Staff hero: CGS was already primed for online teaching


“Nowadays, almost everybody is non-traditional,” says Boryana Dobreva, director of academic programs for the College of General Studies.

Even though Dobreva is talking about CGS students — who tend to be older than traditional college age, with jobs and other responsibilities — she might as well be talking about all of us during COVID-19.

When the pandemic forced most Pitt people to work off campus, we were all suddenly in the same spot as most of her students at CGS — non-traditional.

CGS courses have been remote, as an option, since the 1980s ­— as correspondence courses. Even before the pandemic, the college maintained about 100 individual online courses on average, 60 to 70 of which are offered each term to its approximately 800 degree and non-degree seekers.

“For us, because we specialize in online classes, we simply were able to expand those capabilities” when March 2020 hit, Dobreva said.

She joined CGS at her current job in 2016, but has long been at Pitt, earning her master’s and doctoral degrees in the Department of German.

Today, she manages and administers 10 majors, two minors and 13 certificates at CGS, as well as programs shared with the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, and works closely with 30-plus departments within six other schools to offer their students CGS courses.

Dobreva has often worked with the University Center for Teaching and Learning to help faculty develop online classes. Since off-campus became the new normal, she has teamed with the center to add faculty chats with center experts and also has expanded CGS resources to the wider University community. These include what Dobreva describes as “on-the-go resources for people to access whenever they need” — since many of her instructors are part-timers with other responsibilities, and because she and an assistant make up her entire office.

How has she done it?

“Well, efficiency, right? That’s always the key here. We try to collaborate more with external units. Sometimes extended hours were just impossible to avoid, especially during the first few months. Those months were very long. It’s still continuing but it’s normalized a little. We all know what it is like to live in the remote environment…”

She is conscious that, to some, there was “a previous view of online learning as less robust — and sometimes that could be the case. To design a robust online course it is a process and it takes months to do. Last summer we all had to reinvent ourselves. But the University has come a long way, especially in the last couple of months.” Adding new technology for online learning “has improved the pace of work tremendously,” she said. “We owe a lot to what IT has done over the last few months to expand the resources for Pitt.

“I’m happy that this is something that will not have to go away” with the eventual return to campus, she concludes. “We can be even more creative in what we do there.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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