For the benefit of all
2020 marks the first-ever installment of ITMO.Mentors. As members of its organizing team note, it is unique both to ITMO and the Russian educational system in general. Its aim is to form an employee pool of young lecturers and foster a comfortable environment in which students and teaching staff can interact. The project’s intention is also to support lecturers in their professional activities by pairing them with assistants.
“The project got off to a successful start in 2020, the year when ITMO University switched to a blended learning format. Lecturers have to make themselves acquainted with the technical side of the process, which, of course, reduces the amount of time they could spend working on their ideas, developing educational programs, and launching new projects. In that sense, our student mentors are there to take over part of these responsibilities and help reduce workload for lecturers,” explains Ekaterina Bezyzvestnykh, an educational methodology specialist at the Faculty Support Office.
Opportunities for students
The project provides students with skills that are necessary for teaching, as well as various soft skills: knowing how to work with a team, organize project work, and deal with conflicts.
For students, this is an opportunity to see the learning process from a lecturer’s perspective. For those who have already considered a career in teaching, it’s a chance to try themselves at it and acquire experience.
As mentors, students receive an official salary. Their workload does not exceed 10 hours per week, for which they receive 15,000 rubles after taxes.
Regardless of their career aspirations, all graduates of ITMO.Mentors are presented with a professional training certificate.
“For the university, ITMO.Mentors is an important step towards finding and training those students who have already shown interest in teaching and education, but didn’t know how to develop that interest further. This way, ITMO is able to increase the quality of education by involving new, young specialists,” explains Kristina Ivanova, head of the Faculty Support Office.
The project’s key audience are Master’s and PhD students. But, according to its team, some of the Bachelor’s students at ITMO, too, already possess the experience and skills that may be valuable to lectures. Their applications will also be considered.
Students can join the program whether they pay tuition or have a scholarship.
Training future mentors
Students are able to pick the format of their studies – online or offline – as well as a preferred time: morning, day, or evening.
They also pick an educational track:
- The first track is available to those who already possess experience in education or are currently working alongside lecturers or other students on educational activities. These students don’t have to wait a whole semester before diving into their work; any missing competencies are covered during 32 academic hours of classes.
- The second track will suit those who have no experience in teaching or have just enrolled at ITMO. These students will need to complete the entire learning program at a total of 108 academic hours.
The actual studies begin in mid-December and consist of three parts.
Part one introduces students to ITMO University’s code and values, as well as its educational activities: innovations, resources, general standards, modules, information infrastructure, and grading system.
Part two covers the fundamentals of teaching and the way that studies are organized.
Finally, part three includes classroom practice for students of the second track, during which they’re able to hone the skills they’ve acquired so far. To them, it is an opportunity to learn under the guidance of ITMO lecturers.
Throughout their studies, students are assisted by curators – members of the university’s academic staff. They help students carry out tasks related to the organization and conduct of classes and handle any difficulties that arise in the process.
Student mentors also take part in open evaluation classes during which they’re joined by lecturers, curators, and educational specialists to analyze cases, present class plans they’ve developed, and receive feedback and advice. In addition to practical training, mentors also acquire theoretical knowledge via a specially-developed online course.
Those students who, upon completing the course, decide to continue on with participation, are taken on as university employees in the spring semester and begin their work. They’ll be working alongside lecturers who have expressed the desire to collaborate with a mentor.
What makes a great mentor
The project’s team wants their mentors to be future innovators in the field of education – those who possess new ideas and are eager to bring them to life.
“One of our university’s values is Love. And a key quality for a mentor is to love people in general. If you don’t love people, you’ll struggle to work with them, to empathize with them, to help them navigate. The second important quality is professionalism – in the general sense – and integrity. For instance, mentors shouldn’t allow themselves to plagiarize and they should pass on that quality to other students. A third quality is eagerness to help. We want mentors to be willing to help, to understand that there are no stupid questions, and to be able to find the right approach to any student,” says Kristina Ivanova.
When considering applications, the project’s committee prioritizes those with clearly-defined targets, motivation, and experience.
Though not a mandatory requirement, it is preferred that the students already possess relevant knowledge on the discipline that they would like to assist with.
On October 1, those candidates who passed the selection began their studies. Right now, there are more than 250 participants involved in the project; they’ll be working with 11 curators and 10 lecturers.
Next week, students will take part in the first evaluation event, during which they’ll get acquainted with the teaching staff whom they’ll be assisting in the future.
“We expect even more competition next year: more applications from would-be mentors, curators, and lecturers. We understand that for now, few see the advantages of taking part in ITMO.Mentors, and we expect several times more participants. We’re just starting out, and we’ll be picking up even more steam,” says Ekaterina Bezyzvestnykh.
“In my opinion, it’s important not to miss out on opportunities that could result in useful experiences, interesting contacts, and new knowledge. For instance, the Soft Skills module at ITMO contains lots of references to interesting subjects and literary sources. I can’t say for sure yet if I’d like to teach. I like soft skills, but my main interest is in chemistry and I wouldn’t mind working in that field. First and foremost, I’m taking part in the project for my personal development,” says Dmitry Pasechny, a first-year Master’s student at the Faculty of Biotechnologies and a participant of ITMO.Mentors. “I’d like to not only acquire professional skills, but to develop an ability to handle stressful situations. It’s an important quality not only in teaching, but in life overall.”
The application period for the next run of ITMO.Mentors will start in the beginning of the next academic year. Applications will be submitted via ISU.