As the NYU Shanghai community braced itself for transitioning into online teaching mode, faculty and IT staff worked around the clock for a week to ensure a meaningful experience for students.
With the suspension of in-person classes, faculty and other instructors still grappled with the reality of virtually accommodating more than 2000 students. All classes were effectively moved online within a week, and students were instructed on how they would be able to tune into teachers with Zoom.
The university, in an email addressed to students on February 3, said “Our professors have shown extraordinary creativity and commitment as they redesign their classes, using an extensive package of synchronous and asynchronous digital tools, so that each student will be a fully engaged member of the class and in close touch with the professor, the instructional staff, and their classmates, even if they are not sitting with them in a physical classroom.”
The professors were instructed to either conduct classes in real time or record lectures and post them in NYU Classes. This would not only enable the students to watch lectures at their own convenience, but also allow them to re-watch at a later date to fully grasp the concepts taught in class.
With the careful implementation of technology to transition to online learning, the university, on its website, said that despite being off campus “students and faculty engaged each other in virtual lectures, discussions, and even dance classes from as far away as Brazil, India, and the United States, and as close as the Jinqiao Residence Halls.”
NYU Shanghai Library Director Zu Xiaojing added that “online classes went more smoothly than we could hope for” and that “the vast majority of students were able to attend their classes with little to no trouble.”
Despite being a new experience for most students, online learning quickly became easier to use, as Eric Yang ’22 found.
“Online learning is easy to get hold of and very convenient for me as I have a lot of time to study and get ahead of my readings. Like in-person classes, I can still speak to my professors and instructors over Zoom about my progress and ask about difficult concepts that I may have trouble understanding.”
As online learning and pre-recorded lectures allowed students to be flexible with timings, they could also devote more time to their passions.
Amen Tesfaye ’22, for example, has been interning at a data science firm in his home country of Ethiopia.
“The flexible timings have allowed me to chase my passion for data science and devote my time to both my internship and my classes,” he said. He has been able get hands on experience about a topic whilst learning about it in class.
Professors doing online teaching have reported similarly positive feedback. Online teaching has enabled them to step out of their comfort zone and explore different methods of teaching.
Xiaoya Gu, a Chinese professor, believes that online classes have been “extremely convenient for both me and my students and have allowed me to innovate my teaching skills by coming up with different strategies to make sure students learn more effectively.”
Xiaoya added that with online teaching she can be more flexible with timings and assignments so that “it’s convenient for students to join the class and understand core concepts.”
While most students and professors are positive about online classes, there have also been some instances that deserve our attention. Both students and faculty have expressed that remote learning is not as effective as physical learning.
Sophomore Sicheng (Gordon) Fan ’22 said that for him online learning did not have the same effect as in-person learning.
“I have a lack of motivation, and it is hard to concentrate at home,” he said, “But I really appreciate the effort that the professors have put into the classes for this semester.”
While Fan may not be alone in expressing his concerns with online learning, some students also believe that they do not have enough motivation to study due to the lack of a traditional academic atmosphere that accompanies online learning.
Kathy Song ‘22, for instance, is one of them.
“While taking asynchronized courses allows me to be more flexible with my academics, there is not enough urgency and motivation for me to work more vigorously,” she said. “Attending classes from home, as opposed to in-person learning on campus, has made it harder for me to connect to my friends who push me harder to excel academically.”
Some professors believe that teaching classes with a greater number of students has become difficult.
Thomas Nyman, an instructor of psychology, said that “Online methods are very good in that they offer the opportunity to engage no matter geographic or temporal boundaries. However, with larger courses it often becomes necessary to be more strict [with the students.”
Instructor Nyman added that even the slightest misunderstandings between the student and the professor can “can result in a lot of extra work [for the professors].” He believes, however, that the misunderstandings can be resolved by “being as clear and transparent [with each other] as possible about expectations, tasks and problems.”
With the NYU Shanghai faculty and staff doing their best to make virtual classes as vibrant and engaging as they can, online learning, for all its perceived positive and negative aspects, has enabled students to learn more about themselves as individuals and the different learning techniques they can adhere to in different circumstances.
This article was written by Amaan Amlani based in Mumbai, India. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
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