‘Keeping a Student’s Attention Online Is Harder Than in the Classroom’
After a week off, HSE students returned to their online classes this week. HSE News spoke with instructors of the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism about what kinds of new strategies and approaches they are using in their online instruction.
Before mid-March of this year when HSE transitioned to distance learning, instructors and students of HSE’s urban studies programmes already had experience with online coursework, albeit not much.
Bachelor’s students in the ‘Urban Planning’ Programme got their initial sense of urban environments by using geographic online apps. They ‘walked around’ cities of different continents with their instructors. They played Geoguessr—a game in which the app places you in a mystery city and you have to figure out where you are based on your surroundings and the structural features.
include courses featuring foreign experts’ expertise on urban development issues that are held on platforms such as EdX or Coursera. Courses are organized in a ‘blended’ mode: students take an online course that is previously recorded, and then discuss the material face-to-face in seminars with English-speaking instructors. This approach not only introduces the students to foreign experience, but also helps them expand their professional vocabulary in English.
In the Faculty’s continuing education programmes (such as ‘Geoinformation Methods of Urban Data Analysis’), online educational tools were also occasionally used. For supplemental consultations about programme products and methods for analyzing urban data, a remote format was particularly convenient in that participants could display their graphs and numbers onscreen, thereby making the meetings more efficient for both instructors and students.
And, finally, conducting applicant interviews online has been common practice for the graduate school, as it puts applicants from Moscow and from other regions on equal footing.
As for all departments of the university, the transition to a distance format for the Graduate School of Urbanism was unexpected. The Faculty acted quickly to put mechanisms in place to prevent any disruptions in the learning process. Within a few days, a website was launched to help instructors adapt their courses for an online format. The site provides updated recommendations for transferring classes online and explanations of how various tools work and how efficient they are. Graduate students assisted in building the site, and this made it possible to examine problems not only through the eyes of instructors or programme office staff, but students as well. During the first two weeks of the transition, the site helped systematize the flow of information.
When adapting your course for an online format, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of online tools that are available. MS Teams was recommended for programme office work, while Zoom was recommended for conducting classes online as well as providing supplementary functions for programme office work. Tech support has been provided by the programme office as well as master’s student volunteers. Instructors and students alike can get in touch with them with any technical question—even if it’s simply how to turn on your computer mic.
All classes are now conducted remotely (most are taught online, and some are pre-recorded), and virtually no classes have been postponed until the fall. However, Kirill Puzanov, Head of the Graduate School of Urbanism, explains that their programmes were just lucky—the master’s programme team ‘field’ projects that were being conducted in nearby cities (this year students worked in Noginsk, Serpukhov, and Borovsk) ended just in March. These projects required extensive field work that included interviews with experts and residents and traveling around the cities, which in the present conditions would be extremely difficult.
‘Without first-hand impressions of the city, without face-to-face communication with the locals, without an emotional reaction, these projects lose their meaning. You can probably use Yandex.Panoramas, but they are not updated often enough and do not give you the opportunity to look into each yard and talk with passers-by,’ says Ruslan Goncharov, Academic Director of the Master's Programme ‘Urban Development and Spatial Planning’.
Easier or More Complicated?
According to Kirill Puzanov, online instruction puts higher demands on instructors. ‘Keeping a student’s attention online is harder than in the classroom,’ he says. ‘It is necessary to do everything you can to keep students absorbed in the material and prevent them from moving away from their screens. Otherwise, the session becomes less engaging and the student misses a lot of the material.’
The experience of the first two weeks showed that an online lesson can be conducted much faster than a face-to-face one: you do not need to wait until all the students arrive, you do not need to bother with a laptop to show the presentation — your presentation is immediately visible on the screen.
However, the amount of preparation that is necessary for the course takes more time — you need to weigh each word and more carefully monitor your own behavior, especially since a generally accepted ethics of online learning has not yet been formed. Questions about whether a student can participate in an online lesson lying on the couch and whether they are obliged to turn on the camera remain open.
‘There is a risk that the teacher will begin to overcomplicate tasks for themselves and the students for no good reason,’ says Kirill Puzanov. ‘One colleague had the idea that, instead of attending each seminar, his students could write essays based on the materials that he sends them. But, of course, such an option is disadvantageous to everyone. In one course, there are more than a hundred students. If they have to write an essay, they will likely spend more time on it than they would have on attending the seminar, and then the instructor will have to grade all of them!’
Exams and Graduation
HSE is preparing to conduct exams remotely using proctoring technology. However, Ruslan Goncharov notes, in some cases you can try to organize exams online so that the student simply does not have time to use external sources or external help (such as setting a minimum time for answering and proofing of one’s answers) or so that there is no need for them (such as assigning an individualized calculation task based on course materials with a strict time limit). The exam can also be an online presentation of a design solution prepared by the student in advance.
