Teaching and Learning – Transformative Changes from the Blackboard to the Virtual Environment

Integration of IT technologies in universities’ education and research process is quite common for the last decades. The importance of IT infrastructure, digitalization, and virtual technologies sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The voluntary and innovative aspects of applying those technologies transferred to must have and survival of education process in time of lock-down. However, a huge outbreak of COVID cases raised a Hamlet dilemma for all lecturers “to be or not to be” with already a clear answer. A challenging period for students and a nerve-wracking period for some lecturers: when ZOOM embodied a whole classroom and “break-out rooms” function – team working space; questions “Can you hear me well?” or “Can you see the slides?” were used as a starting prayer of a lecture. “Frozen faces” became more common, and loss of the Internet connection was the most significant threat (and still is!) for the study process. Despite all these crazy moments, this experience brought a number of benefits with innovations and skills among lecturers and students in a time of digitalization – as new era of transformative education process. At the same time, it revealed the gaps on a national or organizational (university) level. So the questions arise, what are the benefits and what are the challenges of the changes towards the screen-based education?

Trends and guidelines towards technological development and increased digitalisation in higher education

The importance of this topic becomes also clear when considering that the EU institutions prepare documentation, initiatives and funding for better digital integration in the European Higher Education Area. 

The European Union set a policy initiative for 2021-2027, “The Digital Education Action Plan”, to better integrate IT technologies in universities. This plan aims to support the sustainable and effective adaptation of EU Member States’ education and training systems to the digital age. The plan has significant importance for including digital technologies into the teaching process, support for the digitalisation of teaching methods and pedagogies, and the provision of all necessary infrastructure for inclusive and resilient remote learning. There are three main priorities proposed in the document: 

1. Making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning.

2. Developing relevant digital skills and competencies for digital transformation.

3. Improving education systems through better data analysis and foresight.

The Action Plan sets out two following priority areas: developing a high-performing digital education ecosystem and enhancing digital skills and competencies for digital transformation to achieve these objectives. 

Moreover, during the Digital Education Action Plan preparation, stakeholders expressed the need for better cooperation and dialogue concerning digital education. Accordingly, at the beginning of January (2022) European Commission launched the Digital Education Hub. The Hub will provide visibility to the outputs of its community of practice, a dedicated space for its information-sharing needs and ensure synergies with the European Education Area initiative. 

Lessons learnt about digitalisation in higher education during the COVID-19 crisis

Scientists analyse the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in various scientific fields – environmental, educational, social, etc. Experts of Kaunas University of Technology provided insights on a few exciting research results about the usage of digital environments in the study process:

Positive environmental aspects of “work-study from home.”

Scientists of Frederick University (Cyprus) and Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) analysed “The role of Remote Working in smart cities: lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic”. This article analysed the case of university employees’ behaviour in different types of working (fig. 1). Therefore, it is highly related to the studies and its process. This work established impact indicators that demonstrate the contribution of remote working models in tackling energy and environmental challenges for the transition of European cities to smart energy regions. The study revealed that: “at least 4.0 litres of transportation fuel and 7.4 kg of carbon dioxide can be saved per hour of remote work per 100 employees for the case of Cyprus.” According to the study results, only one question could be raised – how much of transportation fuel and carbon dioxide emissions were saved by distance learning?

Figure 1. Working and studying options

The impact of digital technology on Lithuanian education and the difficulties it faces.

Another useful interview was carried out with Gytis Cibulskis – the head of Kaunas University

Virtual learning environments have been used extensively in universities and colleges before the pandemic. According to Gytis Cibulskis, the Head of Kaunas University of Technology E-learning Technology Centre: “The Internet has become an endless source of learning resources that facilitate the transfer of learning materials in the technology classroom; communication, collaboration, and diverse learning platforms are essential in organising the learning process remotely and in a hybrid way.”

According to G.Cibulskis:

  • More attention should also be paid to the development and accessibility of digital learning tools.
  • Higher education institutions should be encouraged to become actively involved in developing and implementing EdTech innovations.
  • Virtual labs, learning data analytics, artificial intelligence applications, and other innovations could be tested by universities in higher education.

The solutions tested could be replicated in the general education sector as well, involving teachers in the development of teachers’ digital competencies.” Despite some drawbacks the Lithuanian education sector faces, there are some good initiatives to be mentioned:

  • Teacher training packages the EdTech digital education transformation project has been initiated.
  • Hybrid teaching equipment is being procured centrally.
  • Other projects are being initiated.

¨It is to be hoped that the impetus given by the pandemic will have long-term positive consequences for the overall digitalisation of the educational sector”. 

Further ideas for virtual teaching and learning process

Digital education has become an integral part and background of every study process. Therefore, the current challenge is to look for digital innovations, but not the digitalisation of the study process itself. The students and lecturers are getting more and more used to the virtual environment and online lectures. Therefore the development of the higher education will integrate digitalization, virtual and blended learning as one of the core resources, infrastructure and direction for the innovative and up-to-date competences providing institutions for the specialist of the future and nowadays. Transformative changes will be oriented not from the blackboard to the “black-screens” of the students (as it used to be in virtual lectures), but to the integration of innovative tools providing flexibility, individualization and all other benefits, the digitalization provides to the society. The question is HOW, but not WHY to be more digital in the education process. Therefore, the lessons learned at each institution and interinstitutional collaboration as well as orientation to the EU strategic guidelines will lead to positive changes and development of the quality of higher education.

p.s. Useful information for the lecturers and students, who are curious or still feel the need to improve the teaching/learning process, The United Nations prepared a list of programmes and websites called “Distance learning solutions”. The information and solutions include resources to provide psychosocial support, digital learning management systems, massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, self-directed learning content, collaboration platforms that support live-video communication, tools for teachers to create digital learning content, etc. The results of the TOO4TO project also could be seen as a set of useful virtual and digital tools for lecturers and students oriented to the development of sustainable management competences.

