Blended Learning: Taking Teaching Beyond University
On March 22, the Higher School of Economics hosted a university conference, ‘Blended Learning: Experience, Success and Prospects.’ More than 100 teachers, academics and administrative staff from all HSE campuses met to discuss the strategic and practical issues of integrating a mixed education format into the learning process, as well as the challenges and benefits of combining traditional education with distance and online methods.
The Vice Rector at HSE, Sergey Roshchin, opened the conference with a description of hybrid learning models as a main trend in education worldwide. He also highlighted the importance of the blended format in the context of the project, ‘The Modern Digital Educational Environment in the Russian Federation’. According to the Vice Rector, the creation of a ‘one stop shop’ resource, which will bring together courses from various Russian universities, will increase competition and force universities, including the Higher School of Economics, to make qualitative changes to their presence in the online space. The approach takes teaching beyond university, where educating students outside the university becomes as important to teachers as educating their own students. Over the coming months, HSE plans to create a framework for the development of blended learning and for the introduction of modern approaches and technologies into the educational process - both on HSE campuses and online.
Evgenia Kulik, Director of eLearning, talked about introducing a mixed format at HSE, as well as various technologies and basic models of blended learning. She explained that, in the 2017-2018 academic year, there was an increase in the number of students studying in the blended format, compared to the previous academic year. This growth is particularly evident on the international platform, Coursera, and on Russia’s National Open Education Platform. In 2017, more than 6,000 HSE students registered for courses offered by the world's leading universities - MIPT, University of Edinburgh, University of Pennsylvania, University of California San Diego and Stanford – as well as for courses developed by the Higher School of Economics.
The introduction of online and mixed learning is a lengthy process and its stages have been repeatedly researched and described, for example, according to the SAMR-model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) and the 4-stage model developed by Alexander Uvarov. Therefore, according to Evgenia Kulik, it is necessary to engage in a long-term process which will include changing teaching methods.
Professor at the University of Lille (France) and HSE and Head of the International laboratory for Mirror Symmetry and Automorphic Forms, Valery Gritsenko, spoke about his experience in creating a course for undergraduate and graduate students on Coursera. In the professor’s opinion, if a teacher decides to create an online course, then this should become his or her main professional activity. Such work is equivalent of, for example, writing an article for a top journal. His approach yielded significant results. In the two years that his course has been offered Coursera, 1355 students have registered for it. Furthermore, three theses were written on the course topic (in France, Russia and China), two scientific articles were published, two dissertations were written and several course participants will be speakers at the Youth International Research in St. Petersburg. Professor Gritsenko explained that, if his course could attract 20 students in Moscow in offline mode, then its online format would attract more than 1,300 interested and motivated students from around the world. His online course also led to his meeting with one of his most talented pupils – a Chinese student living in France.
Case studies on blended learning were explained by representatives of various divisions of HSE. Participants discussed presenting the lecture component of the course in an online format, the integration of online courses in the learning process by other universities and how they do it, integrating introductory courses into a blended format and the introduction of this teaching format into the undergraduate and graduate curricula. Further topics for discussion included the development and implementation of technology in upper secondary education and how HSE students themselves relate to online learning. Participants also identified key issues requiring further discussion and consideration by HSE: how teachers’ workload will be affected by the emergence of work in new formats; educating teachers and assistants in how to use instructional design in blended learning and in working with new educational formats and technologies; regular exchange of best practices between teachers and programme Heads, and the gradual and well thought-out implementation of regulations to ensure the smooth integration of new formats (including blended learning) into educational processes at HSE.
Summing up the conference, Sergey Roshchin used research results to show that the more innovative a university is, the more willing its employees and students will be to engage in the introduction of new technologies and learning formats. And, according to the Vice Rector, the Higher School of Economics is a perfect example of such a university.