The International Scientific and Methodological Center (IRMC), a joint project of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science and the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg State University (GSOM SPbU), has evaluated the results of its first year of operation.
ISMC started working under the University of St. Petersburg in 2019. The Center won a grant from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Russia; along with 4 other Russian universities. All of them became participants in the National Digital Economy Project, whose tasks, among other things, include the education or retraining of personnel capable of providing a breakthrough in this area. First of all, however, their goal is to spread and transfer skills and abilities to other people.
The goal of the Center is education, retraining, and the advanced training of employees of educational institutions of higher education in two areas: computer science and mathematics.
The computer science area is divided into several programs: artificial intelligence, quantitative methods for solving applied problems, analysis and interpretation of big data, and software development and data analysis. Math is represented by a large program Conducting practical sessions and seminars in mathematics and programming.
ISMC is engaged not only in educational activities. There is also a Center for Pedagogical Innovation, which offers internships for university employees from other universities, in companies of the digital economy, the Laboratory of the University of the Future, which studies the best educational practices and the development of an up-to-date agenda for the educational center, as well as the Reference and Methodological Center, which creates a database of materials on teaching and information units for interdisciplinary dialogue.
The ISMC team includes more than 100 people from Russia, Europe and America. Corporate partners are Yandex, VTB Bank, Jet Brains, Stepik, Digital Design, academic partners are Computer Science Center, Novosibirsk State University and the School of Data Analysis.
It is important that courses at the ISMC are free. In addition, students of the programs can use the course materials at their universities.
Summing up the results of the debut year of the ISMC, Academic Director of the Software Development and Data Analysis retraining program Alexander Avdyushenko said: “I would like to note that in addition to the actual fulfillment and overfulfilment of the stated indicators, the ISMC SPbU team have received the unique experience of successfully reassembling new educational programs in a short time and the subsequent launch and testing of them online for teachers, holding many events and developing the community of teachers of higher education organizations in Russia."
Alexey Elistratov, Head of the ISMC, summed up: "This experience can be easily scaled up in 2021 and in the future, and help to update the content of subjects in the fields of mathematics, computer science and digital technologies, creating a single academic reserve of Russian educational organizations to provide universities with personnel".
“The team of ISMC SPbU together with other four international scientific and methodological centers (HSE, MEPhI, UrFU and TSU) came to the understanding that the designated goal cannot be achieved by one single university or organization alone. Thus, it is necessary to support and develop both the network of International Scientific and Methodological Centers and the whole ecosystem of personnel training for the digital economy,” he emphasized.
We talked on how to teach professionals with Tatyana Gavrilova, the Academic Director of the training program "Artificial Intelligence" of the ISMC, Head of the Department of Information Technologies in Management of GSOM SPbU, and Nikolay Vavilov, Doctor of Technical Sciences and Professor of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science of SPbU, Director of the Laboratory of Mathematical Methods of Multimedia Technologies of St. Petersburg State University — Huawei, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
Tatyana Gavrilova explained the relevance of the idea of retraining teachers: “It is worth starting with the fact that in Russia, universities traditionally teach not what is needed, but what the teachers know. But there is a real demand for qualified specialists of certain specialisation. Now artificial intelligence is in demand. As a person who has been studying AI for 30 years, I have already seen the second round of interest in this area. And both times we were overwhelmed with a flow of people who do not understand the essence of either this science or this technology, but who use the term for speculative purposes. This is how popular myths about AI are born. But there are no miracles, and there is no talk about the so-called ("frightening") general artificial intelligence. And it is about the normal development of informatics towards intellectualization, and about the so-called weak artificial intelligence in certain areas. The interest in artificial neural networks, in particular, is especially high now. Good specialists are needed both in science and in production, and in universities began to introduce courses on AI everywhere. And, frankly, there are not so many specialists. Our course marks and urgency that has never been seen before."
Nikolay Vavilov, explaining the urgent need to change the very approach to teaching mathematics, states: “It is quite obvious that teaching mathematics at all levels has lagged behind modern needs for centuries. This applies to both school and university education, and not only teaching mathematics to representatives of other specialties, but also, paradoxically, teaching mathematicians themselves." In particular, the computer revolution has been virtually ignored — the fact that "computers have changed mathematics, the attitude of mathematicians to mathematical reality, and the ability to directly observe it." According to Nikolay Vavilov, contrary to the rather popular opinion today that the change in the teaching paradigm should start with the younger generations, it is worth starting with the university teachers.
Tatyana Gavrilova emphasized the high level of the first students’ qualifications and interest in the course. At the same time, Nikolay Vavilov noted the specifics that he had to face: “From a fundamental point of view, the difference in explaining something to a small child, schoolchild, student, graduate student, colleague, specialist in another field, or an inquisitive pensioner is not as great as it seems. But there is one funny phenomenon in communicating with professionals, especially lecturers. Professionals in many fields believe, consciously and / or unconsciously, that they understand everything better than anyone else. Among mathematicians, by the way, this is extremely common and is reflected in a huge number of jokes and historical anecdotes. This confidence is often uncritically transferred to peripheral knowledge in related fields acquired several decades ago, literally in their student years, and which have never been revised since. Therefore, many colleagues at first react rather nervously when you try to convince them that the proofs they have taught first-year students dozens of times contain a gross mathematical error, and the facts are wrong”.
“I am sure that training for the digital economy is not a one-time project, but a serious program that will enrich our society with new talented specialists, ideas, start-ups and achievements!” — Tatyana Gavrilova said. She also added that, despite the conservatism of university education and the length of the planning cycles, the center's alumni will begin to apply the acquired knowledge and skills as early as the next semester.
In turn, Nikolay Vavilov said: “Based on the first results, this experience seems to be very successful, and we propose that it be extended to other universities in the country. We need a platform where people interested in change can discuss these things and share experiences. It seems to me that this is precisely the mission of the ISMC”.
During the first year of work, 43 seminars were held at the ISMC, 123 russian and foreign teachers and specialists were involved. 195 people have graduated the programs. In total, more than 1500 listeners from 50 cities of the country, 60 universities in Russia and the world have been registered int the scientific and educational seminars of the Center. Employees of IBM, Yandex, Google, Facebook, Jet Brains, Digital design took part in the events of the ISMC.
On December 7-20, the first New Year's school at the ISMC was held. During the 14-day intensive course, teachers and students were looking for a balance between theory and practice in teaching mathematics and computer science, machine learning competitions, workshops and crowd-sourcing training were held.
Nikolay Vavilov, Professor of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, St. Petersburg State University, and Tatyana Gavrilova, Head of the Department of Information Technologies in Management of GSOM were named Heads of the Center. She emphasized that “it was nice to see people among the students of the pre-New Year school, who learned about it from our recent graduates of the ISMC programs”.
171 students attended the pre-New Year school of the ISMC.