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‘Choosing an Online Degree by HSE University Was a Very Easy Decision to Make’

‘Choosing an Online Degree by HSE University Was a Very Easy Decision to Make’

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The classes in the Master of Data Science programme started three months ago. This is the first Master’s degree in Russia offered fully online, with all the courses delivered on Coursera. Admissions for the Fall 2020 cohort are open until June 19, 2020. The students of the first cohort and one of the instructors have shared their impressions.

William Ng is an entrepreneur from Indonesia. His area of expertise is real estate development with a focus on commercial complexes. He received a Bachelor's degree in Finance in 2004. William has taken several online courses on several platforms (from programming to philosophy), which he has found very convenient and suitable.

William Ng

I found out about HSE University through Coursera platform. I was learning about programming and data science and came across the Master’s programme offered by HSE University. During my research to find an online Master of Data Science degree, I compared several other schools and found HSE to be the one offering the most comprehensive and well-structured Data Science programme. For me, choosing an online degree by HSE University was a very easy decision to make, as it allows me to learn at a convenient time while not having to leave my family and work behind.

I was amazed by the entrance exam. There were several sessions that we could choose from. The exam itself was timed and proctored (meaning that someone is watching you for the whole duration of the exam). The admission office staff were very helpful during my application. They promptly replied to emails and phone calls. To prepare for the math entrance exam, HSE provided us with test samples to get a general idea of how it would be. I started preparing for the entrance exam 2 weeks in advance. The exam itself went well and the score was immediately posted. It certainly felt great to know that you have passed the test.

As for the classes, I found the mathematics courses to be very rigorous and challenging. During my first semester, I am taking two courses: one math and one programming course. Each course starts from the basics and quickly builds up from there and then becomes very intense as it should be.

On average, I spend 20 to 25 hours per week studying. It takes me such a long time because I come from a non-mathematics background, and obviously I would need extra time to catch up with the subject matter. Most of my time is dedicated to reading and researching materials on the topic taught in the course. In the upcoming few months, I will be taking more advanced programming and math courses. There will also be plenty of projects to complete.

I haven’t communicated much with other students outside classes at this moment as this is still very new and I have not had a group project yet. However, we are provided with Slack platform where all the students can interact with each other. So far, I have discussed materials and asked questions on Slack. I also ask questions on Coursera platform and the instructors reply in a timely manner. In addition, there are live webinars on every course (at least 2 webinars per course) where we can interact with our instructors.

In my opinion, an entirely online Master’s degree in Computer Science is certainly doable with our current day technology.

I feel very lucky to have chosen this online degree. I think most if not all the people around the world have been affected by this pandemic one way or another. But as our normal day-to-day economic and social activities are affected, our learning doesn’t have to be. What’s more, it should not stop. I believe as a society we can do positive things even in the middle of this pandemic.

With regard to post-pandemic economic conditions, I am sure that the knowledge I am getting now will be very relevant as we have already noticed that many governments and organizations are switching gears to automate as many tasks as possible. I think automation will be even more integrated into our lives in the future.

Ksenia Kingsep is from Moscow and holds a bachelor's degree in Geography from Moscow State University. She works as a Senior Data Scientist at Severstal Digital, a division of Severstal that analyzes data and uses machine learning algorithms in production-related projects. She has mastered the basics of data science on her own by taking a number of courses and completing entire specializations from Russian and foreign universities on Coursera.

Ksenia Kingsep

The idea of systematizing and deepening my knowledge had often occurred to me. I was always checking Master’s programmes in data science offered online. At the end of last year, I saw a new programme offered by the HSE Faculty of Computer Science and applied for it. Many foreign programmes have a rather complicated and lengthy admission process, whereas at HSE everything was perfectly clear and transparent. HSE representatives answered all my questions during the application process and all the deadlines were adhered to.

I use Python in my work so I did not think that there would be a lot of new information for me. However, Yury Gorishny and Dmitry Borisov, who teach the advanced course, have made it fascinating: the material is clearly presented and the tasks are interesting and well formulated, so I enjoy studying. The Discrete Mathematics course was also interesting. The first part was taught by Vladimir Podolsky, one of the academic supervisors of the Master’s programme. He explained everything well and gave us interesting problems in combinatorics, some of which took a while to solve.

The second part of the course in discrete mathematics, which was devoted to graphs, and the Calculus course turned out to be a little more complicated. The explanations are quite brief, so sometimes it is necessary to consult external resources (textbooks, videos) in order to fully understand the topic and successfully complete the assignments. In general, all the courses are largely practice-oriented; there are many references to the real tasks of computer science.

Webinars with teachers take place on Zoom once every couple of weeks on average, which suits me well since I like to work on problems on my own first, and then discuss them with teachers and other students.

The assessment in each course is structured differently, but it is generally based on our work during the semester rather than the results of a single exam. It is better to do the assignments during a period of one week as there might be some penalty points for delays in submitting the completed assignments. On the one hand, this system encourages you to do everything on time. On the other hand, it forces you to focus on your time management. I like that the schedule encourages us to work at an even pace. This way, the information is processed much better than if you cram for an exam in a week, let alone a couple of days.

I hope that the programme will help me consolidate my theoretical knowledge, get relevant specialized information about my field, and that several practical projects that have yet to be completed will give me an opportunity to be creative and put the most advanced data science methods to practice.

