Volume:6, Issue: 2

Sep. 1, 2014

Developing Baccalaureate Programs in Russia: Issues of Psychological-Educational Nature
Polyakov, Sergey D. [about]

KEY WORDS: baccalaureate and graduate programs, knowledge assessment, self-study, a new grading system.

ABSTRACT: The paper discusses a few psycho-educational issues and problems of undergraduate studies in teacher-training higher educational institutions. The author points out some psychological problems of the faculty working in a new system, students becoming familiar with a new way of learning and, finally, particular ways of interaction between teachers and students during the first steps of the new educational practices.


Russian higher education undergoes transition towards the two-tier system of undergraduate (baccalaureate) and graduate studies. For some higher educational institutions such a model has already become customary while most universities are still in the beginning of the way.

The distinguishing features of baccalaureate studies as a system as seen in Russia are as follows:

  • A different ratio of lectures versus group classes (discussion sessions) compared to the traditional or habitual order for teachers and students.
  • A different way of knowledge assessment (in credits and ratings).
  • An introduction of self-study as part of the curriculum with the amount estimated in academic hours.

As any large-scale modification of the social system, this process goes along with a great number of questions and difficulties.

The present paper discusses a few psycho-educational issues and problems of undergraduate studies formation in a teacher-training higher educational institution [1]. It is possible to point out psychological problems of faculty working in the system, students becoming familiar with this new way of learning and, finally, particular ways of interaction between teachers and students during the first steps of the new educational practices. 

First of all, the system of undergraduate studies modifies two characteristics that are traditional for Russian professional teacher training, i.e., there is a new approach to the ratio of theoretical versus applied knowledge and a new system of assessment which is currently being “reformatted.”

Teacher trainers’ apprehension is related to “the loss of the fundamental character of education”. Among a large number of faculty, the abovementioned changes in the ratio of lectures versus group activities will result in reduced (especially, in scientific research) opportunities to build up a system of theoretical scientific knowledge.

Another cause of concern in the process of modernizing university education is the implementation of the competence-based approach. Professional competences, basically understood as both the goal and result of education on the level of idea or principle, are quite productive, – the problems arise in their design and methodology. The list of competences, suggested by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science for educational programs, is so long that it is practically impossible to use it as a working goal. Thus, the Clause on Baccalaureate Studies for students majoring in education contains 33 (!) competences as required final results of an educational program.

However, not all fears of the faculty concerning undergraduate studies are reasonable. For instance, one common opinion is that undergraduate studies reduce the amount of time (academic hours) for the educational process as now a teacher-training program lasts only four years instead of five. We can’t agree with this position. Earlier, five years were allocated for students obtaining two majors, say physics and mathematics. The modern system of undergraduate studies has retained this requirement. Four years is the term to obtain only one undergraduate degree. Speaking about teacher-training universities, there are almost no programs implying one major – only two majors and 5 years of studying.

Besides, the amount of academic hours for particular courses and disciplines has not significantly changed – both in terms of general research-oriented and specific psychological and educational subjects.

In our opinion, there exist three intrinsic problems related to the transition towards baccalaureate studies in teacher-training universities. They are as follows:

  1. Learning process in the context of new lectures/discussion sessions’ ratio.
  2. An ambiguity concerning students’ self-study.
  3. Efficiency of specific ways in realizing the point rating system of assessment.

Let us briefly consider each of the above issues.

1. The practice of working in the context of new lectures/discussion sessions’ ratio may have three options: two extreme and one intermediate:

  • Theoretical material not covered during lectures may be studied during discussion sessions (practical classes), so their number will be increased. For example, if the number of lectures in general psychology was reduced by 9, so the discipline obtained the same number of additional discussion sessions.
  • Reduction of theoretical material with the increase of practical classes.
  • Intermediate options.

2. The problem of ambiguity concerning students’ self-study means that the syllabus of each class implies the amount of self-study equal to the amount of classwork. As the amount of classwork may not exceed 36 academic hours per week, the corresponding self-study is allocated in the amount of 36 academic hours per week, too. Thus, student’s average daily workload (excluding Sunday) will be 12 academic hours (6 classroom and 6 self-study hours per day).

