1. Organisation of the learning process
Last week, 35 enquiries from teachers as well as students and their parents including 7 enquiries on academic issues were sent to the Virtual Reception. 16 enquiries were sent to the e-mail of Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods including 13 enquiries on academic issues. The enquiries included requests for certificates and other documents, questions on the procedures of transfer and reinstatement, financial aid requests, etc.
The Rector’s meeting conducted an analysis of information provided by: the heads of the academic and research departments; student councils; and student council members during their meetings including the meetings with the heads of the academic and research departments.
For example, Egor Baranovskii, Chair of the University Student Council of the Institute of Chemistry, reported that the students working on their graduation projects are apprehensive about the possible denial of access to research equipment in the resource centres of St Petersburg University. It was explained at the meeting that no decisions have been taken on suspending the students from using the equipment of the Research Park. On the contrary, all necessary arrangements will be made for the students to conduct research, and to work on their graduation projects in compliance with the requirements of Rospotrebnadzor. It was also noted that this semester St Petersburg University is aiming to hold all the curriculum classes that have to be conducted in the classroom (business games, laboratory-based work, rehearsals, equipment-based activity of the Research Park, etc.). There is no plan to transfer such classes to the next semester.
There was an enquiry from students of economics on the examination format during the current supplementary examination period. In the summer, the examination on the academic discipline was held in the online format, whereas the teacher scheduled the examination re-sitting in person in the classroom. The students addressed the Virtual Reception with a request to hold the examination re-sitting in the online format, similar to the way other students did it in the summer. Marina Lavrikova confirmed that the examination re-sitting should be held in the online format and instructed the staff in charge of the supplementary examination period accordingly.
All directors and deans continue their collaboration with the student councils of the academic and research departments on a regular basis. They send weekly reports on the academic process and work with the students and student councils. The Dean of the Faculty of Biology reported that the students of the faculty are worried about the test on Life Safety. They study this discipline in an online course and for the first time they will take a test with the use of proctoring technology. The students feel insecure about the new procedure and expect issues. The participants of the meeting noted that other students had also expressed similar concerns during the previous examination period. Experience has shown that such concerns are far-fetched, while the proctoring procedure has been tested and all issues can be rapidly resolved in real-time mode (Monumental team work: Associate Professor Viktor Titov on academic and research activity in ‘the age of the pandemic’, Online courses of St Petersburg University gain popularity during the pandemic). The directors and deans were instructed to talk to the representatives of the student councils giving explanations about the online courses and the format of examinations and tests with the use of proctoring.
2. Organisation of catering
A student sent an enquiry to the Virtual Reception on the organisation of catering in the Smolny campus buildings. The enquiry of the student was examined and the described facts were proved to be false.
At the meeting it was explained that all catering services work at the University are in full compliance with the agreements. The agreements define the menu and the terms of operation for the dining halls and cafeterias. These terms and conditions are defined and approved by the University and the people who work and study in the relevant buildings via the trade union committee and the student councils of the departments.
Moreover, in contrast with the majority of universities and organisations in Russia, for many years members of the general public (trade union committee of the workers, trade union committee of undergraduate and postgraduate students, the student councils) have played an active role in controlling the implementation of agreements, works and services conducted on behalf of St Petersburg University (Comments and proposals as feedback tools, Trade union committee of St Petersburg University in charge of public monitoring at the University). This includes the work of catering services (Dietary regime cannot be violated). In 2019, for example, representatives of trade unions and student councils took part in the acceptance of works in 70 agreements and contracts for the general amount of 136,075,652.9 roubles on 63 occasions or in 90% of cases. This year the acceptance of works in 44 agreements and contracts with the due date in 2020-2022 for the general amount of 1,460,587,404 roubles coincided with the pandemic and the representatives of trade unions and student councils were able to take part in the acceptance of works and services only 21 times or in 48% of cases. Furthermore, it should be noted that a large number of the agreements have not yet been completed.
3. Sharing a room with a medical resident and the issue of resettlement
A student’s mother shared her concern with the Virtual Reception that her daughter shares a room in the hall of residence with a medical resident, who visits hospitals and interacts with COVID patients. Worried that her daughter can contract the disease, the mother requests to resettle the medical resident.
