SU-HSE and GMU cooperation: teaching across the ocean
A new course "Political Analysis and Human rights: Special Issues and Global Context" has been introduced by the SU HSE Institute of Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities (ITHS). This is a joint HSE and George Mason University (GMU) course taught in English.
The HSE is a major research and scientific centre in Russia. As such it aims to expand Russian scientific activity and strengthen the Russian academic community's international connections. Today, mutual diploma recognition within the Bologna process, the "4 + 2" system introduction in Russia and international scientific and educational projects are all vital topics for the HSE. It is hard to hold your own in the international education community without implementation of innovative educational approaches and technologies. This new course, Political Analysis of Human Rights: Speсial Issues in Global Context, meets all these requirements.
The course was taught by Professor Nina Belyaeva from the Russian side and Professor John Dale from the American side. Nina Belyaeva was assisted by Dmitriy Makarov, a Moscow State University postgraduate student and Youth human rights movement participant, while Valena Norton and Nikie Omanidze, who speaks Russian as she came to the US from Georgia, were Professor Dale's assistants.
The American students chose the "Human rights and inequality" course, taught by the same tutors. In GMU this course is taught within several disciplines (sociology and conflict studies) so its EACT credit weight is rather high while in the HSE it is among ITHS selective courses and its weight is relatively low. This replaced the "Political analysis practice" course usually taught by Nina Belyaeva, Head of the HSE Public policy department, and the master's programme "Political analysis and public policy". The low credit weighting for "Human rights and inequality" course is connected with the fact that this is the first year it has been taught. Nina Belyaeva hopes that next year the students will receive more credits: "This is cross-listening. Currently, there are few experts in anthropology and human rights. So these courses coincide with each other. In the USA they are considered to be interdisciplinary and may be passed as exam for several disciplines. I hope this will also become possible at the HSE". Studying requires both writing and reading in English, also the students are included in other parts of the process; besides working at the seminars, usually until nine p. m. they also interacted closely with American colleagues, assisting them in preparation for the lessons. N. Belyaeva thinks the students should be rewarded as the first participants of this international academic co-operation.
But what about the "Human rights implementation in the Globalizing World" course? This is a bilateral Russia-US project promoting strong cooperation between students and tutors in both countries. Each lesson is devoted to relevant issue followed by a presentation from the Russian or American side. The presenter's speech and the text of the report were broadcasted online on the screen. It was supported by materials available on the Internet, for example, news reports. After each report there were discussions between students and tutors representing both sides. Each seminar was prepared beforehand. As part of the preparation program, students searched for relevant case-studies and discussed them on a Web page set up for this project. A "Reflexion paper" or a short summary on each particular case was written after the lesson. As a final work for the course the student examined one of the theoretical issues using a concrete example. They had to provide not only analysis of the political situation but recommendations on a variety of subjects.
As Professor Belyaeva said, "this project can't be characterized as curriculum for distant teaching since the level of knowledge is higher and control is stronger than usual. These are on-line but not distance courses. I don't like the notion "distance teaching" since that means unilateral interaction within correspondence courses. Printed papers and video versions are sent for people who can`t visit lectures. Our classes are completely real because of the close interpersonal relations. My students continue to study under my control. They send me their papers every day. The professor from the US teaches students. But video conferences are an additional resource for the traditional academic curriculum that takes place at Russian universities. Virtual teaching is strongly criticized. Usually it starts with the transition to evening education. Then it will be correspondence courses. But distance academics are the worst of all the things mentioned above. But we use the concept of the so called "global classroom" lessons and interpersonal interaction. It is not only an opportunity to make queries for Americans during the lesson but, primarily, the way to open communications between our students and me as Russian tutor and American students with their tutors. Students are constantly discussing ideas. Double control is installed. I control my students, they prepare presentations, tutors representing both sides teach with "reflexion papers". That means total control and high quality of education".
There is no doubt that this international academic program is supposed to be an innovative educational project since modern Web technologies were implemented as part of it. First of all, video conferences connecting the academic spaces of Russia and the US within time and space must be mentioned here. In addition to this, different forms of interaction were used including web forums, blogs, webpages, etc. This caused technical problems with equipment. The necessary equipment is only installed in two HSE buildings; Kochnovski Passage and Kirpichnaya Street. Our American colleagues also met with some technical problems. But all this effort is worth it for both universities participating in the bilateral program. "This equipment must be installed everywhere, in every HSE building and department. Every building must be equipped with a lecture-room for communicating all over the world, " N.Belyaeva emphasized.
Marina Ivanova for the HSE News Service