Полоцкий государственный университет

Polotsk
State
University

There is no person in our university who wouldn’t know about international projects in the field of capacity building in higher education, in which Polotsk State University (PSU) has been actively participating since 1994. Everyone knows the programmes funded by the European Union: TEMPUS, Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 and a cross-border cooperation “Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus”. For the majority, this is a fancy jargon, but for the increasing number of international projects participants, these phrases are only part of a discourse of international relations and open professional relations within project groups.


Nowadays, all projects PSU participates in are aimed at improving the learning process by introducing student-centred approaches and concepts that are accepted around the world. This is the most difficult area of reforming the higher education system, so all projects are aimed at developing their own solutions based on the best European practices. The passage from preliminary development to final products is a hard work requiring decades of proper system transformation and employee efforts.

One of the tools for forming key competencies of students is an integrated approach to the learning process organization according to the “A-in-1” model, which represents the teamwork organization in international professional groups. This is partially implemented at the Faculty of Humanities when Belarusian-Italian student groups work together (Polotsk State University – University of Chieti – Pescara). Between February and May 2020, the project was fully guided by Belarusian and Danish students. For three months, students of the Faculty of Information Technologies (PSU) and the IT University in Copenhagen (ITU) have been carrying out a scrum project. “A-in-1” is about students working together in an international joint team; independent work and self-organisation within a student group; scrum design technology. The student joint work and their interaction with universities and companies were organized as part of the ERASMUS+ program “Improving the master program in the field of information and computer technologies to increase the graduates’ professional demand”, carried out by Polotsk State University and a number of partner universities from Belarus, Poland, Germany and Denmark.

The scrum project involved Nina Smirnova, Alexander Zditovets, Artur Barsegyan, Dmitry Markovets and Nikolay Grigoryev, 3rd-year students of the specialty “Information Technology Software” of Polotsk State University, and 3rd-year students of the same specialty at the IT University in Copenhagen. The Danish company, which gave the problem to solve to an international group of students (PSU and ITU) and partly participated in the development of the software product, was the Nordic Schools Group, and the Nordea Finance Group (Finland) was the project sponsor. On the part of PSU, the participation of students was supervised by Irina Zakharova, a lecturer of the Department of Computing Systems and Networks, on the part of ITU, the supervisor was Maria Paasivaara, the local coordinator of the MASIKT project. Emily Laue Christensen, a scrum master, helped the students. Casper Hjorth, a representative of the Nordic Schools Group, evaluated the students’ progress at each of the 5 stages of the scrum project. As a result, the international project team of PSU-ITU students, according to the project results and their quality assessment, was selected by the evaluation team of the Nordea Finance Group as the 2nd best competition team, and received cash prizes and certificates from this world leader in the digital economy financial business.

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Эмили Лауэ Кристенсен

“I worked with students from Polotsk State University and the IT University in Copenhagen in collaboration with the Nordic Schools Group to create a web application for teachers. As a scrum master, I was responsible for planning, structuring and organizing a software development project for the company. One of the main problems that we faced while working in a mixed team was the lack of active communication among team members at the very beginning of the project. Encouraging open relations among team members, setting priorities among our goals of the project, we were able to successfully overcome problems and provide the basis for solving problem situations in the future. All team members actively participated in Scrum Events that helped us learn how to apply the scrum methodology in practice. Throughout the entire project, all student-developers demonstrated a high level of professionalism and ethics of labour relations with respect for the ideas and opinions of others. A jointly created project was successful, and in general, it was a positive experience of working in a mixed team of software developers,” Emily Laue Christensen said.

Белорусско-датская студенческая группа и представители компании Nordic Schools Group

Belarus-Denmark Students’ Group and representatives of the Nordic Schools Group

 

Ирина Захарова

Irina Zakharova, a PSU international group supervisor: “Over the course of working with students, my main task was to coordinate the Belarusian part of the team. During the implementation of the project, the growth of students' knowledge, skills and abilities both in technical terms and in so-called “soft skills” was clearly seen. At first, students who received a project were not aware of all the nuances of work. I tried to quickly respond to their questions and soon, with great help from Emily (Scrum master from a Danish partner university), students became more confident in their abilities. It is worth noting that at the beginning some members of the team were not confident in their ability to maintain a dialogue in English. However, by the end of the project, all participants realized that their knowledge of English was good enough to understand the question and make a meaningful answer. It is also worth mentioning that the quality of filling the reporting documents in the scrum project has improved, which also indicates the acquired competencies in this area.

I’m sure that the project gave us and our students a lot of knowledge and food for thought. This progress, the prize place and valuable prizes from the Nordea Finance Group, received at the International Projects Competition, looks like a fair assessment of the many hours of work spent on the software product and work process organization. I congratulate the team and wish them further professional growth from the bottom of my heart!”

