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Regular version of the site

Learning by Doing: Exploring New Online Tools

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Dr. Tim Jäkel, Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and Governance, shares his experience of transitioning to remote work.

Dr. Tim Jäkel

I appreciate that HSE University took rapid and bold actions to empower faculty and students to switch to online research and teaching. In the first week after I received full access to MS Team I created a “Team” and invited all of my research team members to join. That was easy because all students and faculty have access to MS Teams. I can search the directory by name and send out invitations. Our research team consists of eight bachelor, masters and doctoral students from the Faculty of Social Sciences and the School of Foreign languages.

I am using Microsoft Teams to stay in touch with my team members and to exchange latest news that somehow touch upon our joint work. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared the upcoming week a non-working one; I shared and commented on that information the next day in our chat. I am also using MS Teams to conduct online meetings of our team. I am posting the schedule and my notes for this meeting in the collaborative space within MS Teams in advance; and the minutes afterwards. I am currently writing the first paper with the results of our research activities. During this process I am using the chat function if I have follow up questions about particular facts, or evidence gathered by individual team members.

In addition, I am co-organizing the upcoming annual German students’ conference “Welt und Wissenschaft” in an online format. We decided to digitalize and decentralize the conference. Each section chair will select the online software that suits her or him best. Some will use Zoom, others might use MS Teams, or Skype to hold their online sessions.

My students positively reacted to going online. Having a conversation in MS Teams is somewhat less formal than in an email but still at a professional level. It is somewhere between a traditional email and WhatsApp.

Online conversation contributes to the psychologically important effect that working life continues and all of us possess the power to give our daily lifes a predictable structure.

Teething Troubles

I am in the process of learning by doing. The explanations provided by HSE digital team are extremely helpful. I also joined a webinar on how to use Zoom, but the challenge is to stay focused and to follow the discussion when too many people are involved.

I do experience the teething troubles of new technologies: MS Team crushes, and video processing is slow at times. A problem is that students and research team members need to install MS Teams and be online to receive instant chat messages. People carry their smartphones everywhere they go but they do not sit in front of their computers all day. Multiple platforms compete for attention, and my preferences might not always match that of my students.

Word of Advice

This is a time of uncertainty. But Moscow is a rather safe place compared to other cities in Western Europe and Northern America. I took advantage of distant working in my academic career before, so switching to home office was not a big deal. The complete shutdown of sporting facilities poses a huger challenge to me.

Since I do not spend time on commuting, home office allows me to get my things done in less time. But this requires me to stick to some routines. In times of uncertainty it is extremely helpful to schedule your daily activities in advance, say getting up at 7am every day, doing physical exercises before breakfast, or stop working exactly at 6pm to spend time with your family.

I take physical distancing very seriously, but do not practice social distancing. I share my thoughts, concerns and positive news with my peers online or via telephone. Researchers also suggest getting news only from one or two reliable sources and for a limited time, e.g. from RIA Novosti and the homepage of mos.ru or Rospotrebnadzor, 30 minutes in the morning and in the evening, but not all around the clock from everywhere.

April 02