Already in spring, a special hall of residence was arranged for the medical residents of St Petersburg University, who worked in the ‘red zone’ of the city hospitals. All medical residents were informed through the student councils of the Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Dental Medicine and Medical Technologies that they can resettle to that hall of residence. However, only one person stated their willingness to relocate. According to the legislation of the Russian Federation, the agreement for residence in the hall of residence is concluded with the students for the whole period of learning and can be modified only upon consent of the student.
4. Continuous control of compliance with the safety measures
To prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), 20 inspection commissions continue monitoring compliance of the University staff and students with the PPE regulation on the University premises (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 19 October 2020) Over the past week the commissions conducted over 140 inspections to control compliance with the PPE regime and safety measures. The number of violations is decreasing. No repeated violations have been recorded. The reports of the commission on violations of the PPE regulation and safety measures are forwarded to the Department for Youth Affairs. This information was discussed at the meetings of the University student councils. The student council members unanimously supported the proposed disciplinary measures. Nine orders on imposing disciplinary measures on students have been created.
At the meeting it was also reported that some teachers complain that the inspections monitoring compliance with the PPE regulation are performed during classes, which allegedly distracts the students and the teacher. However, Rospotrebnadzor recommendations of 27 July 2020 clearly state that the inspections monitoring compliance with the PPE regulation must be conducted in the classrooms during classes. Upon the recommendation of the chairpersons of the boards, disciplinary measures are applied for violation of the face mask regime as well as for non-compliance with the security measures. Six orders on the punishment of teachers and employees were issued. Three orders are waiting for approval. Two employees were requested to provide explanations.
5. Experience of organising the educational process in the online format at the universities in St Petersburg and Leningrad region
In May–June 2020, the University Centre for Sociology and Internet Research conducted a survey among the members of academic and teaching staff of the universities in St Petersburg and Leningrad region on organising the educational process in the online format amid measures to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Answering the question about the difficulties of adapting to the process of teaching online, the majority of respondents (53.2%) indicated that it was work with the students remotely without direct physical contact. Other difficulties were also pointed out: organising online classes for practical tasks (28%); developing and using an evaluation system for academic activity (24.8%); and organising interaction between the students during online classes (24.8%). Resolving technical issues during online classes (23.4%) and providing for a comfortable work space at home (23.2%) were slightly less important.
The next question concerned the involvement of students. On the one hand, many respondents replied that the students rarely showed initiative in organising online classes (41%). On the other hand, respondents report an increased interest of the students in studying the course (28.3%). The participants of the meeting underscored the activity and initiative among St Petersburg University students in particular recalling the way student volunteers helped the teachers in organising remote teaching process (Since the beginning of the pandemic, over a hundred University seniors receive assistance from the University volunteers). The respondents noted that the students were rarely late (49.6%) or unprepared (51.3%), and rarely missed classes without prior notice (43.9%).
Answering the question on the organisation of classes in the online format, the majority of respondents (67.3%) indicated special university platforms (Blackboard platform at St Petersburg University). There were other responses as well including live video of lectures with an option of taking part in the discussion (Skype, etc.) (56.6%), sending the lecture materials and tasks to students via email (45.4%), and even providing a list of recommended readings and tasks for independent study (26.7%). The participants of the meeting emphasised that passive forms of organising classes and independent work for students were used at the University at the very beginning of the remote format. Already by May, almost all academic programmes at the University transferred to active forms of organising live classes for students in the online format using Zoom, MS Teams and other platforms.
The sociologists examined the responses to the question about the characteristics of remote teaching. Few respondents agree with the statement that ‘with online learning I have more time to prepare for classes’: fully agree - 6.8%, somewhat agree - 16.1%, completely disagree - 47.3%. ‘I get less tired from work’: agree - 11.2%, completely disagree - 58.7%, somewhat disagree - 27.6%. ‘It is easier to communicate with the students’: agree - 16.8%, completely disagree - 48.8%, somewhat disagree - 30.8%. ‘I spend more time preparing for classes’: fully agree - 48.3%, somewhat agree - 29.3%, disagree - 19.5%. ‘I spend more time interacting with the students’: fully agree - 37.1%, somewhat agree - 33.5%, disagree - 26%. According to the evaluation, many teachers were able to provide a personal approach to every student (43.1%).
