ITMO: Open Education Conference Takes Place at ITMO University

On May 21, the ITMO Open Education Conference took place at Sevkabel Port. Experts from the field of education, lecturers, students, and all those interested, discussed trends, predictions, and relevant issues on modern education.


The event was organized in two zones: the Smart Talk zone, where participants discussed values of higher education, its relevance in the modern world, and potential switch to the online format, and the Practical Zone, where experts in education shared their own ideas, cases, and insights about educational practices, digital tools, and strategies for educational products.

Future universities
The conference started with a panel discussion moderated by Daria Kozlova, the First Vice Rector of ITMO University. In the introductory speech, she shared the main points of ITMO’s development strategy in the nearest future: building individual learning tracks for each student, recommendation systems based on analytics, emphasis on prominent lecturers, and improvement of their leadership qualities through EduStars and EduLeaders contests:

“The question that worries us: what is the balance between recommendation systems and a conscious choice – and responsibility for this choice and its outcomes. Some think that our idea of an individual learning track for each individual student is something from Isaac Asimov’s books. But if we embody ideas from science fiction, it means that we work on the frontier, that we are the university that shapes the markets of the future and that is able to prepare graduates to work in these markets and shape them.”

The presentation was followed by Natalya Shulgina, program director of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. She shared how in the course of more than 20 years, the foundation has not only been supporting leaders among Master’s students, lecturers, and curators of educational and cultural projects but also helps improve Russian education through a network of communities and institutions:

“The main mission of the foundation is to support leaders. But for this support to be efficient, it should be systematic. The creation of an environment in and around the university plays an important role and that’s why we support cutting-edge research, current trends, and experimental and innovative approaches to learning. We have many joint projects with partner universities. For example, last year we held several rounds of digital internships with HSE and supported scientific communications at ITMO. We have platforms for the exchange of ideas and best practices, such as the annual Master’s Conference and the Foundation’s School.”

Classic education VS online courses
Kristina Gevorkyan, head of the learning department at , talked about the current state of education and the changes currently taking place. In her speech, she focused on the competition between online courses and higher education programs. According to her, online platforms won’t replace classical academia, and even if it does, it won’t be soon. However, universities should pay attention to this trend and use it as a growth point:

“Back in 1997, a UN resolution said that online learning is a tool that will help prevent inequality and make education accessible to everyone. It seems to me that universities should consider this in their mission, change the approach to the design of educational programs and engage more segments of the target audience. Demographic trends cannot be ignored either: the birth rate in Russia is falling, which means that in the next few years, the number of school graduates will seriously decline. At the same time, the share of the adult population, on the contrary, is growing, as is their interest in receiving further education. It seems important to adapt university programs to such people and create online Master’s programs for adult professionals because they do not have the opportunity to attend face-to-face classes due to their work.”

Traditions and technologies
Yaroslav Pavlov, ITMO Graduate, rector at the International Management Institute of St. Petersburg, and IC Lab (interactive online courses lab) founder, also shared his thoughts on moving online. He believes that drastic changes, such as the disappearance of traditional offline learning, won’t happen in our lifetime.

“What is really changing now is the way we look at what learning is (for example, we started to give more attention to the learning experience), its methodology (including microlearning and interactive online training), and approaches (adaptive learning, learning analytics). Plus, indeed, some technologies have started to actively appear in education: AR, VR, and chatbots. But it’s important not to forget the people behind technologies – learning should be human-centered. This is the key to achieving a new quality, a new education.”

Dara Melnyk, head of the research group at SKOLKOVO Education Development Centre and curator of the Experimental Higher Education program, reminded everyone that among the key things about higher education is not only its scientific value but also values that a university supports, its educational mission:

“What makes a university stand out among all other organizations? It works in four fields at once: it provides personal, public, corporate, and university benefits. Universities belong to the type of organization that exists in order to exist – we’re doing science to do more science. We provide education so that the next generation would also want to receive education so that we would grow and develop as a human species.”

Practice from experts
The practical part of the event included a series of workshops by various experts in modern education technologies and online education platforms, including specialists from ITMO University. Alexander Trifanov and Maxim Skryabin from ITMO University presented GeoLin, a platform developed by the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics, made for student testing and collection of data on their grades. Denis Fedotov, Evgenia Igolnikova, and Ekaterina Nikolaenkova talked about the brand new approach to teaching in a major company using modern technologies and tools, as well as about the creation of an network for businesses, universities, and experts as part of the conference.

Yakov Somov, founder of the Lectorium educational platform and head of Lyceum No. 239’s Online Education Center, shared insights in the field of educational and game design of online courses, whereas Maria Plotkina, co-founder of the Geek Teachers project, presented an overview of digital tools for gamification of the learning process. Alyona Gupaisova, deputy head of ITMO’s Department of Strategic Communications, discussed the design of educational products, strategies for their promotion, and targeting of potential students, and Marianna Krel, an expert at RANEPA’S Education center for digital transformation teams and chief digital transformation officers, talked about tools for skill acquisition of the future, as well as the competencies that lecturers require for that.

