Breaking the isolation of Ukrainian university teachers

Lyudmyla Babak, project coordiantor and Geir Gunnlaugsson, educational developer. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

During the spring, around 80 Ukrainian university teachers have had the chance to take a course on online teaching and learning from Uppsala University. The hope is to give them new perspectives on distance education and to offer a forum in which they can focus on their role as academics and forget the war for a few hours.

How do you carry out remote assessment? What smart free solutions are available for use online? And how do you run a digital lab session? Starting a few weeks ago, around 80 university teachers from Ukraine have had the chance to take a course on online education given by three course leaders from the Unit for Academic Teaching and Learning at Uppsala University. The course is offered via Zoom and is intended for university teachers in a range of disciplines working at Ukrainian higher education institutions.

“The hope is that they will find it inspiring, learn new tools, gain insight into how to reach students and how to plan and conduct their teaching remotely or in hybrid formats,” says Geir Gunnlaugsson, educational developer at the Unit for Academic Teaching and Learning, who has been partly responsible for developing the course and is also one of the instructors.

Universities are still providing education in Ukraine. However, many teachers and students are somewhere else, and as a result much of the education is being conducted online or in hybrid format.

Before preparing the course, Gunnlaugsson noted an article in Times Higher Education that found Ukrainian teachers felt isolated and lonely. When designing the course, they bore this in mind.

“This has been an important part of the process – breaking the loneliness by creating a space where they can participate in collegial conversations. Enabling them to focus for a few hours a week on being a university teacher, and hopefully receiving some support and sharing experiences with one another.”

Support for isolated and stressed teachers valuable

One of the course participants is Anna Kholmska from Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute in Kyiv. She thinks the pedagogical parts of the course have been particularly good. She says teachers in Ukraine do not receive very much training in teaching methods.

“As a result, they follow the style of their own teachers, which is in turn inherited from Soviet times. When you then switch to online education, these practices are even less effective. This is why I think the parts of the course that demonstrate modern concepts of teaching and learning and their link to methods have been vital,” Kholmska says.

She adds that it has been beneficial to be guided by experienced mentors when it comes to which practices and technologies are best in connection with online instruction. This can be difficult to find out yourself.

“Teachers who have had to relocate and are isolated, stressed and constantly distracted by military attacks can hardly learn effectively by browsing random sources of information,” Kholmska says.

Geir and Luydmyla standing in front of the Segerstedt Building entrance. 

"We want them to feel it is meaningful to carry on teaching" says Lyudmyla Babak. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Aiming to help Ukrainians feel seen where they are

The course is just one part of the larger project Resilience of Education: Sustainability and Cooperation for Ukrainian Universities (RESCUU), which is run by The Baltic University Programme here in Uppsala with support from the Swedish Institute. The project aims to give Ukrainian teachers and students tools that will enable them to play an active role in reconstruction after the war ends. Apart from the course, a boot camp has been organised for students in Kyiv.

A course in sustainable development is also planned for Ukrainian teachers. In all these initiatives, the hope is not only to provide knowledge, but also to help teachers and students feel less alone.

“We want them to feel it is meaningful to carry on teaching, to carry on studying – we want them to feel seen. This is also knowledge they will need, both now during the war and afterwards when it is over,” says Lyudmyla Babak, project coordinator from The Baltic University Programme.

Ukrainian academics can currently apply for scholarships from Uppsala University to come here and do research. However, many researchers are still in Ukraine and will stay there.

“They must also receive support. We want to show we have thought about them too and that’s why this project focuses on work in Ukraine,” Babak says.

Sandra Gunnarsson


The course developed by the Unit for Academic Teaching and Learning is called Designing and Delivering Distance and Blended Teaching and Learning for teaching staff in Ukraine. It is part of the larger project Resilience of Education: Sustainability and Cooperation for Ukrainian Universities (RESCUU).

The goal of RESCUU, which is financed by the Swedish Institute, is to prepare Ukrainian university teachers and students to play an active role in reconstruction after the war ends. The project is directed by The Baltic University Programme. The Baltic University Programme now includes 21 member universities in Ukraine.

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