Dr Mikhail Panov joined St. Petersburg campus of HSE University in 2019 as an Associate Professor at the School of Economics and Management. He received his PhD in Business Administration from Stanford University and taught Economics at New York University. This semester he is teaching Theory of Finance.
Is there a sense that students in New York are more motivated than those you work with today?
It doesn't seem so. I have spent a year here and four at New York University. At the undergraduate level, I like the students in Russia more. You feel that they are sincerely striving for knowledge. Students in New York have a slightly more consumerist attitude, with the exception of students from China. After each course, we had an anonymous evaluation and what they liked or disliked allows me to say that they wanted more edutainment.
Economics and finance are at the core of your teaching. How does digitalisation help students develop an understanding of these particular subjects?
I have taught more offline, and only at the start of the pandemic did I begin to teach online. Face-to-face is more convenient for me because there is live contact with students. After the lecture, they can come up and ask questions. They do it much more actively than via Zoom or by e-mail.
My colleagues abroad usually record lectures in advance, post them, and then later meet via Zoom in a Q&A format. This scheme is convenient for professors in that they can record lectures in one go and use them throughout the year. An additional plus is that the quality of lectures can be better monitored. You can rewrite it several times without being distracted by extraneous things. Delivering a lecture in a single piece is more difficult to do.
At the same time, all of my courses are quite mathematical and it is more convenient to demonstrate such things when there is a presentation on one side, and you can write down a proof in a live format on the other side.
When one needs to correctly and clearly formulate and follow a chain of evidence, sometimes it is very important that students are in the classroom and can ask questions directly. If they pose questions at the moment when the evidence is being explained, there is better chance of them effectively assimilating this information. In some form, this can be repeated online, but for my courses, digitalisation does not provide many new opportunities.
Online contact is now replacing live communication. Can this effect be mitigated?
It seems to me that there is no way of doing this. Although there is an assumption that, when student are in the classroom, they are more focused, less distracted, and can listen to a lecture from start to finish. If they are staring at their computer at home, then pauses to drink tea, and then not be motivated enough to watch the whole thing. The disciplinary effect, especially for younger students, can be much greater. Furthermore, after the lecture, they can communicate with each other. There is nothing wrong with recording a lecture, but communication over a computer, in my view, is not biologically embedded in us. Live and direct communication reveals more, including through one’s body language.
Do you consider this a challenge, for which a solution needs to be found?
It seems to me that after completing an undergraduate degree, if you want to take an online course, it really shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you provide slides and lecture notes without face-to-face communication right after high school, the result might be not as effective.
Let me tell you about my own experience. I pursued the New Economic School Master's from 2008 to 2010. Especially at that time, NES was detached from online education as much as possible. As students, we practically lived there. There were lectures and a lot of homework. We studied and did work inside the school. We went to the reading room and had discussions which was very productive for me. Often, we came in at 9 am and left at 10 pm. You could understand course materials on a deeper level through discussions with five smart fellow students after lecture, and this was also useful for developing future career connections. If I had gone online then, I would not have made it to graduate school and that would have been a great loss.
A decade has passed since then. How did this social component influence you?
Overall, everything that I have learned in my life, I received on a one-to-one level. At school, I had a good math coach and I often participated in math competitions. There was very close communication. I studied at the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University, and there I networked a lot with fellow students.
At Stanford, I learned enormously from one-to-one conversations with my supervisor. You plan a meeting for an hour and it can last for four. There, the most useful course for me was that I would find it impossible to repeat online. And there were only five people enrolled. The professor gave a list of 30-40 tasks for the entire module, which were not clearly formulated. Most of my assignments were to articulate what the actual task is. You get to solve each one for several weeks. At certain times, we analysed this or that assignment – in a very lively and active way. I can't imagine how we would have done this online.
Many research seminars are now held online and I’m afraid little feedback gets back to the speaker. There are things that you want to say in person and you will not say this to the whole audience; you want to say this on a one-on-one basis. In addition, such things can be more valuable than what is said to the entire audience. Or, you can continue further at the dinner and better explain what you mean. Why not write an e-mail? It seems that something on the psychological level is not happening for some reason. Less trust, perhaps.
Has the pandemic changed your position on digitalisation?
No, but it created new opportunities to conduct natural experiment, a mandatory one but entirely necessary.