Who’s in charge: students or lecturers?
The conference also included two discussions. As part of one of them, graduates and students of ITMO University debated on the topics of who should determine the educational strategy: the students themselves or the university. The graduates, represented by Roman Evstigneev, project manager at Welltory company, Artyom Petrenko, research associate at the Laboratory of single-photon detectors and generators, and Alexander Rumyantsev, a software developer at LANCK Telecom company, supported their belief that only an expert community of lecturers can determine the future development of the job market and form curricula in accordance with this.

Current students, Artyom Skvortsov from the Science Communication program, Ekaterina Zaitseva from the Mathematical and Computer Modeling program, and Vladislav Roy from the Information Systems in the Technosphere and Ecological Safety program, on the other hand, supported the idea that students – consumers of educational services – should be able to form their curricula themselves. People from the audience also had a chance to express their position. As a result of the voting, the graduates won.

In the second Smart Talk discussion, among participants were representatives of online education: Yakov Somov, the founder of the Lectorium, and Vyacheslav Yurchenkov, head of the Center for the Development of Educational Technologies at SberUniversity. They spoke about their views on the future of online courses and their integration with educational institutions and universities. Their opponents from the field of university education were Ivan Zamoshchansky, Director of the Center for Development of Universal Competencies at Ural Federal University, and Konstantin Khomchenko, tracker at ITMO Accelerator, lecturer at the International Management Institute of St. Petersburg, and owner of Chili Marketing company. In their speech, they emphasized how the personal qualities of teachers, their charisma, ethics, and love for their work and students are especially important in the modern world.

The best of the best
The final part of the event was dedicated to ITMO.EduLeaders and ITMO.EduStars contests that took place in 2020. At EduLeaders, the lecturers had to present their unique educational projects, while at EduStars, the lecturers were nominated by students and evaluated by their colleagues and experts from the Department of Academic Affairs.

10 out of 43 participants reached the final of the ITMO.EduLeaders competition. You can learn more about their projects . As a result, five winners were announced: Yulia Romanenko, lecturer at the Institute of International Development and Partnership, Alexey Peregudin, an assistant at the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics, Ekaterina Tyurikova, lecturer at the Faculty of Energy and Ecotechnology, Andrey Kudlis, Junior Researcher at the Faculty of Physics, and Andrey Sukhovitsky, lecturer at the Information Technologies and Programming Faculty.

Initially, 1,154 people took part in the ITMO.EduStars competition, 108 reached the final, and 27 became winners – each of them will receive a prize of 250,000 rubles. In addition, mentors – students who participate in the ITMO.Mentors program and help teachers – will receive a prize of 150,000 rubles.

ITMO.NEWS asked the winners what they think about their win.

Ilya Livshitz, professor at the Faculty of Secure Information Technologies, ITMO.EduStars laureate

According to the organizers, the main factor behind my victory is the results of student assessment. But, of course, this is not only my merit but of the entire faculty, because several teachers were engaged in the design of educational tracks. This is not only about theory, it takes long-term practice.

In a few years, we will really compete for students: once they start evaluating us by rankings, they will be able to see that what we give them will come in handy tomorrow. What yesterday was published in academia will be shared with our students today.

I’m not ashamed of any of our graduates – they all have knowledge that they will be able to apply. So this is entirely the merit of our entire faculty. It’s a pity that not all lecturers are ready to participate in such competitions – they are too modest.

Alexey Peregudin, an assistant at the Faculty of Control Systems and Robotics, ITMO.EduLeaders laureate

I tried not to think about the victory but realized that the audience responded positively to my project. I like it too and I can present it well. It seems to me that if you do something well, you must do it – that was my main motivation to participate in the competition. A good project and a good presentation are two different things. I’m good in the second. Although, speaking objectively, some of the other presenters were very impressive, too.

It’s great that I won. It’s especially great to shake hands with people, hug colleagues, and feel support and recognition. I enjoy this, it’s a very joyful experience.

Daria Martynova, an assistant at the Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations, ITMO.EduStars laureate
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Not only me, but my colleagues from the Center of Social and Humanities Knowledge also won. We didn’t expect this at all and didn’t know about the result until the very end. A lot of factors were considered in the assessment system: love for students, knowledge of the subject, and orientation in a professional environment. But, as I understood, they were guided primarily by the results of the student survey. And that’s why I’m especially pleased that they chose me.

I think this is all thanks to the and Medical Humanities projects because I wanted to involve a large number of interdisciplinary students in this activity: students from the programs in the fields of art & science, digital humanities, and more. There were 150 of them from the Faculty of Infocommunication Technologies alone. We tried to combine everyone under one concept – humanistic, historical, and cultural.

Plus, I think, VR and digital learning methods that include virtual tours, exhibitions, and visualizations played a role. As part of the project, we won two student grants and a grant from ITMO.Future – this probably also helped.

Alexandr Kapitonov, dean of the Faculty of Infocommunication Technologies, ITMO.EduStars laureate

This was unexpected – I didn’t expect to become a winner at all. I just do my job and teach students in a way that makes them interested. Most seem to like it. Many colleagues have presented cool technical solutions and some of them were quite complex. I mainly focus on motivation, I like to think more about how to involve students in educational activities rather than how to present the material.

My YouTube channel where I talk to students is one of the ways to get them involved. This is an invitation to dialogue. There were several examples when students were complaining about something that they didn’t like – such things can also be turned into constructive critique through dialogue, and then we try to fix and solve problems together.

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