Course Content Leads to Maximum Flexibility
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
During the past few months, the outbreak of Covid-19 has deeply changed our daily lives: travel has been halted and we have been forced to cancel or postpone work-related and leisure trips; businesses have been closed and we haven’t been able to dine at our favorite restaurant or go to the gym for our routine workouts; schools and universities have suspended in-person classes and moved to full remote teaching and learning.
For most of us professors and lecturers that meant transitioning university courses designed for in-person delivery to online courses in a matter of days. Additionally, since we were requested to avoid using our offices, for obvious health and safety reasons, that also meant managing the transition at home. Talking for myself, I can say it was not a trivial task. After receiving communication that classes had to be administered online, I spent a few days thinking about the best way to structure and deliver my class – best both for me and for my students.
From the instructor perspective, delivering a class remotely, from home, requires not only making sure that the material is ready, but also that the laptop you have available has a high enough quality camera and microphone to allow us to record quality videos; that our home Internet connection is fast enough to allow virtual communications without interruptions; and, most importantly, that our home space is divided and coordinated with whomever lives with us. I cannot imagine the extra difficulties faced by parents in this period.
From the student’s perspective, learning online has its own set of challenges, especially if you are not prepared for it. Students had to leave dormitories and campus accommodations and go back to stay with their families or find other housing arrangements. A lot of students rely on the technological resources offered by the University (e.g., computer labs) and, therefore, did not always have the right equipment available at home. I had students who needed to coordinate with their parents to complete their assignments, since their personal laptop had issues or could not support requirements of the (virtual) class. Additionally, some students found themselves having to attend and complete online classes from a different time-zone, which adds coordination challenges.
All of the above considered, I opted to deliver my class in an asynchronous way, to allow full flexibility. I was able to do that because my class is a technical, software-based class where there is not much group-based discussion or case studies. Rather, students learn how to implement data-mining methods. As such, I pre-recorded videos, made them available online and made myself available on Zoom to answer any questions students may have had. While I believe that this delivery format worked for this class (based on the feedback received), I realized how much I missed live interactions with the students. There have been a number of days where I would be on Zoom waiting and hoping that someone would connect to ask me questions about the video-lectures or the homework assignments, but some days, no one connected. What I realized is that if I had to do it again, I would schedule live interactions with my class – I do not know if students missed me, but I definitely missed my students.