‘I Hope We Can Turn this Difficult Period We Are Going Through into Something Useful’
In the very first days of the transition to distance learning, many HSE departments had to quickly make the necessary arrangements to allow students and faculty to work remotely. The eLearning Office has been at the forefront of these efforts with staff working well into the night to keep the educational process running smoothly and on schedule. eLearning Office Head Engenia Kulik breaks down the main takeaways from these difficult weeks.
What We’ve Managed to Do
One of the main tasks facing the eLearning Office was to ensure the possibility of replacing some lecture courses with online ones. The problem is that many courses on Coursera and Russia’s online platform, openedu.ru, have already started, so in the current situation, teachers’ course schedules did not coincide with those of the platforms. For this, special hidden sessions of HSE courses were created in on-demand mode. ‘Hidden’ here means that they do not show up in course search results, and users cannot enroll in them on their own. Students are enrolled in these courses internally, upon request from their programme office. And when a course is being run in on-demand mode, that means that all course materials are immediately open for the course enrollees, and the course schedule and sequencing is determined by the teacher or the students themselves. Tests based on the results of each module can also be taken at any pace. A student is given two attempts for each test.
To create and configure these sessions requires a large amount of manual work, and I am grateful to my employees. For several days, they worked on this into the wee hours of the night
But now, as soon as we receive a request from a programme office, we can literally in a few minutes connect students to the presented list. Working with the IT Office, we created a reference page for faculty members with instructions and tips for teaching online. Especially in the very first days, this was a very important resource for teaching staff.
The second task was to expand the list of online courses available to HSE from other universities that could replace some lecture courses. As you know, Coursera has announced a Coursera for Campus event: universities can connect to up to 5,000 courses for free, depending on the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in their country. We submitted an application and received approval for 5,000 free course connections for HSE. These will be granted, for as long as they last, in accordance with applications we receive from programme offices.
Finally, the third task is to help our partners in the regions. The eLearning Office is actively developing network cooperation with regional universities. We have more than 40 partner universities, with which we share our knowledge and resources by conducting training sessions and webinars.
The task of transitioning to online learning is difficult even for leading universities, and it is especially difficult for universities that have fewer personnel or resource capabilities. According to the results of our blitz survey conducted in the first days after transitioning online, about 25% of Russian universities do not even have their own LMS, or teachers do not use it or do not know about it.
HSE, however, has serious experience in using both foreign and its own online courses in the educational process; our university has the honor of ranking 5th on Coursera among universities with the most course offerings on the platform. We also have well-established business processes for creating MOOCs and including them in the educational process.
Therefore, we offered assistance to other universities that were looking for solutions on how to implement curricula remotely. Firstly, before the end of the academic year, HSE provided access on online.hse.ru to the university’s personal account and has been connecting students to the courses hosted there. Currently, students from 24 universities are connected to courses on this platform, and we continue to accept applications. Secondly, we created an online guide (in Russian) for instructors about how to adapt your course to an online format. Thirdly, we updated webinars that we already offer to include relevant, up-to-date tips for universities in the regions.
In addition, at a special board meeting for Russia’s National Open Education Platform (openedu.ru), one of the founders of which is the HSE, it was decided to provide free access for regional universities to the courses hosted there. To do this, the university should send an application to firstname.lastname@example.org. Connecting to the HSE courses offered there is also facilitated by the eLearning Office, and as of today 18 universities have taken advantage of this opportunity to connect for free.
The Difficulties We’ve Encountered
The current situation is difficult for everyone, and the main challenge is that it is necessary to change standard business processes in a very short time. This is a serious burden on employees both in terms of workloads as well as psychological stress.
It is revealing that in critical situations people are ready to unite, help, support each othe
We see how this happens both at the individual level and at the structural level—now both businesses and universities are offering their resources for free to help universities in need. During the crisis, a careful and respectful attitude to each other is very important, and the HSE team has again proven itself to be top-notch in this regard.
What More Needs to Be Done
In the near future, entrance exams will be organized in an online format. These exams are carried out by using proctoring systems, when a special employee (proctor) monitors the exam and ensures the integrity of the procedure, keeps students from cheating, checks student’s identification, and so on. Each year, the university holds several thousand of these kinds of exams—this includes both certificate exams for students taking our MOOCs and openedu.ru courses, and entrance exams for international applicants or graduate students. So the process is technologically understandable, but the number of exams in connection with the full transition to a remote format will increase significantly.
I really hope that we can turn this difficult period HSE is going through into something useful. And I hope that even after everything returns to normal, the use of instant messengers, digital tools for teamwork, and joint project planning, etc. will remain part of the common practices of a modern university.