1. State final certification in distance format
The rules for state final certification procedure in exclusively distance format are undergoing amendment (Order no. 3832/1 dated May 4, 2020 ‘On SFC in distance format using dedicated educational technologies’). Members of the work group tasked to upgrade the rules (I. A. Balova, Director of the Institute of Chemistry, S. A. Belov, Dean of the Law Faculty, and S.Yu. Sevryukov, Head of the Information Technology Service) answered questions of the meeting participants (Minutes of the Rector’s meeting dated May 2, 2020). In particular, they explained it is suggested to reject the common videoconference format for graduate thesis defenses. It is common knowledge that the University has implementing its own thesis defense procedure for several years (SPbU own academic degrees: past and present; SPbU is the pioneer university in Russia to award academic degrees defended under new rules). Some members of the dissertation board participate in distance format. Meanwhile, due to stringent measures to counter the pandemic, thesis defense procedures under SPbU own rules were completely transferred in distance format (Academic degrees under SPbU own rules are now granted in distance format, ‘From Ancient Runiform Scripts to the Adventures of Ali Bey’: Apollinaria Avrutina successfully defended her doctoral dissertation in on-line format). Since March 23, 2020, by the Minutes publication date, 15 defenses had taken place in distant format (Order No. 2304/1 dated March 23, 2020 ‘On Changing the Procedure to Award the Candidate of Science Degree and the Doctor of Science Degree at SPbU’). To host a thesis defense, extensive preliminary work is permed using expert level equipment under the supervision of experienced engineers. The simplicity of the outcoming result unparalleled to the underlying costs and efforts to ensure zero risk of disruption. Each thesis defense requires measures to ensure non-disrupted connection and ability to communicate for roughly 12 users. Provided that over five thousand graduate theses are defended per month, the number of users involved in the process will skyrocket to thousands. Meanwhile, the more the number of participants, the higher the risk of technical disruption for individual users (flawed video communication, voice communication, disconnection, etc.); with every particular disruption during the defense being a potential excuse to undermine validity of all graduate theses defended within the flawed session.
Work group members reported that the rules of procedure include numerous suggestions by directors and deans. Notably, the SFC procedure shall be independent and supervised. Therefore, defenses are held via the SPbU Blackboard information support system. S.I. Sevryukov, Head of the Information Technology Service, highlighted that the Blackboard has integrated software and hardware; its functionality responsible to run graduate defenses is deprived of superfluous features of interface and adapts to every participant depending on their role and operated device. This functionality has been used for several years to accumulate documents for graduate defenses, making them accessible to SEC members; thus, the risk of disruption is mitigated. It was repeatedly emphasized that SFC would take longer time in distance format and should be split into stages. The meeting participants suggested to offer an elaborate description of what students should do during proctoring, as well as how SEC members should draft and approve minutes. Members also discussed differences in SFC procedure for students studying different academic programs were also discussed.
2. Individualized approach
Considering the enquiries received by the Virtual Student Admission Office regarding interim and final certification, M.Yu. Lavrikova, Senior First Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support, provided comments to answers and described options at hand. Individual certification schedules, individual academic curricula, or an academic leave can be provided to students upon receit of a dedicated application (Academic leave or individual academic curricula to be provided to students).
3. Values to assess student involvement in the academic process
As a result of SPbU’s transition to distance learning format using remote education technologies, the values measuring student involvement in the academic process have significantly increased (class attendance, number of addresses to M. Gorky Academic Library web resources, registrations with on-line courses included in the academic process and those excluded from the academic process, etc.).
There is a paramount increase in student registrations with various on-line libraries versus the same period last year. For some subject areas, this value has increased 40-fold.
Based on the proposals submitted by heads academic and research subdivisions, over 9,800 University students were granted free access to on-line courses on the ‘Open Education’ national platform and Coursera within the distance learning framework to drive educational progress. Some 6,400 University students enrolled to on-line courses (including 4,033 on the Open Education platform and 2,007 on the Coursera platform). The academic process relies on the majority (over 100) of on-line courses developed by SPbU, including until recently. If students had to pay for certificates of completion, the income received would have surpassed 15 mln rubles (economists call it ‘lost profit’).
The meeting participants noted that attendance of on-line classes significantly increased across all academic programs (up to 80–90%). Earlier only freshers demonstrated such high values. As directors and deans put it, by senior years attendance would drop to as low as 10% for lectures and 50% for seminars at some faculties. In general, the University has never seen average over 50% before.
In April and May, statistics on number of addresses to on-line resources by SPbU users increased 4-fold versus the same period in 2019, predominantly in electronic library searches. The number of requests for soft copies of publications, that are essential to produce a term papers or a dissertation, is growing. Based on user requests, library employees try to provide access to licensed digitalized publications that were unavailable under the SPbU subscription before. Copyright holders (publishers and E-books) that respond to the SPbU demands, grant open access University users to enquired materials. Relevant information on new items available in open access during the lockdown and distance learning is published on the Library Highlights web page.
4. How to ensure interaction with chairs and members of Student Board Presidiums?
One of the issues under discussion was how to ensure ongoing interaction between directors of institutes, faculty deans, and chairs of Student Boards of relevant academic and research subdivisions. The meeting participants emphasized that relevant information on issues under discussion and discussion outcomes shall be published in open access.
5. SPbU at the Moscow International Education Show
Over ten thousand people visited the virtual SPbU booth at the Moscow International Education Show. Moreover, MIES 2020 events moderated by SPbU experts (in all areas from sociology to psychology, geography to robotics) attracted over 8,500 people (over 10,000 people visited the virtual SPbU booth at MIES 2020).
6. Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War (WWII)
SPbU Rector N. M. Kropachev congratulated the University students on the Victory Anniversary and expressed confidence that once the counter-pandemic measures are cancelled, the University will hold all the earlier scheduled commemorative events.