Innovations: a New Elective Course
In April a new all-university elective course on Science, Technology and Innovation: Analysis, Strategies and Policy will be launched at the HSE. It will be delivered in English by leading HSE international professors as well as some visiting experts. Dirk Meissner, Deputy Head of the HSE Research Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies, and one of the authors of the course, told us more about the course, its structure and specifics.
— Dr. Meissner, what is the concept of the new course and why did you decide to launch it this coming April already?
— We had a similar course last year at the Faculty of Public Administration, and we got excellent feedback from the students. We had around 120 students on that course and once it was over we asked them if they wanted us to go further. 75 percent of them said “Yes” so that was the first part of the story. The second part is that we know Russia is on the road to the World Trade Organization, Russia is affiliated to a lot of other international organizations and the topic of innovations is very high on the political agenda. We feel it’s time to prepare our students, to bring them some understanding of how to manage it. Everybody is talking about it but it’s important to treat science, technology and innovations not just as ‘trendy’ topics but know how to handle them.
Usually universities offer two different courses, one of them covering innovation policy and the other one covering innovation management for companies. But what is worrying is that students don’t get the whole picture. They either learn how to make policy or specialize in the company’s activities. But the policy can be successful only if you know how the company works and the companies can be successful only if they know how the policy works. That’s why we want to put together students of different faculties of our university, those who represent the next generation of policy makers, to teach them how it all works.
— What kind of students would you like to attract to this course? Could bachelor program students join it or is it limited only to master program or graduate students?
— There are virtually no restrictions. Our course is open to all HSE students but it would be particularly interesting to students of the faculties of economics, management, public administration, business informatics, world economy and international affairs as well as International College of Economics and Finance. We don’t expect them to have deep knowledge about science, technology and innovation policy. We expect them simply to be curious and to be open to new kinds of seminars and lectures. Needless to say, they require a basic knowledge in English.
Maybe we will have too many students but it doesn’t matter for the lectures. It does matter for the seminar, though but in any case we want to encourage the students to work in groups, to encourage teamwork. It means we give the credits not to a single student but to a group of students working on solving a problem.
— Is it a big course? How many lectures and seminars does it comprise? And how many credits is the course worth?
— We give a total of 10 credits for our course, they are split equally between lectures and seminars. The overall course duration is about 100 academic hours. The first part will last from April to June and then we’ll have the second course on the same topic from September to December 2012. Both courses have 34 lectures plus about 30 hours for seminars. The first course is more of a basic one whereas the second course will go more into details. I’d like to emphasize that students can join the second course without taking part in the first one. As for the course that starts in April there will be no written exam at the end. Taking into account the possible language issue we decided it would be more appropriate to have a multiple choice test.
— You have previously mentioned there will be lectures and seminars of a new kind, could you elaborate on this?
— Indeed, we are going to use a new approach to them. The seminar will be preceded by one or two lectures on the topic, then we’ll give the students a task -- a certain problem which they will have to find a solution to. We don’t want them to write an essay. We want them to prepare a presentation on their solution to an actual problem of Russian innovation policy.
Another important point about the seminars is that we offer supervision for the students. Once every week or two, we will hold bilateral consultations -- either personal or by telephone or e-mail. And the principle is that if a student sends an e-mail to us and has a question we will respond within 24 hours unless the e-mail is sent during the weekend. I know it sounds very ambitious but we have done it before and it worked. I think it will make our interaction more creative and more constructive.
Our lectures will also have some special characteristics. The first 70 minutes we’ll be talking about theory, introducing some international examples and the last 10 or so minutes of each lecture will be devoted to Russia. We’ll try to find out if the international experience is applicable to Russia or not. After the lecture we’ll send one or two short questions to our students asking them to give their point of view on this matter. And the very next lecture will start with a discussion of their feedback. As you can see, we are trying to make our lectures more interactive and bridge the gap between theory and practice. That is our ambition.
— Could you tell us about the teaching staff of the course?
— The core staff consists of professors and researchers of HSE international labs. I might mention Jean Guinet, the head of HSE Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies and the former head of OECD Country Studies and Outlook Division, Ian Miles, the head of HSE Laboratory for Economics of Innovation, and Thomas Gstraunthaler, research professor of HSE Laboratory for Economics of Innovation. We’ll also have a number of international scholars. All of them represent leading international organizations or universities. We’ll have scholars from Lund University in Sweden, several scholars from German universities, from OECD — the exact list of them still has to be finalized.
— Based on your previous experience here in HSE, does the fact this course is in English take its toll on the level of communication between teachers and students?
— Actually, we had no problems in terms of communication with our students. Of course, what we do for people who are not that fluent in English is to speak more slowly, formulate easier sentences, etc. We take this issue into account preparing multiple choice test as well. Moreover, we allow students to use non-electronic dictionaries at the exam. This approach coupled with our interaction between seminars and lectures proved to be a success when we taught the course at the faculty of public administration. We became even more open and delivered excellent results. I hope this will be the case with our new course as well.
Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service
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