Written by Inga Gurauskienė, Kaunas University of Technology


Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). https://education.ec.europa.eu/focus-topics/digital/education-action-plan

Digital Education Hub. https://education.ec.europa.eu/focus-topics/digital-education/digital-education-action-plan/digital-education-hub

Gytis Cibulskis: learning process without technologies is unimaginable. https://en.ktu.edu/news/gytis-cibulskis-learning-process-without-technologies-is-unimaginable/

Kylili, A., Afxentiou, N., Georgiou, L., Panteli, C., Morsink-Georgalli, P.-Z., Panayidou, A., Papouis, C., & Fokaides, P. A. (2020). The role of Remote Working in smart cities: lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic. Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects, 0(0), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/15567036.2020.1831108

Remote working can help solve environmental problems and develop smart cities. https://en.ktu.edu/news/remote-working-can-help-solve-environmental-problems-and-develop-smart-cities/

Researcher of KTU: online learning – will we be able to learn everything? (publication in Lithuianian: KTU mokslininkė: nuotolinis mokymasis – ar viską išmoksime?) https://ktu.edu/news/ktu-mokslininke-nuotolinis-mokymasis-ar-viska-ismoksime/

UNESCO. Distance learning solutions. https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/solutions

Sustainable Innovation in Businesses

Sustainability is the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that use resources that can be replaced and without damaging the environment. Sustainability can also be viewed upon as minimizing the use of resources that cannot be replaced.

Innovation is all about creativity and novelty. An innovation often results in new products, services or processes.

Sustainable innovation couples these two concepts. It involves leveraging ideas, concepts, and products that achieve economic viability due to environmentally aware designs and practices. As per researcher Richard Adams (Network for Business Sustainability 17 May 2015), this can be possible by making deliberate and planned changes to a company’s products, services, or processes to generate long-term social and environmental benefits alongside creating economic profits for the organisation. It is innovation that serves public good, and is receiving greater attention even from the corporate world. Sustainable innovation serves sustainable development goals, helping create shared value, along with delivering commercial value creation.

Differences between sustainable innovation and traditional innovation

Innovation has been a buzzword for quite some time now, in various fields, be it in medicine, aviation, IT, education, services and so on. An analysis of sustainable and traditional innovation, led us to the distinction as summarized in the below table:

Content Source: Prepared with input from –

Sustainable innovation can at times be disruptive and it can result in better business models, improved processes, streamlined resource flows, reduced waste and cost, and create new market segments entirely, making it harder for corporations to defend the status quo. As consumers gain more knowledge on sustainability their preferences change and prefer to consume products and services that align with sustainable principles. Whether it’s fair working conditions or climate change, metrics are used to determine how ethical and sustainable an organization is and a key factor for consumers in choosing whether to support a business.

Why should businesses innovate sustainably?

Today, sustainability is the key driver of innovation. Incorporating sustainable practices can lower costs and increase revenues. In the future, companies that incorporate sustainable goals will achieve competitive advantage.

Challenges in innovating sustainability

Despite the benefits, pursuing sustainable innovation has its challenges. Achieving it takes time, commitment, and effort.

The following factors broadly represent the challenges in sustainable innovation.

  • Declining resources: Shrinking size of mature markets or lack of availability of new markets could contribute to the challenges.
  • Technical challenges and market reactions: Getting right the critical balance between scale, reliability, and cost
  • Regulatory, political, cost and supply chain uncertainties

Understanding these (and other challenges) becomes the first step to crafting an innovation strategy that fits the organisational efforts.

Ways to successfully innovate sustainably

Sustainable innovation can fall under the following broad categories:

  • Operational optimization
  • Organizational transformation, and
  • Systems building

Researcher Richard Adams and colleagues identified these different categories. They represent a continuum in terms of impact, with “systems building” creating the greatest change.

Firms can engage in three types of sustainable innovation; Source: Adams et al. (2015)

Other ways to innovate sustainably are:

  • Changing operational processes. Sustainable innovation isn’t always inventing products/services but offering existing ones with changed processes. For e.g. design, production, marketing, and even HR. Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, changed production process using recycled and responsibly mined materials, providing workers fair wages and good labour conditions. Their modular design makes repairs and upgrades easier for reducing e-waste.
  • Expand the business canvas by mapping the wider ecosystem of stakeholders and societal issues in which the business operates.
  • Analyze future trends and build scenariosto envision different, versions of the future. Use these scenarios to predict how might environmental and societal issues change over time and the effects of these issues on the business model.
  • Explore scaling up the business. Imagine the business model at different scales of activity over a longer span of period. Predict the risks and address them sustainably.
  • Identify innovation “strategic intervention points” that changes the environmental or societal issues, with a positive impact. They reduce the vulnerabilities of the business model, or even create new business value opportunities.

Written by Radhika Prasad Suram, Global Impact Grid