With theses, it gets more complicated. The Graduate School of Urbanism gives theses their utmost attention, and they involve a number of public events that are very important for students. In the master’s programmes, the thesis process involves not only a defense: students present a synopsis of their work (the project) and must pass a pre-defense before a commission consisting of representatives of different subject areas. At the intermediate stages, the student not only receives feedback and adjusts the further course of work, but can also find a consultant in a related discipline so as not to overlook certain aspects of the study. For example, if the work is devoted to the urban economy and involves extensive data analysis, the student is encouraged to get in touch with data specialists to fine tune their methodology.
By the beginning of the fourth module, students must complete the pre-defense and then the defense. It is logical that the jury members will either be together at HSE, or each at home, in turn connecting students to the broadcast. In keeping with onsite defenses, the commission chairperson moderates the process online as well, muting participants’ microphones if necessary.
Despite their willingness to conduct defenses remotely, instructors at the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism hope the situation will improve by mid-June and it will be possible to return to holding face-to-face master’s thesis defenses. In their opinion, the importance of this event for students cannot be overestimated—an online format cannot facilitate the range of personal interactions and spontaneous comparisons that participants enjoy face-to-face.
Optimising a city's transportation system requires insights into the dynamics of urban traffic to understand where, how, when, and to what extent people travel within the city. The rationale behind route selection and the choice of transportation mode are also of importance. The primary source of this data is the travel diary, a tool designed to survey people's transport behaviour. Based on a paper by Maria Sergienko, a master's student of the HSE Faculty of Urban and Regional Development, IQ.HSE examines how people's daily travel can be described in detail and why an automated diary cannot yet completely replace its manual counterpart.
An international consortium of research organisations from China, India, and Russia, including HSE University’s Faculty of Urban and Regional Development represented by experts from the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urban Studies and Planning and the Centre for Social Research and Technological Innovation (CITY), is developing an index of technological and spatial urban development (the Urban & Innovation Environment Index). Recently, a list of the top 10 largest cities of the BRICS countries was published on the project’s website. The Russian capital took the first place in the ranking, followed by Beijing, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, and Guangzhou.
At the start of August, HSE University held the tenth annual Summer University. This year’s programme took the form of a workshop on urban studies. The participants attended four courses from HSE University faculty and invited experts and worked on their own projects to develop a cultural heritage site. Jung Woo Lee, from South Korea, shares his impressions of the Summer University.
HSE University has launched enrolment in a new online Master’s programme in Digital Urban Analytics. In this interview, the programme’s Academic Supervisor Ekaterina Zarudnaya and its Scientific Supervisor Kirill Puzanov speak about the processes and tasks generated by the online city, the demand for urban analysts, and the specifics of studying in the programme.
Associate Professor Kirill Puzanov of the HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism and HSE University Professor Oleg Baevskiy have held lectures at the Red Square Book festival. They talked about perceptions of the city, its private and public aspects, chamber and representative spaces, and imaginary (or ‘vernacular’) areas. The open lectures took place as part of the HSE University Open to the City project.
Researchers from HSE University and St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPSUACE) used eye tracking to study how residents who own cars and those who don’t look at the shared courtyards of multistorey apartment buildings. The study was published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
Are cities set to become industrial centres again? Are migrants integrating in Russia? How are city dwellers taking advantage of micro-mobility? Experts from the HSE Faculty of Urban and Regional Development (FURD) took part in Moscow Urban Forum. This year the topic of the Forum was ‘Superstar Cities: Transforming for Success’.
What is urban planning? What is the ‘stranger effect’ and why do we need a multidisciplinary approach in education? School Head and Associate Professor Kirill Puzanov spoke with the News Service about what students learn and how in the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
On March 29, HSE is fully transitioning to in-person instruction. However, since March 1 some departments, including ICEF, have been conducting seminars on campus while holding lecture courses online. Oleg Zamkov, Academic Supervisor of the ICEF Bachelor’s programme, spoke about how ICEF survived the rapid transition to online exams, what LSE professors have to say about the effectiveness of the online exams, and what digital innovations that were implemented during the remote period will be used moving forward.
Maria Melnikova, a graduate of the HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism Master’s programme inUrban Development and Spatial Planning, has written a book entitled Not Just Prefabs: The German Experience of Working with Mass Housing Neighbourhoods. She describes how Germany investigates and solves problems of housing in the city suburbs. Maria spoke with the HSE News Service about her interest in this topic, what she thinks about urban renewal and what she does in Berlin.