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Challenges and Problems of Online Learning: Highlights From the Final Day of eSTARS 2020

Challenges and Problems of Online Learning: Highlights From the Final Day of eSTARS 2020

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

eSTARS 2020, the international education conference organized by HSE University in partnership with the global educational platform Coursera, reached its conclusion on December 2. This year, which marked the annual event’s 3rd meeting, the conference was held entirely online for the first time.

The final day of eSTARS 2020  was devoted to the conference’s main theme: ‘Transformation of Education and Global Trends in the Digital Economy’. Teachers, students, and university staff from different regions of Russia, Belarus, Pakistan, Armenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other countries discussed various aspects of online learning.

Pitfalls of Distance Learning

At the panel session ‘Sociology of Online Learning’, speakers presented research showing how students and instructors have reacted to the digitalization of education, as well as what kind of psychological impact distance learning has had on students. Denis Zubalov, Associate Professor at the HSE Faculty of Humanities, together with students Daria Vasilyeva (4th year, Bachelor’s programme in ‘Foreign Languages ​​and Intercultural Communication’) and Arina Barasy (2nd year, Master’s programme in ‘Foreign Languages ​​and Intercultural Communication’) presented their study, ‘The Digitalization of Higher Education as a Result of a Pandemic’. The researchers collected information on social media and conducted structured interviews with students of Russian and foreign universities. The first result of the study revealed the main problems students face during distance learning.

‘There are distinct problems that relate to five main categories,’ noted Daria Vasilyeva. ‘The first category is technical problems (poor internet connection, platform flaws, etc.). The second is a lack of skills related to the use of Internet platforms, equipment and others. The third category is organizational problems (overlapping lessons, lack of communication, etc.). The fourth is sociological (lack of personal communication) and, finally, the fifth is related to health: students spend a lot of time in front of their computer screens, which leads to vision problems.’

In her presentation, ‘The Psychological Impact of Online Learning on University Students’, Fozia Aamir Siddiqui, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Sindh University, Jamshoro (Pakistan) described how students in Pakistani universities reacted to the universal transition to distance learning due to the pandemic.

‘We asked 50 students about how self-isolation and transitioning to a new online format affected them psychologically,’ said Professor Siddiqui. ‘The results showed that of the 50 students, 43 did not handle being separated from their colleagues well. It should be noted that Pakistan is a land of collective culture and we believe that socialization and communication are very important. Therefore, the students said that it was quite difficult for them to switch to the online format, and due to all the limitations placed on socializing, students’ moods were negatively affected.’

Price Universities Pay for Remote Learning

At the panel session, ‘Economy of Online-Learning’, Viola Larionova, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Associate Professor, Deputy Vice Rector for Educational Technologies, Head of the Department of Economics and Management in Construction and Real Estate Development of the Graduate School of Economics and Management at Ural Federal University, gave a presentation entitled ‘Economic Aspects of the Urgently Required Transition to Distance Learning or What Price Universities Paid for the “Distance”’. The paper was co-authored by Tatyana Semenova, Research Fellow at the Center for Sociology of Higher Education, Institute of Education, HSE University.

The researchers calculated the direct and indirect costs that Ural Federal University incurred for organizing online education. ‘In terms of costs (or the price that the university paid for distance learning), the cost of instruction has increased, and significantly so,’ they said. ‘Synchronous work with students has decreased (it certainly affects communication, and we need to find other ways to communicate and strengthen this work). Instructors’ total workload has increased by 1.5 times, and the material costs for the educational process have increased.’

Larisa Titarenko, Candidate of Philosophy, Doctor of Sociology, Professor of Belarusian State University, gave a presentation entitled ‘Online Learning as a Tool of Internationalization’. She suggests that distance learning can integrate higher education in the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

‘I have a very positive view of distance education, including at the international level. Because, in my opinion, distance education can further integration within higher education in the EAEU. And in this case, all countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, using distance education, can tackle their political and cultural objectives—especially Russia,’ said Professor Titarenko. ‘This would provide both high-quality education for all students of the Eurasian space, and a solution for important tasks of the association: its own Bologna system, only online.’

On December 2, there were also sessions and lectures devoted to topics including ‘Artificial Intelligence in Adaptive Learning’, ‘Organizational and Legal Aspects of Organizing Online Learning’, and ‘How Universities Use External Online Courses in Their Programmes’. You can learn more about the programme of the second day of the conference here.

eSTARS Day 1 Overview

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