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‘The Lockdown Was a Good Thing for My Studies: I Had More Time to Prepare for Exams’

The summer final exam session at HSE University (as well theses defences) was conducted completely online. The HSE News Service talked to international students about what they thought of the new knowledge assessment technologies and how they would like to take exams in future.

‘The Lockdown Was a Good Thing for My Studies: I Had More Time to Prepare for Exams’

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The summer final exam session at HSE University (as well theses defences) was conducted completely online. The HSE News Service talked to international students about what they thought of the new knowledge assessment technologies and how they would like to take exams in future.

Sardor Sadykov, first-year master’s student, Faculty of Economic Sciences

I study in the master’s programme ‘Applied Economics’. I spent the lockdown in Moscow: I didn’t want to put my family at risk, and furthermore, the health care here is better than in Uzbekistan, where I’m from.

What I find distance learning lacking in is the university atmosphere, which is what motivated me to study, as well as face-to-face interaction with my classmates. On the other hand, when you study online, you have a lot of time for other things. The exams were also administered online: we had five exams, and each was conducted in a different format. Two of them I remember the most: ‘Philosophy and Methodology of Science’, and ‘Statistical Analysis Methods’. The first exam was conducted as a test (I passed it on my second attempt), and the second was organized in an interesting way. For that one, we defended a project in statistical analysis methods as a team, and it was a fun experience.

Though I successfully passed the online exams, I still like a traditional format more. I think, it is more effective: when you sit in a classroom, nothing distracts you from the subject.

Daria Patsalyuk, first-year master’s student, Faculty of Communications, Media and Design

I came to Moscow from Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan; I’m a student in the programme ‘Transmedia Production in Digital Industries’ and I work. I stayed in Russia for the lockdown for several reasons. First, despite the fact that our office switched to working from home rather early, I feel more comfortable working from Moscow due to the time difference between Russia and Kazakhstan. Second, it is still unclear when the borders will be re-opened, and how soon I would be able to come back to Moscow. Third, I believe, we should try to avoid travel right now: airports and airplanes mean big crowds.

For me, distance learning is convenient, because it saves time. You don’t spend the precious hours on gathering your things, commuting and pushing your way through crowds on the public transport. After all, with concentration and motivation, you can learn the material just as well as you do in face-to-face lectures. And even online practical training in certain courses seems to be more effective. In terms of the disadvantages of distance learning, it’s sometimes difficult to focus on the studies. There is the temptation to become distracted by various activities at home. Also, you sometimes lose your sense of time online, and that’s why classes often go over the time limit.

A feature of my faculty is its focus on project activities. This extends into how they do exams as well. During this examination period, we didn’t have any oral exams: in most of our classes, we defended our projects, while other classes had written exams.

I managed to do well on all my exams. And honestly, I didn’t feel a big difference between doing our project defences online versus offline

The format is the same: we present the project, and then answer some questions from the teachers. We’ve had only one written exam so far: Debates in English. It was administered on Zoom; the teacher recorded the screen, and we watched the debates and wrote an essay on them. This exam had only one disadvantage for me: many students were turning the sound on and asking our teacher questions, without realizing that they were distracting the others.

The lockdown was a good thing for my studies: I had more time to prepare for exams. We worked in small teams on each project, kept in touch with each other, discussed our ideas together, divvied up tasks, and then defended our projects together.

Vladislav Vakarenko, third-year student, Faculty of Communications, Media and Design

I’m from Tiraspol, Moldova, but I’m spending the lockdown in Russia. I like the comfortable conditions at the Dubki dorm that were arranged for us for the time of the pandemic. No strangers were allowed in the dorm; everyone who arrived was quarantined, but all the necessary services continued operating. I felt absolutely comfortable and safe at the dorm. In my home country, I have parents and other older family members, so I couldn’t put their health at risk, and the general situation in the country is not so favourable. That’s why I decided to stay in Moscow.

Speaking about the new learning format, I’m not excited about it. For me, most of the university life is discussing various projects (not only study-related) with my classmates, friends and other students, as well as all kinds of meetings and lectures (at HSE University and other organizations). This all used to sum up to one big educational process, but it’s hard to maintain all this networking online.

In terms of the exams, I passed them successfully. We took exams for our third- and fourth-module classes in various forms: oral, written, tests, and project defences. Almost all of them were administered on Zoom, and I must admit that the assessment process was not much different from that in previous years. We are already used to defending projects, and turning on screen sharing online is simple. The only thing that was lacking was my classmates’ reaction. Before, many would ask questions in classes, but today, everyone sits with their mics and cameras turned off, without any emotion, preparing their projects or brewing their tea. In these terms, I prefer offline project defences and exams, since you get a live reaction from people, and you can see people’s facial expressions, which helps me take a broader look at my work.

What helped me prepare for exams during the lockdown, were online calls and joint videoconferences, which are essential for many of the projects. Such direct communication with my classmates was a true life-saver, when I was ready to give up. Their joint support and positive energy helped me achieve my goals.

In the future, I wouldn’t like distance learning to replace traditional learning. However, I don’t object having several online courses in my curriculum.

We had had online lectures before, and this is convenient: you can listen to the whole course at once, stop at certain topics, check yourself, rewind, clarify, write down, and google

That’s why I would prefer for many lectures to be delivered online, but in terms of the workshops that require inclusive work, it’s a ‘no’. Students need live contact, they need to come to certain conclusions together. We should work not only on the material, but on our team communication as well.

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