Maria Nikitina, Vice Dean and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics

I’ve been using the 'Electrical Machines' and 'Linear Electrical Circuits' online courses in my teaching practice for a long time, even before they were introduced to the Open Education learning platform. They were developed by the Associate Professor of the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics Alexander Usoltsev. The definite advantage of online courses is that they are a great way of interacting with the so-called debtors who shirk the classes; you can just make them do an online course to get the grade. What’s important to understand, however, is that such courses always are a simplified version of the in-class lectures; some topics are covered in a more detailed way during the face-to-face interaction with students, and some topics aren’t included in online courses at all. They can also prove very beneficial to foreign students, and we advise them to give online learning a go even if they’re not interested in getting a certificate, because the main aim here is to give them the opportunity to listen to a lecture for a couple of times to understand it better.

In my capacity of a Vice Dean, I recommend online courses to students who transfer to ITMO from other universities and have to pass the subjects of General Electrical Engineering, Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering and others, as getting an online certificate can help them do that in a way that is both simpler and faster.

Maria Nikitina
Maria Nikitina

The university rules allow lecturers to experiment with learning formats: we are entitled to make use of blended learning in our teaching, or, in other words, to include online courses in the course curriculum, in full or in parts. I set myself a task of making the process fully automated: those who want and can do an online course and get a certificate at the end of it head to the online platform, while those who don’t always have the option of attending in-class lectures.

I tell my students about the opportunity of taking an online course on the first lecture and explain how the grading will work. For a student to get the grade, it’s necessary to have a certificate proving that they did do the course, but this certificate is not free, and not everyone agrees to pay for it. The conversion of points depends on the program the student is on. We understand that although we teach a general-knowledge subject, students’ needs differ: a student studying at our faculty has to have a more in-depth understanding of the topic, while somebody else may need to only know the essentials. That’s why the contents of the online course are unified, but the grading can differ.

Apart from having to pay for the course certificate, another downside of online courses is that the format they come in is de-personalized. What makes this an issue is that, for instance, some students know the theory perfectly well, but they may experience difficulties in making the computations, and they submit wrong answers as a result. When you’re working in the online format, you can’t always pinpoint the problem: students often come to us to clarify why the system rejects their answers as wrong if they use the right formula.

Alexander Usoltsev, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics, author of the online courses ‘Electrical Machines’ and ‘Linear Electrical Circuits’

Online courses aren’t an enemy or rival for us lecturers, but they’re not a cure for all ills either. Well-trained and motivated students wanting to get in-depth knowledge will find face-to-face interaction with a teacher more beneficial, but online courses still have their place in the educational process as a way of obtaining general knowledge or an overview of a topic.

Stanislav Reznikov, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics, author of the online courses ‘Fundamentals of Interchangeability and ‘Mechanisms and Machines Theory’

Stanislav Reznikov
Stanislav Reznikov

I got into developing online courses as soon as the opportunity emerged. Faced with the decrease in contact hours, we can make use of online lectures to tell the students something we didn’t have time for during the face-to-face class, or make them an outlet students can go to in order to get background or good-to-know information for general development. This allows us to save some time during the classroom lectures which can be then used for solving practical tasks.

The courses I create are an introduction to the fundamentals of engineering analysis and design, and come in handy for students of the mechatronics and robotics educational tracks. But face-to-face classes still play a significant role, as they allow students to interact with real-world tools they are bound to encounter in their future careers. I think that online courses are great when a student needs a general overview of a subject, but they’re definitely not enough for a deep immersion in the subject you’re majoring in; nothing could replace in-class interaction in this regard. I tell students about the opportunity of doing an online course and don’t demand that they get a certificate whatever it takes, but what I see as important here is for them to use an online course as a gateway to essential theory; on the contrary, all practical tasks, for example, lab works, we do together in class.  