The question related to the level of satisfaction with the classes was divided by the types of classes. According to the respondents, the teachers are most satisfied with their one-to-one consultations (71.4%) and the end-of-semester assessment (58.2%); they are less satisfied with the lectures (48.2%) and seminars (42.4%); and they are least satisfied with the practical tasks (18.6%).
There was a question about the specific problems of universities that had a most adverse effect on the quality of education. The respondents pointed out the following aspects: a lack of online learning skills among the students and their inability to study the material independently or perform the tasks remotely (50.1%); and a lack of technical skills of working with online platforms among the teachers (37.1%). The lack of teaching and methodological support (28.2%) and the lack of online courses (22.9%) were also noted. The participants of the meeting emphasised that the teaching and methodological support of online education was organised at St Petersburg University in due time (St Petersburg University will help the teachers organise the academic process in the online format, The University researchers to hold webinars on online teaching for the teachers), and online-teaching was actively used (The input of St Petersburg University to online education in the country during the pandemic).
Answering the question about the forms of the online education process, the majority of respondents singled out synchronous classes in real-time mode: lectures (41.7%), seminars (50.9%), assessments and tests (35.5%). The respondents rated the effectiveness of asynchronous classes with recorded lectures and independent study of students much lower: lectures (11.8%), seminars (5.1%), assessments and tests (16.8%). They also supported combining different formats: lectures (29.4%), seminars (25.4%), assessments and tests (32.5%).
The survey also featured predictive questions. Question one: what would you like to continue using from the experience of online teaching that you have gained? The majority of positive responses were: a developed interactive modular course with multimedia attachments (31.2%); and teleconferences with the discussion of research activity and projects (25%). At the same time, some respondents gave negative feedback stating that they are not planning to use anything from the current experience in the future (18%).
Question two: what practices of distant learning would you refuse from? Here the highest rating was given to: the defence of term papers, research projects and graduation projects in the online format (45.1%); and the use of YouTube and social networks in order to post the materials for independent study (34.8%). The latter is probably related to the issue of intellectual property protection on the Internet. The participants of the meeting were surprised by the response that stated a refusal from independent study of the materials on online-platforms (19.5%). On the contrary, St Petersburg University actively uses online courses on these platforms as a part of the educational process. (Online courses at St Petersburg University gain popularity during the pandemic).
The responses to the question on reflecting the experience of online learning technologies in educational standards were: ‘reflect in the federal educational standards’ (15.2%); ‘reflect in the local regulatory documents of the university’ (24.9%); and ‘no need to reflect it in the standards, because the use of such technologies is up to the teacher’ (47.1%).
Summing up the result of the survey conducted with the academic staff of the universities in St Petersburg and Leningrad region, Senior Vice-Rector Elena Chernova made several important conclusions. The majority of universities (91.3%) and teachers (75.1%) demonstrated readiness to transfer to distant learning. The overwhelming majority of universities (85.9%) issued regulatory documents governing the work in the online format. The new work format implies a certain social and psychological adjustment. The teachers should be trained to work with the digital educational technologies as it is being done at St Petersburg University. The distant learning format opens new possibilities for the use of individual learning trajectories. The reaction of students to the new format was different, but many students reacted in a positive way. However, the students need time to acquire new skills for successful distant work.
Elena Chernova also pointed at the problems of distant learning that should be taken into account. Problem one: increased work load of the teachers (planning of teaching workload should be changed). Problem two: distant learning format is not suitable for such classes as practical activities, laboratory-based work, final assessment. Problem three: a lack of online courses and teaching and methodological support for distant learning (Presentation).
6. Implementation of student research projects in external organisations
The University students perform research activity not only within the curriculum of their major academic programme, but also on their own initiative in external organisations. With the aim of improving local regulatory documents of St Petersburg University, the new Rules of receiving consent by St Petersburg University students for participation in a research internship or implementation of a research project in an external organisation have been approved.
