Teaching at HSE – Tips, Approaches and Challenges

'Teaching at HSE' workshop held on November 15 once again welcomed internationally recruited faculty members and led a discussion about teaching findings and best teaching practices.

The annual ‘Teaching at HSE’ workshop is aimed at sharing teaching experience among international faculty members, with respect to both the challenges that teachers encounter and the solutions they devise to overcome such difficulties. This year’s workshop was held on November 15 and welcomed four speakers: Angelina Lucento (School of History), Arnab Roy Chowdhury (School of Sociology), Dina Rosenberg (School of Political Science) and Mauro Mariani (Faculty of Mathematics). They discussed urgent challenges and best practices in regards to classroom work and student evaluation, as well as class planning and course improvement.

Classroom – Challenges and Tips

With respect to teaching activities, the format whereby material is presented to students is quite important. In this respect, Dina Rosenberg and Arnab Roy Chowdhury combine both formats – lectures and seminars held in the classroom. Dina notes: ‘I give students not only the academic papers (which are hard to read), but also short articles from Russian and foreign media that provide an analysis of current events, as well as popular blogs covering areas like political science (e.g., the Monkey Cage blog at The Washington Post). We tie theory to real events and practice.’ Dina shared her personal favorites for in-class quizzes – a mobile app called ‘Socrative’ (free for up to 50 students). She is also grateful to Andrei Skriba (Lecturer, School of International Affairs) for introducing her to this app. It is a useful tool for multiple choice tests (e.g., questions can be shuffled) and quizzes. It can also help students be more engaged into the learning process. Arnab also keenly combines lectures and seminars by engaging students in debate formats. For instance, he assigns reading materials in groups, letting students to express their (sometimes contradictory) opinions.

‘My seminars and lectures are very interactive and discussion based - it’s my teaching philosophy,’ says Angelina Lucento, who proposes a unique approach based on her experience teaching at a private school in the USA and at HSE. In the American educational system, a great emphasis is placed on critical thinking. While in Russia, students tend to memorize massive amounts of information. In her own way, Angelina actively brings critical thinking to her courses, and emphasizes to the students that classes will involve a lot of questions from her. Furthermore, in her view, there are no right and wrong answers – the purpose is to help them think about a given subject.

The speakers also discussed the pros and cons of written and oral exams, as well as HSE’s grading system. Angelina noted that the HSE grading system is objective and she does not feel any pressure when grading students. When she needs to elaborate on a student’s mark, Angelina generally provides further comments on students’ papers.

Planning and Improving Courses

Dina’s greatest challenge is structuring a course so as to engage both types of learners – students who want deeper material and those who just want the lectures to be interesting and not that theoretically challenging.

Both Mauro and Angelina noted that they would like to receive more feedback from their students. It is especially important to get feedback while a course is still underway, rather than after its final examination. For instance, Angelina uses students’ feedback to improve the syllabus. She goes back to the programme and makes suitable changes, e.g., the course’s reading list.

Mauro says: ‘It is crucial [in Math] to get immediate feedback, because, if the students do not grasp your approach to presenting the material, they might not understand the rest of the lesson, or even the rest of an academic year.’ Both Angelina and Mauro rely on the principle of showing as much attention as they can to their students. If students can see that their teacher cares, they often reciprocate.

Furthermore, Arnab Roy Chowdhury shared his experience at HSE in regards to how he plans teaching activities every year. He advises doing most of one’s teaching activities during the first two (usually short) modules as much as possible. This way, teachers can have more time for research. Arnab’s other piece of advice concerns developing new courses: it is better to start a year ahead; a brand new course should be evaluated and approved by one department, as well as by the relevant study programme, which needs enough advance warning to include it into the study plan.

The workshop also welcomed Oksana Chernenko (Executive Director of HSE’s Fund of Educational Innovations) and Kamilla Gracheva (Manager of the ‘Teach for HSE’ project). They told the participants about the ‘Teach for HSE’ project, which is aimed at the professional development of HSE teachers. The project organizes workshops and discussions, as well as short courses on specific issues concerning contemporary teaching challenges, for both experienced and new faculty members. This year’s events covered such topics as diverse classrooms, innovations in curriculum internationalization, course development, teaching methods for large courses, and other important topics. As the English version of the project’s website is currently under development, Oksana and Kamilla are happy to answer any questions about available opportunities via e-mail on an individual basis.

Should you have additional questions on how teaching is organized at HSE, please refer to the Teaching page on the website for HSE international faculty.