1. Set up of academic activities from May 1 to 11
Set up of University academic activities from May 1 to 11 was discussed (Order no. 3808/1 dated April 30, 2020 ‘On the implementation of academic programs’).
It was noted that the academic process the academic process has been running in distance format for over a month. The Virtual Reception is continuously receiving enquiries from students asking when education will return back to normal. The University is committed to follow the rules and regulations enforced in St. Petersburg as a Russian Federation constituent.
2. On the academic process
In late March directors of institutions and faculty deans formulated the distance learning framework for every academic discipline (Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated March 23, 2020, provision 11).
At the meeting, directors and deans highlighted organizational and psychological problems undermining the transfer to distance learning format and communicated the requests of the faculty and students voiced over that time. Those include students applying for academic leaves requesting to provide individual learning schedules or individual academic curricula due to the transition to distance learning format (so far, such applications are few).
A.S. Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law, N.G. Skvortsov, Dean of the Faculty of Sociology, L. Petrosyan, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Mathematics-Control Processes, and A.S. Puyu, Director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, reported on the enquiries submitted by students and the faculty over the last month of distance learning. Those are few. Most of them received early responses.
It is common knowledge that traditionally labor contracts with teaching staff stipulate that the latter shall be competent users of advanced distance learning technologies, used in the SPbU academic process. As of lately all teaching staff members wishing to gain competence in these technologies or improve their skills could benefit from educational seminars, regularly held at the University. Unfortunately, some teachers were reluctant to acquire this knowledge and skills. Nowadays, they have to effectively step up to this challenge. The University Center for the Development of Digital Educational Resources is providing them with dedicated assistance. For instance, over the first 15 days after the transition to distance learning format the Center staff prepared detailed video instructions on how to use various tools, i.e. Zoom, Kahoot and Microsoft Teams, etc. (SPbU is helping teaching staff to set up distance learning). The meeting participants also referred to cases when members of the teaching staff (including those of senior age), who were supported by their colleagues, succeeded in learning how to organize classes on-line via video-conference platforms. It was mentioned, that learners of all academic programs are studying efficiently.
Based on the outcomes of the discussion, directors and deans were tasked to analyze which distance learning tools demonstrated utmost efficiency.
3. Set up of interim examination procedures in spring semester
Interim examination scheduled for spring semester of academic year 2019/20 shall be set up in the formats recommended by directors and deans. The distant learning procedure for on-line courses was adopted across all academic disciplines (Order no. 3559/1 dated April 24, 2020 ‘On the interim examination procedure for academic disciplines studied using on-line courses’; SPbU became top university hosting the highest number of on-line courses on the Open Education platform).
The Order Appendix includes over 1,000 on-line courses on the Open Education and Coursera platforms. On-line courses can be used in three possible ways: in full, in part, or as recommended material – within every particular academic discipline at SPbU or an on-line course. Assessment formats for each on-line course are described. Directors and deans were tasked to analyze efficiency of different options to incorporate on-line courses in the academic process.
4. Set up of state final certification
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, graduate exams for students of academic programs have been canceled; on top of graduate exams, the FSC also includes defense of graduation thesis (Order no. 3706/1 dated April 28, 2020 ‘On Amendments to Educational and Methodological Documents Regarding Final Certification in 2019/20’; moreover, SPbU reduced the number of state final tests in response to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Students are going to defend their graduation thesis via SPbU Blackboard, a communication support system for academic process. The defense procedure shall be split into four stages:
gathering of material for defense (upload of graduate thesis, reviews, and contributions to SPbU Blackboard);
questions addressed to students by members of the State Examination Commission, upload of questions to SPbU Blackboard;
defense using the proctoring system and student submitting answers in writing to the questions addressed; upload of answers to SPbU Blackboard;
assessment of defense by members of the State Certification Commission, final protocol shall be prepared by the Commission and uploaded to SPbU Blackboard.
The rules of graduate thesis defense procedure shall be drafted by the work group represented by I. A. Balova, Director of the Institute of Chemistry, S. A. Belov, Dean of the Law Faculty, S. V. Begez, First deputy of Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support, and S.Yu. Sevryukov, Head of the Information Technology Service. Draft rules shall be forwarded to all directors and deans. Discussion of the draft rules is scheduled for May 6 at the next Rector's meeting.
Once the rules of procedure are approved, the Main Directorate for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support jointly with Directorate for IT Services shall test the students’ connection to the proctoring system and run FSC in test mode. Directors and deans suggested that the check-up is scheduled depending on the timetable of exams and tests (students who have early examinations will be scheduled for check-up earlier as well). Professor I. A. Balova, Director of the Institute of Chemistry, suggested that work meetings should be held bringing together directors, deans, and chairs of State Examination Commissions (SECs), as well as SEC members, if required.
5. The term of office for members of Student Board Presidiums was extended
Considering the importance of Student Board activities, it was decided to extend the term of office for members of Student Board Presidiums representing academic and scientific divisions at SPbU (Order no. 3192/1 dated April 17, 2020 ‘On extended term of office for members of Student Board Presidiums representing academic and scientific divisions (institutes, faculties) ay SPbU’).