Notification procedure: students should forward an application for the attention of the Head of the Department of Youth Affairs through their personal accounts. Upon the approval of the application with the research supervisor of the academic programme or the student’s research supervisor, a relevant order is issued. The results of intellectual activity and the rights of the student and the University are determined following this procedure.
7. The profiles of St Petersburg University researchers in Google Scholar
Scientometric analysis of papers being cited by University researchers shows that only 10% of the University academic staff are registered in the Google Scholar search engine. This is one of the most popular platforms for the majority of scientific peer-reviewed journals and non-serial editions. One of the main advantages of this platform is that the registered researchers have open access to the entire content of the platform.
At the meeting, Vice Rector for Research Sergey Mikushev shared the following data: during the last five years (2015–2019), from over 3,400 academic staff members of the University, only the four most cited researchers published 174 research articles, which is 1% of all articles by the University researchers. Once these researchers of St Petersburg University registered in Google Scholar, the rating of St Petersburg University on the global level went up by 3-4%. The amount researchers are cited is taken into account in all ratings including Webometrics. The rating creators recommend to list the corporate email of the author and register in the Google Scholar system. It was not that important before, because only the list of the first 20 authors was used in the rating calculations. Now the list of top 210 authors is used. Since many University researchers are not registered in Google Scholar, their articles are not accounted for as the University characteristics in the global ratings (general number of articles and number of times cited).
Sergey Mikushev noted that he spent less than seven minutes registering in Google Scholar. One has to register on this platform only once and then the system will automatically add the author’s articles into the database. It was decided to send guidelines on registration in Google Scholar to academic staff via corporate e-mail.
8. Complaint of a student against the actions of a teacher
The Prosecutor’s office of Vasileostrovsky district forwarded for consideration an enquiry of a student of St Petersburg University, who demanded that one of the University teachers should be dismissed from teaching activity. According to the student, the teacher has no documents confirming the qualification and cannot teach in English.
However, the teacher in question is a graduate of St Petersburg University (2002, qualified economist-mathematician) with the academic degree of Doctor of Economics (2005) and the academic rank of Associate Professor (2010). His term of research and teaching service is over 17 years. He has a certificate confirming the knowledge of English and a registered certificate of advanced training in the relevant academic disciplines. In other words, the teacher fully complies with all the requirements, which was reported to the claimer and the Prosecutor’s office of Vasileostrovsky district.
One of the meeting participants pointed out that this student made four or five similar claims within the current year. The participants gave an example of another student who complained even more. During several years, the student filed over 240 complaints with the University (On organising the system of cryptograms). Apart from that, he filed a number of complaints to the federal authorities of the Russian Federation including the law enforcement related to the activity of the University officials. These complaints had to be treated within the framework of current inspections and requests for information.
9. Organisation of mass media filming on the University premises
Over the past week, the University registered seven cases when representatives of different mass media contacted University employees informing them of the ‘University press-service order’ to take part in the filming of various news stories. Teachers aged over 65 also received similar calls. At the same time, no such journalists contacted the representatives of the University press-service.
Given the circumstances, it was decided to deny access to the University premises to all film crews till the improvement of the epidemiological situation. Moreover, the universities included into risk groups have been recommended to take part in filming in the online format.
10. Additions to the University Code of Ethics
The working group on the preparation of proposals to supplement the University Code of Ethics with provisions governing corporate ethics continues its work (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 12 October 2020). The chairperson of the working group Professor Alla Shaboltas, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology, spoke about the results of the group activity. She expressed gratitude to everyone including the students who sent proposals on supplementing the University Code of Ethics. She noted that the working group is ready to provide the next version of the Code that includes relevant updates on the standards of behaviour for University staff and students. Alla Shaboltas also offered a different mode of further activity, namely, the development of a new and more detailed text of the University Code of Ethics including the values, principles, and ethical standards important for all University members. Such activity will require more effort and continuous work.
After discussion of this question at the meeting, the Rector asked the working group participants to further discuss these issues, define their position, and present their proposals.