Source : Nick Anderson
Like many mathematicians, Ken Ono cherishes the dense Japanese chalk that brings his work to life on slate blackboards. The professor often hands those white Hagoromo sticks to students so they, too, can wrestle with theorems and proofs in front of the class. It is a tactile ritual, he believes, rooted in the math traditions of the ancient Arabs and Greeks.
Now Ono must make do with a digital pen, an iPad and a Zoom video link as he launches a remote session of Math 3354 for the University of Virginia.
For U-Va. Not at U-Va.
“Great, can everybody hear me?” Ono asked as the 75-minute class began one afternoon last week. He was talking from a bedroom office in Charlottesville, with about 35 students tuned in from across the state and beyond.
“I’ll look in the chat box for a bunch of yeses,” he said. “Welcome back to U-Va. on coronavirus. . . . It’s not perfect, but we do the best we can.”
“The faculty have to be flexible and patient,” said Marcio A. Oliveira, assistant vice president for academic technology and innovation at the University of Maryland. Kindness is essential, policies bendable. Instructors must understand, Oliveira said, “that for students, the same deadlines and the same ways of teaching may not work in this period right now.”
The digital transformation of higher education has been building for years. In 2012 and 2013, universities discovered that massive audiences could be developed for online courses from star professors on a range of topics, from artificial intelligence to modern poetry. Even before the pandemic, many educators had “flipped” their classes, giving students lectures online that they could review on their own time so that class hours were freed for discussion and projects. It is common, of course, for universities to offer entire courses and even degrees online. Those ventures typically require months of planning.
The universities have taken steps to secure computer and WiFi access for students who lack those tools. Officials say they are working to help those with disabilities and special needs. Both schools also are making undergraduate courses pass-fail unless students choose to receive a letter grade.
There is no single formula for remote teaching at schools with thousands of seminars, laboratories, lectures, performances and courses in other formats. In general, educators say, many lab classes will rely on data collected from experiments underway or finished before the coronavirus shutdown. They’ll move to data analysis. Likewise, professors and students in performing arts and other fields oriented to physical gatherings and activities must shift gears.
At U-Va., remote classes began March 19. The university surveyed faculty beforehand and found that about two-thirds felt comfortable teaching their courses virtually. But many needed guidance.
“I’m a technophobe,” said Herbert “Tico” Braun, a veteran professor of history. “This stuff scares the hell out of me. I get in front of one of these machines, and I start to perspire. . . . I really didn’t know how I was going to be able to do this.”
Braun’s first attempt to hold a 75-minute Zoom seminar “did not go so well,” he said. He found himself talking too much and too fast. The second time, he slowed down. He gave students more chances to speak up in a discussion about Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor.
“Basically, it’s a matter of being more confident with the screen in front of you,” Braun said, “breathing more slowly and being able to do this. And it happens. And it works.”