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Reflections on Week 1 of Remote Learning in Spring 2020Students as Pedagogical Partners logo

The CTL’s Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Consultants (part of the Students as Pedagogical Partners initiative) reflected on their initial experiences with remote learning in Spring 2020 and shared with us their insights from their first full week of online classes. They shared with us how much they have appreciated all the efforts of their faculty to be transparent, flexible, communicative, and caring. They were honest about transition to remote learning and shared the challenges of abruptly becoming an online learning.  Here is what they wrote.


Flexibility and Transparency

“I’ve loved how swiftly some of my professors have adapted to the whole situation. Some have offered huge flexibility on deadlines and others have adapted their syllabi to a virtual environment. Most professors who’ve tried to make their classroom flexible have been very successful at it. For example, uploading lectures has assisted with time zone differences, online discussions have circumvented presentation requirements, and group research projects have helped maintain a sense of in-class collaboration in my classes.

Some other insights:

– The classes that sent me updated syllabi (and hence more transparency) have helped me feel like things were under control.

– I’ve felt most motivated to do the work from the classes with the most flexible professors because I feel like I have a bit more control over the outcome in those classes.” – Kalisa Ndamage, SEAS


Clear Expectations and Supporting Learners

Classes go much smoother when there is some procedure/ expectation set. Professors all have different preferences regarding communication options b/w chat, raising hand etc. It is also helpful to communicate if they want videos on or of, audio muted when not talking etc. Most of my professors have checked in about the mental health aspect of all of this, as well as encouraged us to reach out and chat, basically keep up the human side of learning. I found that very impactful and helps us to stay connected.” – Nikki Lyons, General Studies


Transition to Online Learning and Challenges of Learning Online

“I am surprised by the specific challenges I face in online learning. When Columbia announced that we would all be ‘going remote’ a few weeks ago, I expected first to feel the loss of the social interaction I usually enjoy during classes with my peers and professors. I also anticipated missing the physical experience of a classroom–the sounds, the smells, the energy. Both of these changes are notable losses in my current experience as a student in online classes, but I am also surprised by how much the switch to digital learning has impacted my studies outside of class time itself. While I am fortunate to live in a home with consistent access to food, water, electricity, WiFi, etc… all of the “essentials,” it is extremely difficult for me to study at home.

As a student majoring in Comparative Literature and Society without access to a functioning printer, I have to do a huge amount of reading on my laptop. I find reading on a screen very physically draining–even an hour of digital reading makes eyes and head hurt most days. Furthermore, I find that being unable to pick up and physically handle my readings makes it much harder for me to retain the information I read. I have found that reading on the computer not only diminishes my comprehension of the text, but also prevents me from the very sensory and intimate process of marking up a book with pens and writing notes in the margins which is how I typically practice “deep” reading.

Another challenging aspect of my transition to cyber-learning is the loss of conversation before and after classes. Whereas in a typical seminar my friends and I will hang around the room afterwards for a few minutes and take up conversations while we walk to our next class, when a professor leaves a Zoom class the entire class is over. As such, I am left completely alone after classes and miss out on one of my favorite rituals of learning and socializing at school.

Finally, I have a really difficult time holding myself accountable to a “normal” schedule at home. I miss the unspoken system of accountability in our campus libraries, where thousands of people who may not even know each other come together to be quiet and work. I miss the affective motivation of my friends and peers’ schedules, interests, and bodies that guides me through the semester.” – Mae Butler, Columbia College.


Transition to Online and Student Engagement

“I recognize that this is not an ideal situation for anyone, and with the benefit of hindsight and with the confusion of the early days behind me, I realize that professors really tried their best to be as accommodating as possible despite very difficult circumstances. I am very thankful for their efforts and their flexibility in regards to due dates and course assessments. I think professors truly miss interacting with their students and it makes me sad when professors would ask a question to a zoom class and only be greeted with silence or some chats when at Columbia we would be having a vibrant discussion. I have also found that professors want their students to turn their video cameras on with differing degrees of success so that the professor can see their students’ faces. I think on the students’ part if they were willing to show their faces a bit more, we can make the professors’ job much more enjoyable than it just seeming like the professor is lecturing to an empty room.” – Donian Chyong, Columbia College. 


Challenge of Learning Across Time Zones

“Overall, I would say my two main struggles have been navigating the time difference and trying to stay focused during class. However, I do appreciate the flexibility that faculty are showing as well as their genuine desire to accommodate the majority of the class, be it through collecting information about where people are coming from and what struggles they have in their current situations to adjusting course workload to make sure students are not overwhelmed. Nonetheless, being 7 hours ahead continues to be a struggle both for attending classes in the late afternoon and evenings (my classes run between 4 pm and 1:30 am) as well as finishing work with the only free time being the mornings when I’m also expected to help out around the house and engage with my family. It’s also hard to make sure that the 5 other family members I live with are quiet (which is an unrealistic expectation, to begin with)  or that the sounds of the city are not interfering. Despite all this, classes are mostly going better than I expected. I still manage to pay attention and continue to be interested in the classes that I’m naturally more attracted to, but I would say that without engaging visual content, watching someone speak for 75 minutes, 2 hours, or even more in some classes gets boring very quickly. The use of simple visuals to illustrate points has been very helpful for me from maps to diagrams, and even play doh demonstrations of transform faults’ movements that result in earthquakes. Being flexible with student engagement as well has been positive, from alternating between using the chat and asking people to voice out their answers in order to get responses from both crowds. Still struggling with accepting that this is the norm, but trying (as much as possible, considering everything) to have fun with it and take it more as a chance to learn without stressing about grades for once.” – Haya Ghandour, SEAS


Zoomed Out

Being on zoom for so many hours a day is itself exhausting! Between my classes, groupwork for course projects, and work, I average 5 hours a day on zoom, and it’s so tiring. I realize there isn’t much faculty can do about this and that they are probably struggling with having to be in so many zoom meetings as well, but I think just an awareness of how tiring this is just from a tech-oversaturation perspective alone is I think something that surprised me.

It’s hard to retain information from lectures online, and I feel like I will have very little motivation to go back to these recordings later because there are already so many hours I need to spend looking at the screen.” – Jennifer Lee, Columbia College