The Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Russia issued a recommendation on March 14, 2020 for all the higher educational institutions of the Russian Federation to temporarily suspend their off-line teaching and to offer all courses through distance learning tools. As the recommendation was not of strictly obligatory nature, it was up to each university to decide when and how it will transfer its teaching to the distance learning mode. The majority of the universities (around 60%) went online immediately after the recommendation was issued, the rest following suit in the week March 16 – March 20, 2020. This has urged Russian universities to review and restructure their study-programs, syllabi, methods of teaching and learning in order to provide the educational offerings at all levels in the online/distance learning mode.
Most universities in Russia were somewhat prepared for this challenge: for the accreditation and licensing purposes it is required that they have an “electronic informational and educational environment” which is similar to learning management systems. This means that they have a Blackboard- or MOODLE-based e-environment where each of the existing courses offered off-line will have an electronic version with an array of materials ranging from recorded lectures, presentations, summaries of the main course topics to practice tests, assessment materials, etc. In most cases, these resources have become the basis for the online teaching which started on March 16, 2020.
There have also been some federal and inter-institutional initiatives to provide mass online open courses to the students of any Russian university mostly at the first cycle level. Such platforms include The National Platform of Open Education (https://openedu.ru), Coursera https://www.coursera.org and others.
In addition to that, for online teaching a number of web-based conference tools and platforms are used: namely, Mirapolis, Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, etc. Examples of creativity include the successful adaptation for the teaching purposes of such platforms as Discord, initially developed for the gaming community. These tools proved to be the easiest way to communicate over voice, video, and text, for the courses where staff and students need to interact through discussion, presentation, exercise and practice.
The distant learning mode has been several times extended during the last months and finally it was recommended to finish 2019/2020 academic year completely distant, including regular and final exams and dissertation defense. Where it was allowed by the educational standards, final exam was excluded from state examinations to help graduates to be well prepared for thesis defense.
The measures have also included recommending students residing on campus to consider moving back home if possible. The international students, including Erasmus + exchange students, have, in the vast majority, stayed on campus and are being taught through the online and other distance learning modes
The three months of distance learning have demonstrated that it is possible to offer most courses online. However, in any given timeframe less material can be covered online compared to the off-line mode, students may sometimes be less motivated to work and progress, methods of teaching are not so easily transferred from the off-line to the online communication, etc.
It is expected that new academic year will be started on time in traditional format. At the same time, some universities will be focusing on the blended learning opportunities and offering some courses online only as an alternative they can benefit from.
Russian NEO team
June 30, 2020