Каспер Хьорт

Casper Hjorth, a representative of the Nordic Schools Group: “Working with Belarusian students from Polotsk State University and the Belarusian-Danish group was a pleasure and a privilege for me. Having worked for more than 20 years as a project manager and product owner in the company, I have worked with many teams around the world. I was impressed by Belarusian students’ awareness level. I assumed that since they are all students, they would be unskilled. However, I quickly realized that their coding skills and know-how in the field of current industry trends, as well as the ability to find optimal solutions, have exceeded my expectations. Their communication skills were wonderful. All of them participated in our group discussions and contributed to the successful interaction among team members. As a result, the team took the second place in the Nordea Quality Award. I congratulate each member of the group and the two universities – PSU and ITU, which can be proud of their students and their achievements!”

Мария Паасиваара

Maria Paasivaara, a teacher from the Danish partner university, joint projects supervisor says: “At the very beginning of the joint work, Belarusian students were shy and less open than their Danish partners, but very soon Belarusians showed high abilities to work together in an international team. Of course, this is the first experience for them of transferring from an uncomfortable state by forcing them to leave the familiar atmosphere of a confined space to the comfort and privileges of a team work. It is an excellent way of self-improvement for professional and personal growth, which is important both for their own career in information communication technologies, and for the development of ICT in the sector of the national economy of Belarus - which has become such a close country for some Danes in Eastern Europe in the last three months.

Working with Danish colleagues is a valuable experience for the PSU students. Although the students find it difficult to transfer form one educational system to another, they managed to meet this challenge. This is reflected in students’ diaries that are common practice for students of many European universities.

From Alexander Zditovets’ dairy (PSU):

“…We took assignments and did not think about how difficult they can be, because in any situation we could rely on the team if we suddenly could not cope with something… This project was a useful experience for future work, since it was precisely this experience that I needed in the field of web development. During the project, I began to understand how in real life the whole work process goes, how tasks are distributed among developers. In addition, in order to fulfil the tasks, I had to study the material for a long time, which soon helped me deal with them. Therefore, I believe that this experience is invaluable to me...”

From Artur Barsegyan’s dairy (PSU):

“… Our entire project was based on the communication of all team members. Meetings often took place, where we discussed problems. All this undoubtedly affects speaking skills, especially speaking in English. I think these three months have increased our level of knowledge of the language, some more, some less. Previously, I had a fear of starting to speak English, but thanks to the project, the fear appeared. And this is without a doubt the coolest bonus of this project. As a result, this project can be considered the first real project that I worked on. And the experience of working in a team and communication with the customer, without a doubt, prepared me for work in IT…”

From Dmitry Markovts’ dairy (PSU):

“… One of the useful experiences of the project is to work with the product owner. This made it possible to understand how work in companies works. And also allowed as a programmer to be flexible, namely, to quickly adapt to those tasks that need to be solved in the first place. One of the important experiences in this project was the experience of working in a team. To implement the effective work of our team, the Scrum methodology was proposed and organized. This methodology allowed our small team of programmers, the scrum master and the owner’s product to realize the work on the project much more effectively. Also, the scrum methodology allowed me to most effectively share my time for working on a project…”

From Nikolay Grigoryev’s dairy (PSU):

“… There is no doubt that during this project I learned a lot and gained a lot of development experience. I also learned the basic principles of building relationships between the customer and the development team. This knowledge will help me a lot in the future, and I would really like as many students of our university (PSU) to have the opportunity to participate in such projects in the future…”

From Nina Smirnova’s dairy (PSU):

“… three months ago, my head was a whirl of questions, I didn't understand anything and, to be honest, I was even quite nervous. But I was very lucky to have a team and a Scrum master who was not only a responsible supervisor of our actions but also just a good positive person. In the initial stages, she did a great job of helping us organize our work down to every detail. And I believe that these actions largely determined the success of the team while working on the project.

The experience gained while working on the project is priceless for me. This can be attributed to many aspects. First, it is an understanding of the work process itself, how it all happens, what stages it consists of, and the whole idea of organizing the joint work of a distributed team. Also, to complete the tasks, I had to conduct a lot of research in the field of technologies used, because before that I had no experience in them. Of course, all this knowledge does not make me an expert, but the beginning is made – and this is the most important thing.

Very important aspect that I learned during the project relates to my English. Even though I know quite a bit of grammar, I was very afraid to speak, because I was afraid of making mistakes or being misunderstood. However, later I was not too shy to try, and after that I began to understand the speech of my colleagues well and could easily communicate with them. This is a very big achievement for me…”


Denmark and Belarus are quite small countries, but they have huge opportunities. The opportunities are provided by the highly professional people prepared by universities. To a large extent, the success of using such opportunities in these countries depends on the joint efforts of students – future specialists. In the context of deepening globalization processes, the present and future of higher education in Europe depends on the implementation of international interaction tools and the “A-in-1” methodology into mixed student groups. Students of PSU and ITU, two partner universities, have seen this with their own eyes and will carry the invaluable experience of working together in their hearts for a long time.


I am sure that the most important achievement of any university is students’ work progress and identity formation. For this reason, we need to create as many opportunities as possible for students to realize their personal potential in studies not just in their own limited environment, but also in international student teams. This helps them to develop together, to experience together and to feel responsibility not only for themselves, but also for their colleague. This is the current best practice and future of higher education, business and society.


S. Piashkun, Head of the International Office