It’s crucial to note that students engaging in online learning are given the opportunity to ask the lecturer questions on each week’s topic. Answering these questions is a very important part of our work as authors and teachers of online courses, partly because the courses require constant adjusting and reworking. Students also get the chance to take online tests a couple of times. The flexibility of this system helps us meet the best standards of contemporary education.

Elena Mikhailova, Director of the Higher School of Digital Culture, coordinator for the development and implementation of the Digital Culture program track

Elena Mikhailova
Elena Mikhailova

The Digital Culture program track is special in that all of its educational content, from lectures to tasks, is offered to students in the online learning format, although we do host face-to-face consultations for both Bachelor’s and Master’s students in case they need teacher’s help.

Since our discipline ‘Digital Culture’ is intended for 4,000 students, we decided to stick with the online format. Each lecture is developed by a teacher who is responsible for one of the course’s modules such as information security, Internet communication culture, digital ethics, and so on. All the lectures are organized in such a way that students can grasp all the basic terms and concepts from the very start.

We also work with our students on an individual basis; it’s been a month and a half since the start of the course and we’ve already answered about two thousand questions and held dozens of individual consultations. We now plan on further improving the contents of the course as well as our teaching approach. For instance, we want to launch individual trajectories that will be different for each student depending on their current performance (for example, more successful students can get harder tasks, while those who don’t keep up can be assigned simpler ones). It is already the case that the students with the best performance can choose a more complex online course offered by Stanford and other leading universities.

Asel Romanova, Lecturer at the Faculty of Software Engineering and Computer Systems, author of the ‘Android Apps for Mobile Devices’ online course

Face-to-face classes are usually more intensive than online ones, but sometimes online tools can come in very handy, for example, when a class was canceled for some reason.

Asel Romanova
Asel Romanova

Another advantage of online courses is that they can facilitate teachers’ work significantly, so that you can get more free time to spend on research, for example. The only problem here is that Android is developing very fast, so the course needs to be updated every half a year.

Today, people don’t stop learning when their formal education is over. You can learn your whole life, acquire new skills, or even change your profession. There is no competition between online and face-to-face education, they are just different instruments with the same objective.

I think that the best option is to use both in your learning process. Online courses can complement regular classes. In my case, online courses work very well, as coding and commenting on your code at the same time can be tricky. The thing is that different students work at a different pace and some will inevitably fall behind. Online courses help solve this problem as they allow students to take their time if they need it. The flipside, however, is that even when the course is well done, some people might find it more difficult to perceive information this way.

Lubov Lisitsina, Professor at the Faculty of Software Engineering and Computer Systems, author of the ‘Methods and Algorithms of Graph Theory’ online course

My online course ‘Methods and Algorithms of Graph Theory’ is one of the first online courses launched by ITMO University in 2015 when the Russian educational platform Open Education was just established by leading Russian universities.

What makes any online course especially valuable are practical assignments implemented with the use of special software. Students get grades that affect their place in the ranking. In addition to practical exercises, there are also some other kinds of tasks that students can try their hand at.

Filipp Perepelitsa, Senior Lecturer at ITMO’s Faculty of Software Engineering and Computer Systems, author of the online courses ‘3D Modeling’, ‘Computer Engineering Graphics’, ‘Automated Design Systems’, and ‘Additive Technologies and 3D Printing’

Filipp Perepelitsa
Filipp Perepelitsa

I’m convinced that MOOCs are the future. This is mainly due to the use of special proctoring systems that allow for an automated knowledge assessment. I even tried to trick the system myself and I failed.

I often use online courses in my teaching. I think that it’s very convenient as such an approach allows students to learn practically at any time they like. However, as all my courses are practice-oriented, I still organize face-to-face meetings with my students, hold seminars, give home assignments for my students not to slack off. In my opinion, to perform well, most students still need some form of control.

The biggest advantage of my courses is, in my opinion, the fact that they are all very well-organized, down to the last detail. Thanks to this, our students have almost all questions covered when the course ends.