The Rector's meeting was held on 6 July 2020 as a video conference. It addressed the following issues:
1. Organising interim assessment
The University has almost completed the interim assessment (32,608 tests and examinations have been conducted), with only a few exams remaining. During the past week Virtual Reception has received 62 applications from students and teachers, including 18 applications on academic issues, 4 of them concerning assessments.
Among these, a student reported that during the semester he could not contact the teacher of a particular discipline and upload his academic work to the Blackbord information system. The investigation revealed that the student had never logged in to the class to complete the assignment since the course began. The course ended on 8 June, while the student attempted to log into the system for the first time and upload the paper on 22 June. Now the opportunity to take the discipline will only be available to him in the next academic year.
Meeting participants noted that university students were required to follow the schedule of classes even in case of distance learning. They reminded that those students who had left for other regions during the pandemic and were in a time zone different from St Petersburg had an opportunity to follow an individual schedule, which many of them accepted.
2. Organising final state assessment
On 29 June, the University held nine postgraduate graduation defences. All were rated ‘excellent’. In total, 5,131 defences were held during this session. The assessment was carried out by 758 State Examination Boards (39 appeals were submitted, of which 3 were upheld).
State exams for clinical residency programmes were held for 126 residents of various medical programmes and 94 resident dentists, and three parts of the state exam for 233 law students.
The participants of the meeting mentioned various concerns expressed by students and teaching staff at the beginning of the interim and final state assessment, including students' requests to purchase equipment. Thus, in order to enable the online assessment as requested by students, directors, deans, and heads of educational programmes, the University purchased additional equipment (notebooks, webcams, etc.). As it turned out, the real need was five to ten times lower than initial requests.
3. Organising the educational process in the new academic year
The meeting addressed various scenarios for the organisation of the educational process in the new academic year. The format will depend on the epidemiological situation in the region. Three formats are potentially possible: regular classroom training; a combined learning format (e.g. distance learning for streaming lectures and regular classroom training for practical and laboratory classes); and entirely distance learning.
Directors and deans have been instructed to submit proposals on the organisation of the training process for the autumn semester of the 2020/21 academic year. It is planned that the format of the learning process will be determined by mid-August.
4. Admission of students to the University’s online courses
The University is one of the leaders in Russian online education. It ranks first in the number of courses offered at the national platform ‘Open Education’. To date, the platform hosts 132 online courses from the University, with another 87 online courses running on the Coursera international platform (second place among Russian universities).
Vladimir Starostenko, Director of the Centre of E-Learning Development, spoke about the admission of the students to the University’s online courses. Online courses were most actively used by: international students (1,944 entries; 18% of the total number of entries); philologists (1,615; 15%); physicists (1,504; 14%); economists (1,265; 11.7%); and students of Applied Mathematics (1,000; 9.2%). On the contrary, very few students in Arts (23) and Management (8) used online courses, students in Philosophy, Mathematics and Computer Science did not use them at all.
At the same time, Vladimir Starostenko noted that during the semester students of different disciplines submitted requests for free access to certain courses on the Coursera platform. The platform management provided five thousand licences to the University to access online courses. Therefore, access to these online courses was provided to students only upon submission by the directors of institutes and deans of faculties. The majority of institute and faculty heads provided students with this option. Students have successfully completed the courses and have already received certificates to be added to their portfolios.
Meeting participants discussed the issue of expanding the list of online courses offered by the University, which are to be accepted as credits for academic disciplines taught at the University. They also discussed further training of teachers to conduct classes in a distance format.
5. Purchase of software by the University
Specialists have analysed the software and other resources required for organising the educational process using information and communication technologies, including in a remote format. Following the proposals from the heads of educational and scientific departments, various options were considered. The most popular programmes proposed by the University were Zoom and MS Teams.
The meeting participants discussed their personal experience of each of these programmes. As a result, it was decided to use MS Teams for the educational process. Zoom resource will be purchased for administrative meetings, scientific and dissertation council meetings and conferences. For those university students who do not yet have experience with these systems, it was suggested to familiarise themselves with the software during the summer period. Detailed video tutorials on working with Zoom are available at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWVmsJQO8Rg&t=13s) and MS Teams at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tn3k7ca4cQI). By the decision of the Rector, the teaching staff will be provided with the opportunity to be trained to work with these resources so that by the beginning of the new academic year, most of them will have completed the training.
6. Application for grants
The University is conducting work with its scientific and pedagogical personnel to: clarify the procedures for applying for external grants; organise expertise; and other issues that arise during the implementation of projects (meetings with scientific and pedagogical staff, questionnaires, etc.). In the second quarter, more than 300 research and teaching staff participated in six such events.
During this work, it was found out that more than 50% of the questions asked by the participants at the second and even third meetings (in the online format) repeat the questions asked during the first meeting. This is despite detailed answers and explanations being provided and published on the website (https://nauka.spbu.ru/faq.html).
7. Outcomes of a court dispute
The Court has rejected the cassation appeal of a University employee Sergei Demin who claimed that the University had violated his labour rights regarding the payment of wages. In particular, the employee mistakenly believed that the wage paid by the University cannot be lower than the regional minimum wage.
The meeting participants noted that from time to time some University staff are influenced by people who convince them that an employee will always receive the maximum bonus to his or her salary, no matter how effectively he or she performs his or her duties. The result is a decline in the quality of work (sometimes a complete failure to perform their duties under an employment contract) and a subsequent decrease in income or dismissal. All judicial disputes in such cases have ended in favour of the University, but from time to time there are still employees who follow this path.