. It is only a different method of securing the education, forced by the situation. The students are required to fulfil their study duties, academic staff members are then required to provide on-line teaching, study materials, consultations, and communication with the students, but also, of course, their own creative work even if they are taking advantage of working from home.
Here is my apology as Dean, that we still have not fully provided learning in all available online forms. One of the reasons is the absence of information about the future steps of the Czech government. Universities, during March, had to figure it out themselves. Personally, I have to state, that we did not expect a similar situation, we were not prepared, and we had to deal with completely new circumstances. In the first days we dealt with the concern that the university would not be accessible at all. With the Vice Deans and Secretary, we met regularly and tried to ensure the primary functions and operation of the faculty. We are still looking for ways to complete the semester with minimal impact on our students. In the same way, we are continuing to prepare the application procedures, to accommodate new applicants as much as possible. Immediately, we started to deal with possible scenarios for the course of the next semester, but without available time terms, any measures and announcements would contribute to chaos rather than calm the situation. My colleagues and I did not want to cause uncertainty by changes to announced measures as a response to the decisions of the Czech government.
The first expected time term, given by the state of emergency, was the Easter holidays, when, almost after a month of the emergency state, the government announced a possible term to return to school on May 18, 2020. With this term, currently, the FFWT management is working on a current schedule.
Even in the absence of experience, the first month of the emergency state was left mainly to the teachers, as a space to provide students with study materials. Unfortunately, however, it revealed a lack of experience with on-line teaching and with the use of on-line conference calls. However, some teachers were successful in using various forms of technical support. Perhaps in the unrealistic expectations of some, this was all inadequate, but I kindly ask, mainly the students, for leniency.
Within the university, as well as the faculty, during communication and management, videoconferences in the MS Teams environment were established with simple support of sharing with participants of Mendel University. This application will be used primarily for providing on-line instruction in lectures and seminars at FFWT. Teachers, however, will not be prevented from using other platforms, as long as they already have them prepared and it suits the nature of their subject. I believe our students will not have problems dealing with the use of different forms of on-line communication platforms in their various subjects.
At the Dean´s session on the 8th of April, the Heads of Departments were entrusted to ensure the on-line teaching for all lectures and seminars by using MS Teams or other platforms in all compulsory and selective-compulsory subjects (also those taught in English), and this should be done already within the term immediately after the Easter Holiday. The Department Heads are responsible for this, that this on-line block teaching will be offered and ensured to the students. On the other hand, I also expect the activity from the students.
The prohibition of contact teaching will last, minimally, until the date of May 18th, 2020 as it was advised by the government. Unfortunately, this will mainly interfere with the possibility of practical teaching within the main practical lessons. This teaching unfortunately cannot be practiced in any way during this emergency period in a personal way. The Department Heads were entrusted to prepare the main teaching in an on-line format with the use of distance teaching. There may be a possibility for space for completion of on-line teaching if this does not occur during the duration of the semester.
The only main practical lessons, that continue to be prepared with the close connection to the state bachelor exam in the study plan, are the main exercises (ME) in the 3rd year of the Bachelor Study Program of Forestry, whose implementation is expected immediately after the cancelation of contact teaching on May 18, 2020. Also for this reason, the final state examination, one of the only terms, has been shifted to the last week of June. In the new schedule, for now, we expect minimal changes or shifts, even with the risk of preparing any other new, necessary schedules based on the decisions of the Czech government. In the case of the other main exercises (ME), we expect to find some compensation of this practical teaching sometime in the future course of studies.
It can be supposed that a minimal part of semester credits and examinations will occur also by using some conference communication, first credits and examinations have already successfully occurred. At this time, we are also solving the possibility of an on-line Final State Examination, if contact form of examining is not allowed. This shall be provided by „Lex specialis “, approved on April 4th, 2020.
The information relating to the new schedule and about any other possible changes will be provided to you by the Vice-Dean for Study Affairs. Please contact her or the Dean with any concrete proposals or suggestions.
Currently we are also trying to restart the working of the academic bodies, there has already been work on on-line sessions of the Academic Senate. In my own experience, on-line lectures can also work. Unfortunately, the sessions of the Scientific Boards have been cancelled. One of the reasons is the impossibility of the participation of foreign members, and also the technical provisions of secrete voting. We could also continue with some other academic activities which are not possible at this time.
What is intensively continuing is the creative work and project work, in spite of restrictions on the possibility of working in the laboratories and the impossibility of meeting colleagues from other workplaces. However, working with foreign cooperation is completely impossible. Here one can only hope in releasing of the strict measures. Here, also, many of the activities can be transferred to on-line platforms, but even so, personal contact is essential.
Of course, every situation brings with it negatives as well as positives. The fact that it is possible to include in our education our foreign colleagues without them having to travel far is definitely one of these opportunities. On the contrary, it will not be necessary to stop teaching if we are academics abroad. This experience will strengthen us; of that I am convinced.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the employees for the work done during these difficult days, in the effort the provide teaching in a distance format, and I thank the students for their patience. A big thank you belongs to all of you who, even while fulfilling your duties within the current distance learning format, have involved yourselves in volunteer work. As a dean, I continue to follow the activity of our student within sijemerousky.cz, where our faculty has participated in offering the use of a laser for the production cutting of shields for medical professionals that are being printed on a 3D printer. A thank you also belongs to all workers at these facilities. I will be glad if other volunteers, not only students, but also employees, will join in this activity. Even at this time, the faculty is engaged. Together, we can manage.
We look forward to meeting you during start of the winter semester, I will definitely support one of the small breweries and invite you to the traditional event Beer with the Dean.
I wish you all mainly good health, and so I do not forget, I am including wishes of pleasant and peaceful Easter and spring holidays.
Dean of FFWT Mendel University Brno