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Entrance Testing, Individual Academic Trajectories, and Online Courses

How English-Language Teaching Will Change this Fall

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

This coming academic year students will be able to design their own academic trajectories, take supplemental online courses, receive feedback, and undergo formative assessment in the School of Foreign Languages. These changes will be relevant to programmes with state-funded places. HSE News Service spoke with the head of the School of Foreign Languages, Ekaterina Kolesnikova, about a new approach at HSE to English-language teaching and the development of students’ communicative skills in the language.

Ekaterina Kolesnikova
Head of the School of Foreign Languages

How is English-language teaching going to change at HSE?

— It seems to me that an innovation of paramount importance is our now online entrance testing in English that includes course recommendations.

It is important for us to take into account that students come to the university with very different educational and social experiences. This makes the task of developing English-speaking skills a multidimensional one that does not have universal solutions.

The School of Foreign Languages ​​is beginning to develop a pedagogical system that has individual educational goals, varied course content, a wide selection of courses, feedback, and assessment.

The skillsets with which first-year students enter our programme change, so we need a flexible teaching system. Our new entrance testing will allow us to offer a tailored system for every new cohort each year. It is important for us to be able to accurately identify students’ level of English proficiency, and in the future, to take into account the various characteristics of the academic environment or the students themselves, which can determine their choice of an optimal academic trajectory. More useful information at the start means more reliable solutions later on.

What new programme features will appear in the near future?

— In order to manage the course offerings of the School of Foreign Languages, it is important to maintain order in them. Each subject has now been assigned a level of difficulty and is part of a certain trajectory. It can be English for communication purposes, English for academic and business communication, English for specialized or academic writing (with an eye towards publication), and so on.

Since more than 1,000 students can study in one subject, it is important for us to develop and implement quality standards for the implementation of each course of the School. I can already tell you that one of the ways in which we will do this is by allowing students to complete their classroom hours online with online resources, which will facilitate independent study and self-assessment. Over time, I hope we will have courses that will be fascinating in terms of their content and form of presentation and will be filled on a competitive basis.

'Next year, the School of Foreign Languages will offer online courses'

The development of online English courses focusing on academic and professional communication, business communication, and general communication skills has already begun. We have put together creative teams and working groups that will be testing materials this year in order to present new courses next summer and introduce them into the curriculum in 2021. There is a lot of preparatory work going on now, it is not very noticeable yet, but we will be presenting some of the work of our group leaders and their projects quite soon.

What academic trajectories will be available for this year’s new cohort?

— First-year students will be offered courses of different levels of complexity and content, the list of which has been previously agreed upon with faculties and educational programs. Each subject will have a prerequisite: certain entrance testing scores will be required for first-semester courses, and certain interim testing scores for second-semester courses (interim testing is held in December). Thus, if a student significantly improves their English-language proficiency during the fall semester, they will have a much wider selection of courses to choos from for the spring semester.

At the same time, we will not insist that a student changes their level if they are not comfortable doing so. Interim testing is not included in the rating, it is carried out solely in order to open up new opportunities for choosing courses or to signal that there are problems, and we need to adjust the academic trajectory of the internal exam.

These changes all constitute the new ‘Concept for the School of Foreign Languages’ ​​and its teachers. Why did the School decide to develop and implement this Concept?

— I would like the new Concept to become a system-forming project of the School of Foreign Languages that creates new opportunities for pedagogical creativity, professional cooperation, and research.

It implies the development of a culture of creating new ideas and new products, making decisions based on data analysis and people’s needs, collaborative approaches to complex tasks, and looking for leaders and experts among teachers who are ready to share their experiences for mutual development.

August 03