4.1. Focus Groups
Most of the respondents in three focus groups in 2019 (before COVID-19) have been able to define and evaluate digital literacy, which is identified with gaining experience of a skill or a group of skills, that most often include the ability to use computers and smartphones; the ability to work on various programs in Windows, information search on the Internet, Facebook, Viber, and Skype. The interesting thing about the respondents from the focus group conducted with the pensioners is that almost all of them regularly use Skype or Viber. The reason for the frequent use of these applications is the opportunity for the respondents to communicate with their relatives who are abroad or to get access to any type of information. Some of the respondents have gained experience in digital skills while working, which includes various professional programs such as the design program for CAD architects and engineers.
In all three focus groups, a difference was revealed between different generations in terms of their digital skills formation: “... much of the older generation was enforced to learn how to use the new digital technologies as it was necessary to keep our jobs or to communicate with our children studying or working abroad.” One of the major differences between the generations that have been indicated was the frequency of which the digital technology was used, defined for the younger generations as a “routine” or part of their life. The Bulgarian Muslims also agreed with the statement that the main difference between the generations is related to the faster and easier acquisition of skills while working with digital technologies. They summarized that “the young man’s world would be unthinkable without the Internet or a smartphone.”
It can be said that in today’s Bulgarian society, as a result of the use of digital technologies, a crisis in the family is increasing. Family life is becoming more dependent, and communications are becoming more electronically dependent (via Skype, Facebook, Viber, etc.), and the conflicts that have arisen are more symbolic and virtual than physical. The Bulgarian family seems to be losing control of its children in the battle with digital technologies. A solution to this problem could be to direct efforts in promoting the opportunities of religious education in dealing with problematic, critical, and conflict situations, especially for at-risk groups of children and families.
Almost all participants in the three focus groups agreed that digital skills help people receive better information. The internet and the Google application were indicated as an indisputable source of information, where “the answers to every question can be found”.
There was a dispute and interesting contrast in opinion among the participants in the focus group conducted with the young mothers. There are two main cores around which the views were united, excluding the respondents with no opinion. Some of them believe that digital skills do not really foster the development of civil society. As an example was given the failure of organizing protests on Facebook against the Government. Other respondents supported the opinion that Facebook enables large groups of people to fight for a specific cause.
The great interest of the interviewees and the many different opinions in the three focus groups provoked the question of the possible “menace” of digitization in society. The young mothers shared the view that the frequent use of computers and new technologies, could be a real “menace” because “the need for human intervention in some areas is reduced and unemployment is increased accordingly”. Therefore, digitization in the long run will require the disappearance of some professions. Another problem with the digitization of society was the problem of communication between people and especially physical communication. Parallel worlds have been created in the internet space that are replacing reality, the relationships in the family are lost, and the relationships between parents and children are broken.
The pensioners agreed that there was a real “menace” caused by digitization in society as it would replace the leading up to now human factor as a result of “machines and computers use”. In this connection is the topic of vocational training, see Jeleva, Nakova, 2019 [21
]. The Bulgarian Muslims also believe that digitization can be a “menace” to society. Misunderstanding and lack of information about digital technologies is a real “menace”. Like any technology, deliberate abuse is possible in the digital society, which can be a result of overtrusting people. In all three focus groups, there were respondents who said that digitization cannot cause a “menace” to society, “on the contrary, it is a natural process of human development and the benefits should be sought, not the threats”.
The main highlights of the second type group discussions were related to the lockdown period, where the importance of digitization digital citizenship is especially highlighted by the students. They said that digital skills help people to be informed:
“They definitely help because they give access to a very large database of information that can be used for different things”
(female, 21 years old).
Digital skills contribute to career development:
“Definitely yes, even this is a requirement for almost all better business positions”
(female, 21 years old).
Digital skills support the development of civic consciousness:
“Yes, for example, irregularities are filmed, posted, for example, on social networks or blogs... and this somehow influences people’s social behavior. I feel responsible to take pictures of things that are wrong and to share them with others so that there is a reaction to them”
(male, 20 years old.).
“I myself am interested in the environmental topic, and receive information on social networks about various events, we have a group in which such information is shared.”
(Female, 19 years old).
Thus, digital skills and access to information become a social regulator.
COVID’s situation has created a serious challenge—the need for secondary and higher education to move to an online environment. In these conditions, mobile learning in its various forms, and variants have become a reality in the last 2020 year. During the COVID-19 pandemic Bulgarian educational system meets the challenges posed by the need to restructure training and universal penetration of e-learning. The access to online training was the most discussed issue and is still so throughout the period of restrictions.
The topics discussed in the focus group were related to:
The effectiveness of ongoing digital learning;
the readiness of the educational system as a capacity and resources for online learning;
the challenges of online learning.
According to the students, learning from a distance and held in an electronic environment is effective in nature, because the lectures through the different platforms are conducted as fully as in a face-to-face environment.
“The lectures follow the set time as a start and end time, the teachers enter the platforms and present the topics they have provided, then there is time to ask questions from us and ask if something is not clear”
(male, 19 years old).
“For me there is no difference in what is taught, the things are the same, whether it will be in the university hall or at home in front of a laptop, there is no difference”
(woman, 21 years old).
“Online learning is more effective because teachers give more materials, links to publications than in face-to-face form. Besides, you don’t waste time traveling to the university, everything is electronic and so one mobilizes more”
It was shared that digital learning reproduces what is in terms of ambition, motivation, and activity, i.e., students who have studied and taken learning seriously, regardless of the conditions and environment, reproduce and retain an identical predisposition. This means that learning is a matter of personal decision, activity, and motivation; the environment itself, traditional or high-tech, does not have such a big impact. However, the participants in the focus group definitely evaluate online learning as a digital transformation in education, because until now, even if there were specific examples of conducting this type of training, they were isolated cases. The whole educational environment in terms of technology had to be restructured, new rules of organization, participation had to be introduced in a short time, platforms had to be imposed, and the teachers themselves had to be qualified and reach the necessary level for participation and management of the technological environment. According to the respondents:
“not all teachers are equally good and do equally well with the management of the technological system”
(male, 20 years old).
“it can definitely be said that young teachers are more adequate and it is easier for them to operate with digital platforms and their rules and their implementation”
(female, 21 years old).
The main challenges related to digital learning concerned the provision of resources, access to high-speed Internet, and the availability of good mobile devices through which to download and upload any information from various sites, sources, and platforms. Another challenge is the need for social contacts. Online learning creates a certainty in the social sense. Young people need to meet their fellow students, their peers, to maintain an open life in which meetings and communication take place in a living environment. From this point of view, most of the participants in the group discussion emphasized that the hybrid form of training, which provides classes that, on the one hand, take place online and also have face-to-face classes, is a good opportunity to balance in creating an appropriate discussion environment and interactive learning. In this sense, digital learning has made a serious breakthrough in the education system and created the preconditions for a new modern attitude to learning. Respondents stressed that digital skills are a necessary prerequisite not only for finding a job, but digitization contributes to people’s social and civic consciousness. Increasingly, various social events go through the Internet and chats, which are used as a space to share opinions, but also to activate people’s behavioral empathy.
Young people say that due to digitalization received a big advantage associated with promoting the causes and take practical actions, which are an important part of their civic consciousness. Thus, the idea of social responsibility is refracted through digital citizenship.