Not regular courses
Since its launch, ITMO.Expert has been conceptualized as a professional development program, within which educators can broaden their experience in using contemporary educational technologies and this way upgrade the university’s courses and curricula. At the program, each participant can choose various modes of participation by being a listener, a speaker, or both.
According to Ekaterina Dzhavlakh, the head of the Office of Educational Technologies, it is often the case that lecturers can understand each other’s struggles better than external experts, which means that with this format they can choose to discuss only the topics that are most relevant for them at the moment.
“Our participants have the university as common ground, which means they all work for the common goal. We create the conditions where they can discuss the relevant topics with each other, share their solutions or come up with new ones together. As a result, they share the knowledge they’ve acquired through experience, instead of something learned from a textbook, and this is the initiative’s main value,” shares Ekaterina Dzhavlakh.
One of the program’s features is that it’s highly adaptable to the needs of its participants, which is made possible by its modular structure, meaning that the lecturers can attend only the events they find important and interesting.
Lifelong learning and modular education
Participants can choose between modular courses, open modules, or an online summer intensive course.
A modular course is a separate educational product that is held within a certain timeframe and schedule and which participants need to sign up for. In the past academic year, ITMO.Expert included four modular courses: School of Aspiring Lecturers, Design Your Online Course, Digital Tools for Lecturers, and Evaluation System.
Open modules, on the other hand, are made up of several separate open events united by a common topic. These events are organized throughout the academic year without a prior schedule and depend fully on the speakers’ readiness to present their topics. Among such modules were Trends in Education, Soft Skills, Digital Services, Virtual Laboratories, Online Courses, Best Practices, and others. The list of open modules can be modified based on the lecturers’ requests and feedback.
Moreover, all the materials from past events (including videos, presentations, checklists, and so on) are available to anyone on the project’s website (in Russian).
However, ITMO.Expert is not only a platform for discussing professional interests. During the pandemic and the rapid transition to online education, the lecturers also needed special psychological support.
In an answer to this demand, the organizers hosted topical events that turned out to be really popular among the educators, turning in the 2021/2022 academic year into a full Mental Health module curated by teaching and learning specialist Anastasia Pozdnyakova.
“At first we thought that it would be good to broaden the psychological education at ITMO, so we held a couple of events with our colleagues from the Center for Inclusive Education, which were met with great interest from the audience. That’s why for the next academic year we launched three modules: Psychological Education, Self-Regulation, and Feelings and Emotions. Part of the lectures were given by me, because I am a certified psychologist, and the other part was given by experts from the Center for Inclusive Education. I also invited practicing therapists to some of our classes, for instance, on fears and phobias, relaxation, and meditation,” says Anastasia Pozdnyakova.
Among the topics discussed in the module was interaction with students with disabilities. For instance, during a joint webinar, experts from the Anton Tut Ryadom charity foundation explained complex and sensitive issues of inclusion and busted some myths about autism spectrum disorders. According to Anastasia Pozdnyakova, the organizers have received great feedback and plan to host more similar events in the future.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the module was a self-organized psychological support group, where the lecturers meet with a therapist for group therapy sessions. Only a couple of such meetings have been held so far, but in the coming academic year the organizers are planning to hold them regularly.
Plans for the new academic year
After the launch of the Office for Support of Educational Programs, ITMO.Expert will also focus on working with heads of educational programs and their teams.
The new season of ITMO.Expert will kickstart in August with the traditional summer online intensive course that is meant to prepare the faculty for the new academic year. A special track for heads of programs will be included this year, where participants will discuss relevant business projects and program management issues.
Another novelty will be the Educational Toolkit workshop, which is an open database of all methodological tools developed by ITMO lecturers.
“These days, there are many ideas and strong educational projects that lecturers regularly share with each other within the Best Practices module. However, all of these ideas had no way of leaving the university to be shared with the public. Then we thought that we could create an open database with original evidence-based pedagogy projects created by our lecturers. This database will be available to anyone on our website,” explains Valeria Sukhanova, a lead engineer at the Office of Educational Technologies.
Not a goal, but a badge of honor
As highlighted by the coordinators, ITMO.Expert’s main aim is to develop a community of educational leaders who are capable of solving the problems arising during rapid transformation of education. That is why professional training certificates received at the end of the program are more like badges of honor for the most engaged participants. For instance, certificates are awarded for completion of one or two courses, giving a lecture, or active attendance of open educational events. Apart from the certificates, active participants will also receive gifts.
Since recently, lecturers can also participate in the ITMO.EduLeaders contest for best educational practices and original projects. In 2021 the prize money was awarded to five lecturers and in 2022 winners were two lecturers and five teams.
You can keep track of all the upcoming events, as well as peruse notes from past ones on the ITMO.Expert official page (in Russian).