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Universities go online: an interview with the professor of Moscow State University Ekaterina Sivyakova

Universities go online: an interview with the professor of Moscow State University Ekaterina Sivyakova

Universities have lived in distance education for almost a semester. The shock and enthusiasm of the first weeks gave way to fatigue, but it is obvious that higher education will change irreversibly after this experience. About how teachers and students live through this transitional period, tells the assistant professor of journalism at Lomonosov Moscow State University, trainer and expert of the project “The Earth Is Flat - How to read media?” Ekaterina Sivyakova.

- Universities in the shortest possible time were forced to transfer their studies online, what are the most serious problems that they encountered, besides management? Did the very transformation of the educational process, its transformation into a remote one, bring about qualitative changes?

-Moscow State University was one of the first to announce the transition to online education: this happened on March 17th. Since only a month has passed since then, so far we are living in a mode of experiencing these transformations, which happened very quickly. Now we are trying to adapt to these changes. The main problem that has arisen at this level is the search for a balance between the content of training and its organization in a new format. How to balance the effectiveness and quality of training and build the educational process using new tools, while observing the reporting forms that are expected from universities in Russia?

We are looking for the answer to this question, and it concerns, first of all, the operational "tuning" in real time. Now the main forecast is that universities will remain in distance learning until the end of this semester. But there is still a question about long-term planning, about how we will live and work further. How will the graduation take place this year, how will the admission campaign be organized, and how will the fall semester be built? And most importantly, it is not yet fully understood whether this is a temporary change or is it our new reality in the long run.

- You are conducting the telegram channel “Lessons of Empathy” about the new pedagogical ethics in the digital environment, what ethical and psychological problems have appeared due to the transition to online?

- In fact, there are much more of them than it seemed initially. The main problem is that, in fact, now the existence of the university as a physical space is suspended. Paused are its functions as a social and educational environment. But the educational environment is of great importance — this is where communication takes place between different participants in the educational process, which is its driving force. And now access to this offline environment is literally closed, and all processes have moved to the online dimension.

The speed of change causes a lot of anxiety and emotions, because not all generations of teachers were ready for this, not everyone feels confident in using new technologies. The distance between the teacher and the student has completely changed, the idea of ​​the boundaries of private and public space has changed. Classes are held on online platforms, and in the same Zoom, teachers and students gained access to each other's private space. We see the home environment, relatives, cats and dogs of each other. But not only new tasks and difficulties appeared; under the weight of new ethical challenges, unresolved offline problems were exacerbated. I will give an example. In March, my colleagues and I discussed a lot of the problem of the presence of students in the class via video communication. Is a student required to include video in class? Should the teacher count the visit if the student is present with the screen turned off and the sound turned off, in no way reacting to what is happening? This is just one case that illustrates that issues that used to be the subject of tacit agreement were updated. It was believed that it was impossible to include each student in class work: there is always a person who sits in the back row and does not react to what is happening. And why then we should not consider this feature online?

- Do you have any advice, recommendations for teachers and students who find themselves in this difficult situation?

- It seems to me important to formulate a list of universal recommendations for both those and others. In my opinion, we, students and teachers, together face these changes, therefore, it is better to cope with them and overcome this process together.

First, we need to negotiate with each other, pronounce and establish new rules and boundaries, and also try to comply with them. Do not retreat. Continuing the example with the video: I wrote in advance to my students, even before the first classes, that I would not require the camera to be turned on, because I understand that they are no longer in the public space of the university. And the extent to which they are ready to show their private space is their decision. Moreover, the reason may be weak technical conditions — poor internet, poor video quality on the device, as well as personal emotional reasons — you just don't want to show your room, for example.

Secondly, you need to lower expectations from each other and support each other if someone is having difficulty. I know that my students help some teachers set up Zoom, they support and advise them in some other technical issues. And the teacher, in turn, can give some recommendations on time management, tell how to organize the process of self-learning in these conditions.

Thirdly, I would advise you not to be afraid to ask for help from each other. The end result depends on how we help each other, which consists in effective training, in which both parties — both teachers and students — are interested.

Fourthly, you can allow yourself to do only what is within your power. It would be nice for the teacher to understand that he cannot greatly increase the volume of homework, since students have limited physical time to complete them and some things are generally very difficult to master on their own. It would be good for students to accept that they cannot do everything, and this is also normal. And teachers do not need to try to learn all the available online technologies at once, but you can just choose the basic tools. And, of course, there is no need to demand more from students than usual. Not to assume that when you go online, all students will become dramatically more effective and included, or, conversely, will cease to take any part in the classes — this is a very common teaching fear. Well, the last tip, the final — do not be afraid to try new things together. The new context gives us all the space and opportunity for trial and error. Therefore, in my opinion, this is the best time to test unknown formats, work with new sources, learn about the latest technologies.

- Do you have any forecasts? What changes in the educational process will remain with us in the world after the coronavirus?

- It seems to me that the main question is how the process of returning offline will happen —- if it does, of course. And, accordingly, what will we do with that online habit, which is being developed quite quickly. Obviously, there will be people among teachers and students who will remain in the position that they are more comfortable working offline, and will be happy to return. But there will also be those who realize that they would rather stay online.

The second question is what will happen to the university as an educational space? What will it be after a period of social distance? After all, we may find ourselves in a context in which the online measurement will become the leading one in the educational process, and the offline measurement will become its accompaniment.

That is, first we will do everything online, and then get something offline, and not vice versa, as it was before. Finally, now we can’t understand what the relationship between teachers and students will become after a period of this digital affinity in online services. How will we communicate after we have seen our dogs, “visited” each other? After all, the more we are limited in physical communication, the more we spend time with each other online. And we also adapt to these transformations each in our own way: for some, the degree of adaptability to digitalization of communication is higher, for others, lower. Would it not turn out that some part of the participants in the educational process in general after some time will cease to find their place online? I hope this does not happen.

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