6. Students are helping citizens
University students are helping residents of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region as part of vocational training at SPbU (doctor, businessman, housewife, psychologic counselling in pandemic settings; the Community Translation Center at SPbU has shifted work to remote format; SPbU opened the Skype Trust call-line to provide psychologic counselling amid the pandemic); students are also engaged as volunteers to help those in need – i.e. veterans and SPbU staff (‘This is not the end of the world at hand – this is a pandemic.’ How do volunteers help citizens to overcome isolation challenges).
The meeting participants also mentioned that 27 resident doctors at the University are providing medical care to St. Petersburg citizents.
7. SPbU scientists doing research on coronavirus infection (COVID-19)
The development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine might be a paramount prevention effort to counter the disease; however, one needs time to develop a vaccine and perform clinical trials (a year or two, according to various forecast). Therefore, projects developing alternative COVID-19 treatment and prevention methods are emerging on the forefront. SPbU scientists are currently working on several priority projects. For instance:
‘Studying the exome of COVID-19 survivors’ (jointly with the City Hospital no. 40).
The project idea is that due to the vast variety of COVID-19 symptoms in patients, there are a large number of subclinical presentations; therefore, the question: what are the human genetic properties that determine the severity of disease symptoms. Once the genetic determinants are known – the ones that allow to forecast progression of COVID-19 – groups at risk can be isolated, giving other people the opportunity to return back to normal life. To deliver on this project, scientists are planning to sequence (NGS) the human exome responsible for clinical manifestations (i.e. a small portion of human genes of clinical significance) in COVID-19 survivors and compare results to a control group to identify genetic discrepancies.
‘Fast production of a bioproduct for COVID-19 prevention and treatment’ (project initiated by SPbU team, Head of Project is A. Yu. Aksenova, PhD in Biology, senior research fellow at Amyloid Laboratory; partner organization is the Research Institute of Influenza).
The project idea is that coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has typical spike-shaped protruding receptors (in groups they resemble a crown) that are built by S protein. To enter the cell membrane, the virus uses the protein to recognize and bind with the ACE2 cell receptor. ACE2 protein is present on the cell surface of various tissues, which explains why they are affected by the virus. If ACE2 receptor is blocked by a different virus domain, SARS-CoV-2 binding to cells would be disrupted, thus preventing the spread of viral infection. Such a drug could be a nasal or throat spray, or could be applied to lower airways as a potentially effective way to combat COVID-19. Ultimate simplicity of bacterial expression and purification would the team to produce this drug in 30 days’ timeframe. Thus, in case of success, the new drug will be commercially available to dramatically drop down COVID-19 incidence among humans and lift lockdown restrictions.
‘Using neutralizing plasma antibodies obtained from COVID-19 survivors to treat patients with COVID-19.’ This clinical study is carried out by a consortium of city and federal medical institutions in collaboration with the University Hospital in Dresden.
8. SPbU won the competition organized by the Russian ‘Fuel and Energy Complex’ State Unitary Enterprise.
SPbU won the competition organized by the Russian ‘Fuel and Energy Complex’ State Unitary Enterprise to perform R&D on ‘Robotic platform for internal pipeline diagnostics’ (Minutes of Rector’s meeting dated March 2, 2020, provision 9).
9. Development of MLV machine
SME SPbU Dynamicx and its team is working on a new model of MLV machines.
10. Victory Day Celebration
Shortly before the Victory Day on May 6 to 8 SPbU volunteers are going to present gifts to 400 University veterans and congratulate them on the Victory Day (Happy Victory Day!). The meeting participants were also informed that the holiday issue of SPbU Magazine dedicated to the Victory Day will be published.
11. SPbU Academic Council meeting on April 27
On April 27, 2020, the SPbU Academic Council held a regular meeting in remote format using digital tools for absentee voting. As usual, members of the SPbU Academic Council had received documents to be considered with the framework of the agenda in advance; documents were duly posted on the University website (Agenda of SPbU Academic Council meeting), as well as the results of the count of votes of the absentee voting (Protocol of absentee voting by members of the SPbU Academic Council).
Professor S. S. Ermakov was elected Head of the Analytical Chemistry Department, Professor P.K. Yablonsky was elected Head of the Hospital Surgery Department. O. V. Rybalchenko was nominated for the academic title Professor. 33 people were nominated for academic staff positions.
Miscellaneous included adoption of the extra list of candidate students (42 students) to be granted an incentivized state social scholarship in spring semester 2019/20, as well as other issues.
Moreover, the SPbU Academic Council adopted Regulation Granting the Title of Honor ‘Person of the Year at St. Petersburg University’. Under the Regulation, the Title of Honor ‘can be awarded annually to persons who are existing (former) employees or students at St. Petersburg University for outstanding achievements in science, education, culture, social and governmental activities’. The decision to grant the title is made by the College of SPbU Honorary Professors upon recommendation on behalf of the University staff.