James Sallivan is originally from Canada, where he did an undergraduate degree in Political Studies. He moved to Japan in his twenties to earn a Master’s Degree in Political Economy at the University of Tsukuba. He has always enjoyed developing applications with new technologies and is currently using his 20 years of experience in Japan to develop and manage localized versions of global products for a financial information company, Refinitiv.

James Sallivan

I decided to study online because I have a demanding job and need flexibility around class times. I researched various programmes on the Internet and the new HSE Data Science offering was one of the programmes that looked interesting. Moreover, Russia has a reputation for having strong math programmes. I didn't know much about HSE, but fortunately, I was able to ask some Russian colleagues at work about HSE, and they had a favourable impression of the University.

COVID-19 has forced online learning into the spotlight, but I was already in favour of online courses well before then.

I believe in life-long learning, and being able to follow lectures and courses at your own speed makes for better learning outcomes.

As for the entrance requirements, it was my first time doing a test online, so I was a little unprepared, but I like the concept of the entrance exam and think it is a good idea for an international programme. It is difficult to compare academic resumes and marks of applicants from different schools around the world, so an entrance exam is an excellent way to get around that.

I am only a few months into classes, so it is difficult to have a strong opinion. When I started, I was a little worried that the classes seemed too easy. Still, the difficulty and amount of work are steadily increasing, so I am not concerned about that at all now, and the classes are quickly becoming challenging. Not getting timely feedback is not conducive to learning, so I particularly like how the instructor of the Advanced Python class, Yury Gorishniy, has made his solutions immediately available after we complete assignments. Even if you have successfully completed the assignment, it is helpful to see if there may have been a better, a more concise way.

I find the other students constructive and communicative online, and Slack works very well for this. My time on Slack channels has decreased a bit, but that is more indicative of not having as much time available with the Calculus course taking up my time.

Yaqian Qi is from China. She currently works as an Associate at a hedge fund in New York. She has a Master’s degree in Statistics and Information Systems. Yaquian Qi has had some experience of studying online, for example, she took machine learning, deep learning, and advanced machine learning specializations from HSE, among other online courses.

Yaqian Qi

The advanced machine learning specialization is how I initially learned about HSE University. I realized that I still needed to build up my background. Fortunately, I learnt that HSE was launching an online Master’s programme. I applied immediately without hesitation. I found that HSE courses can give me a solid foundation compared to other degrees.

The application process was conveniently organized online. The interesting thing is that I actually applied on the deadline day. I thought that I may have missed the application for spring 2020. Luckily, I made it in the end. The entrance exam included math and programming problems. I code everyday and have forgotten how to really solve math problems without a computer.

What the entrance exam really impressed me with is that it actually tests your logic of thinking.

After the exam, I felt that if I was able to get enrolled in the programme, it would definitely benefit me. The programme fully meets my expectations.

Every day is busy and fulfilling. After work, I spend two hours per day on the HSE online courses. The workload is reasonable. At the moment I’m taking Calculus and Advanced Python. I had a calculus course before, so this course helps me revise and also gives me another perspective on the subject.  Besides, I found advanced python really practical. In order to improve your programming skills, you need to do lots of exercises. I use some of the techniques I’ve learned from the course, for instance, functional programming, at work to facilitate the working process.

I am going to choose the machine learning engineer track.  I think there should be lots of projects waiting for me. As for my fellow students, I feel that everyone is motivated and ambitious. They know exactly what they want. I think this is a great community.

Learning online is great. You don’t have to commute to school which saves a lot of time and energy.I think learning online is the best way to learn computer science. It’s particularly relevant today.  Programming and Stats are definitely very good tools to extract insight and make decisions.

Kirill Chmel, instructor of the Python Basic course, talks about his experience teaching online:

Kirill Chmel

Despite the fact that HSE University, as well as many other universities across the globe, swiftly transitioned to online learning, teaching at the online Master’s programme remains a kind of a unique experience for me. It has given me an opportunity to not only expand my range of teaching skills but to be ready for literally anything that is happening in education today.

On the one hand, teaching online turned out to be a lot harder than coming to the class. I spend much more time and effort preparing materials for a webinar that will further be used as part of the course than to prepare a conventional lecture or workshop. At the same time, I have completely no problem with finding a topic for the webinar. In case of the online Master’s programme, I have a unique opportunity to analyse the feedback that is constantly coming from the students as well as to aggregate their questions on forums.

I have delivered webinars for two time zones, but interestingly enough, there were students who participated in both: some of them were coming up with new questions. Such immediate feedback fully makes up for the lack of visual contact. Being alone with a web camera and a laptop, you don’t feel lonely at all and don’t feel the effect of an ‘empty classroom’!

When HSE University switched to online learning due to the pandemic, I only needed ten minutes to adjust to a new format with my offline classes: I just scheduled the classes in Zoom and sent the invitations out to students. Thanks to my experience with Coursera, I have started integrating different eLearning tools in my courses for on-campus students earlier: we have also used Zoom, DataCamp and Coursera courses as additional aids and communicated via forums, chats and feedback forms.

Coursera made me realize that you cannot just record your classroom lesson on camera and broadcast it to students in the so-called ‘asynchronized format’. The goal is not to lose contact, to receive feedback, and to enrich the learning process with tools that are as interactive as possible.

Admissions for Fall 2020 cohort are now open. Apply online until June 19, 2020. Proctored entrance exams will be held June 22-25, 2020. Detailed information on admission requirements can be found on the programme website.

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