Even though at the moment the threat of COVID-19 is widely recognized across Russia, until the middle of March it was considered illusive as Russia was virtually untouched by the virus, reporting just seven confirmed infections as recently as the 10th of March. While the rest of the country would need several more weeks to be convinced of the severity of the upcoming danger, the authorities of Moscow surprised everyone by becoming front-runners in implementing preventive measures to protect its citizens. The news of an upcoming curfew and partial shutdown of the country’s capital, a city of close to 12 million people, were almost impossible to believe in, resulting in its treatment as a rumor by all: the students, their parents, the professors and many of the administrative personnel. And, as it usually happens with rumors – it spread rapidly, and everyone wanted to take part in the discussion. As a result, every day the number of calls to the program offices of IBS-Moscow started to multiply in geometric progression, emails were overflown with letters from concerned professors, official updates confirming the absence of official information had to be posted and reposted multiple times a day on the newsfeeds. By the end of the second week of March, even though COVID-10 was yet a distant danger, the communication crisis was already in place.
IBS-Moscow is part of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation (RANEPA) – one of the largest educational establishments in Russia, hosting around 17,000 students yearly all across the country. Understanding that even one case of infection can possibly endanger thousands of students studying at a single campus and living in the on-campus dormitory, the Academy officials introduced obligatory temperature check-ups at the entrances, and disinfection fluid dispensers all across the territory. Finally, on the 15th of March, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Science and Higher Education recommended regions to switch the educational process to distance learning if it is necessary. Although many educational institutions in the country have continued operations throughout the upcoming weeks, IBS-Moscow was the first business school in Russia to announce an immediate stop of all on-campus teaching. In response to the students’ requests to continue studying as opposed to taking a break, the school needed to quickly adjust to be able to adhere to their needs.
In line with the preemptive strategy of Moscow’ administration, during the weekend of 15th-16th of March, the administration of IBS-Moscow was tasked with finding a way to increase the share of courses held in an online format from 10% to 100%. The program managers formed a virtual crisis management group, which ran trials of virtual studying technology and brainstormed possible scenarios and consequences until late night. On Monday morning, despite only 93 confirmed cases of infection across the country, all students of IBS-Moscow were encouraged to stay at home. The next day several professor gatherings were held, where invited specialists would introduce the chosen technological solution: Zoom was selected as the main platform for large group classes, while Skype was chosen for small group language classes. Coursera campus course solutions were also integrated into the curriculum where possible. Professors and administrators with limited access to computers or the Internet were offered to borrow laptops from the school or use a local webinar platform designed for weak internet connection. The program offices resumed their work, acting also as crisis centers and phone support specialists for students and professors experiencing technical problems. Office hours were modified with accordance with that.
The crisis management team realized early on that overreliance on email communications between the students and the professors must be restricted to assure the possibility of quality control, communication problems mediation, and transparent student work evaluation during the 100% change to online: everyone must transfer to using the LMS, no matter the age or status of the professor. At the time, 20% of course instructors were actively using the system. Subsequently, a group of technical specialists and professors were discharged from other duties to focus mainly on creating instructional videos for the use of LMS based on continuously appearing requests of the 150+ staff of professors. For further quality control purposes, all program heads were asked to ensure the recording of all educational sessions and the collection of video-proof of students’ attendance. To disseminate best practices further within the Academy, student volunteers, who included members from IBS-Moscow, established a hotline for questions related to online education. Even the director of IBS-Moscow Sergey Myasoedov (on the photo) volunteered to sign in to random online sessions across educational programs in order to check the quality of all supplementing processes.
By the 23rd of March no professors were physically present on the campus, and all of the 750+ students of IBS-Moscow were studying online. In three days (182 confirmed infection cases in Russia), the Minister of Science and Higher Education would order all Russian universities to close from March 28 with subsequent transfer to solely online education in the months to come. While other universities and business schools’ strategy was to react, IBS-Moscow decided to be proactive in line with the preemptive strategy of Moscow’s authorities. As of the time of submitting this article, the programs schedules (apart from physical education classes) have mostly returned to the “grid” designed back in May 2019 and most importantly – no cases of virus infection in IBS-Moscow have been recorded.
More information about IBS-Moscow: http://eng-ibda.ranepa.ru/