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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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Russian Universities Embrace Online Courses, Virtual and Augmented Reality, As Education Goes Digital

March 20, 2020

Speaking at a seminar hosted by National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) last week, Shuhua Liu, Vice Director of the Center for International Education Research at China's Zhejiang University, admitted that, while they had long been involved in online education, no one had expected it to get such a boost.

With universities around the world switching to distance learning, the focus is increasingly on cutting-edge educational technology that would ensure continuity of teaching. Russia's premier universities, including those that participate in Project 5-100, have extensive experience building digital environments which they are ready to share. At the request of the Russian Ministry for Science and Higher Education, the Association of Global Universities, which brings together Project 5-100 institutions to coordinate their offline activities and web interaction, has set up a contact center to assist Russian universities in moving online.

The current migration to the Internet, although forced, could yet give a lasting impetus to the digital education market, experts say. Some 65% of the universities reporting to Russia's Ministry for Science and Higher Education have already shifted instruction online. At the ministry's suggestion, a list of free online courses has been drawn up to facilitate transition to digital-enabled remote learning. These have been designed by this country's top universities, including several Project 5-100 institutions, such as HSE, ITMO University, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Tech-nology (MIPT), National Research Nuclear University MEPhI, NUST MISIS, Samara University, St Petersburg Electrotechnical University (ETU “LETI”), St Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU), Tomsk State University (TSU), the University of Tyumen and Ural Federal University (UrFU).

Project 5-100 universities' distance learning expertise is not limited to crafting online courses. They are also pioneering virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, which both provide for a more exciting learning experience and ensure greater safety, e. g. when doing lab work.

Thus, TSU is taking forward a large-scale digital project dubbed “Virtual University 4.0” that al-lows faculty to put together interactive courses, while enabling students to run interactive 3D models of state-of-the-art equipment and receive instruction in process mechanics inside a VR/AR lab.

Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) has designed a virtual model of its in-house research nuclear reactor and offered to supply other higher learning institutions with a full version of this applica-tion, which, while VR-compatible, can also run on no-frills PCs. In total, TPU has developed more than 200 virtual lab apparatuses that enable online teacher-student interaction. South Ural State University (SUSU), too, actively uses VR technology to simulate lab work.

STEM subjects, however, are not the only ones that can be taught this way. Arts and humanities can also benefit. Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) is enrolling students in 'VR-enabled' con-versational English classes. This means that, as part of their training, learners will talk to native English speakers on a variety of everyday topics via a VR platform.

In fact, immersive technology is more than just a stopgap to see universities through a period of 'enforced' distance learning. It is here to stay – and help them train graduates who meet the needs of today's labor market.

VR, or immersive, technology has “huge” application potential, says a recent book published by HSE's Institute of Education. The book, entitled “The Challenges of, and Prospects for, Digital Transformation of Learning”, claims that this technology has burst its way out of laboratories into everyday life and is gaining traction. The authors see reason to believe that it will eventually penetrate all fields of human endeavor, and, crowding out keyboard and computer mouse, assert itself as a highly popular way for humans to interact with the global digital environment.