Consequently, students will have only 1-2 hours per day for leisure activities, socializing, hobbies, and community-based activities (taking into account the time necessary to sleep, meals, commuting and hygiene). Certainly, such a layout is practically not possible for most students (with very few exceptions).

The second paradox concerning the self-study status is lack of consultation time and control in the workload of a teacher. It is implied that such control may be realized during discussion sessions. To some extent, this may be possible if self-study is defined as homework to prepare for discussion sessions. However, the syllabus does specify questions primarily set for self-study. In this respect, the gap between the course contents and its control is inevitable.

3. Finally, the specific problems of the point-rating system of assessment arise in the notion that a student is to get points for each activity followed by the total class grading.

There are various ways to realize this idea. For example, the system of baccalaureate studies at the Ulyanovsk State Pedagogical University includes points for attendance (both lectures and discussion sessions), class activity during discussion sessions, results of written and oral tests, and examinations. Besides, a total threshold score for good attendance and proper class activity makes it possible for students to bypass (or skip) final tests/examinations and get satisfactory or even good grades.

Such approach significantly increases students’ motivation and strengthens the “weight” of points or grades. This way of assessment has a positive effect on students with extrinsic motivation; it encourages them to control their current performance. As for students with intrinsic (cognitive) motivation, the point-rating system of assessment shifts the motivation to extrinsic. This is shown, for example, in the increased number of students who want to get a higher grade for the class without taking the examination.

Let us illustrate the above-mentioned empirical considerations by showing the academic performance in Psychology class demonstrated by the freshmen majoring in physics and mathematics at the Ulyanovsk State Pedagogical University.

Table 1. Academic performance in Psychology demonstrated by the first-year students of “specialist” (5 years) and undergraduate programs

Grade Traditional assessment system (specialist  program) Point-rating system of assessment (undergraduate program)
Excellent 20% 5%
Good 33% 67%
Satisfactory 36% 27%
Unsatisfactory 11% 1%

Statistical discrepancies of students’ performance are obvious (Χ²=30.2, 0.001 – significance level of discrepancies; critical value for the given significance level Χ²=19.3). The data in the table needs some explanation.

In both cases the numbers of students are comparable – about 100 people, and their entrance exams show roughly the same results. The class in General Psychology is pretty much the same in 5-year and 4-year teaching plans. Learning technologies (except for assessment technology) are also similar. The same professor delivers the class to both groups of students. However, the results are quite different.

The distinguishing features of an undergraduate program here are:

  • Fewer unsatisfactory grades.
  • An increased number of good grades.
  • Less numbers of excellent grades.

The interpretation should take into consideration the fact that 40% of all students who obtained good grades preferred not to take the actual examination itself being satisfied with the total score they received for attendance and class activity.

To a certain degree the above data may suggest that implementation of the point-rating system of assessment increases extrinsic motivation in learning. We may ask, “What are the ways to solve ‘the problem of motivation’? How is it possible to increase intrinsic motivation in the context of point-rating system of assessment?”

Here is one of the possible solutions:

  • Making all the students take exams upon the class completion.
  • Assigning no grades/points for students’ input during the class.
  • While keeping the point-rating method of assessment, to display the results in an automated and unemotional format along with a positive emotional rather than quantitative no-grades/points for students’ input.

Finally, let us look at the challenges of our considerations. The problem of the point-rating system of assessment is significantly beyond the subject of baccalaureate studies, and that is the dilemma of objectivity and subjectivity of an efficient study process. In the first case, we mean an ideal in achieving the most impersonal system of assessment, in the second – assessment is substituted by the joint teacher-student analysis of the student’s academic performance and results. Perhaps, the solution lies in trying to combine both. The question is what kind of combination should it be?

Another set of challenges concerns the problems of graduate studies as the second tier of the higher education. And here we witness more questions and doubts with their clarification still to come.

References

1. Federal'nye gosudarstvennye obrazovatel'nye standarty vysshego professional'nogo obrazovanija po napravlenijam podgotovki bakalavriata [Federal Standards of Higer Vocational Education in Undergraduate Studies] // Published on March 1, 2012. URL: http://минобрнауки.рф/документы/924.

 

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