‘Digital Pedagogy for Beginners and…’ a series of five webinars, created by St Petersburg University scholars, has come to a close. Several thousand teachers from secondary and higher educational institutions watched the broadcasts. Among them were participants from Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova and many other countries where Russian speakers, including our fellow countrymen, can be found. During the pandemic, advice on the transition to distance learning from the University’s leading experts has proven to be in great demand all over the world.
Professor Elena Kazakova, Director of the St Petersburg University Institute of Pedagogy, told us about how teachers are ‘Zooming’ and why it is time for the teachers’ community to unite.
Professor Kazakova, how were the topics for the webinars chosen?
They were geared towards the needs of the teachers themselves. The first webinar took place during the second week of the wholesale switchover to distance learning, when all of the anxieties of the students, teachers and parents had become clear. We – the staff at the University’s Institute of Pedagogy – began to explain to our colleagues what digital pedagogy was, what the differences were between digital approaches and traditional teaching methods, what digital resources were available to today’s teachers and students, and how the roles of the students, the teachers and the parents were evolving under such conditions.
Which of the participants’ comments and concerns do you remember best of all?
There was both negative and positive feedback. I’ll start with the negative: ‘It’s all such mumbo jumbo. What’s the good of telling us all that? Has somebody dreamed up that coronavirus and distance learning just to ruin our lives?’ On the positive side: ‘Thank you. Your webinar was like a breath of fresh air, an island of stability, concreteness, goodwill and usefulness. We were able to pick up an awful lot in a short span of time.’
All told, among the participants in the webinars, there were teachers from twelve foreign countries: Austria, Belarus, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Romania, Tadzhikistan, Ukraine, France and the Czech Republic.
The online format allowed you to reach out to an international audience. Which topics did participants from other countries find the most interesting?
We connected up with a community of Russian speakers and proved that having a common language creates, to a great extent, a common culture, common emotions and a common vision. We didn’t see an appreciable difference between Russian teachers and those from abroad – we have the same problems, the same anxieties and the same experience in coming up with new approaches. When it comes to pedagogy, it turns out that it’s a very small world.
Why did this series of webinars strike such a responsive chord in other countries, given that they have their own educational systems, which are often unlike the one we have here in Russia?
The answer to this question will probably be found at some point in the future by researchers into this topic. There is a hypothesis that the difference between the conventional and the digital worlds has turned out to be greater than the one between the educational systems. Actually, we focused on the first of those differences. We spoke about how to set up the learning process in the conditions of a ‘bifurcated’ reality, which has become the norm.
How did the participants in the webinars adapt to distance learning?
Not much time has gone by, but I’m sure you know that the verb zoom has taken on a new meaning. Here’s what one teacher wrote us today: ‘I’d really like to stay, but I’ve got to go zoom with my fifth-formers because we’re having a poster session today.’ And here’s something a sixth-former wrote: ‘What I like most is that the teacher often asks us to check over what we’ve done ourselves, and if something is wrong, I can always go back and redo it. I’m not so afraid of making mistakes in this digital reality, so I like it.’ I think it’s this feedback that answers the question of why our webinars have struck such a chord.
Who were the speakers that took part in these pedagogy webinars?
All of the staff members of the St Petersburg University Institute of Pedagogy, who are also practicing teachers, were among the speakers. We had webinars in which Professor Tatiana Chernigovskaya, one of the acknowledged leaders in online education, took part. And the best known directors of St Petersburg schools – Sergei Danilov, Irina Boikova, Nina Sabinina and Aleksei Kamenskii – each conducted a webinar.
Why was it important to set up webinars that would be useful not only for teachers but also for the directors of educational organisations, facilitators and coordinators of educational projects?
Not only coronavirus but also our whole ‘dive’ into a new reality have shown humanity that what is most valuable now is the skill of working together harmoniously as a team. For such a long time, we had banked on competition, on competitiveness, that only now, looking about, have we given serious thought to the value of corporate culture and the significance of mutual aid, of synergy. We also tried to talk about how to live and develop for the sake of our children and along with them. The time has come when we need to live in new conditions, which are likely to be with us… for a long time.