BU Voices & Reflections: A Commitment to Student Learning (Part 1)
Boston University’s “Voices & Reflections” series is a collection of insights and experiences—shared via video, audio, poetry, and more—from those teaching and learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic this spring. BU’s leadership, faculty, students, and staff discuss their challenges and unexpected revelations and accomplishments. They highlight important teaching and learning moments and new educational opportunities, and share heartwarming experiences of students and faculty connecting with and beyond technology.
Part 1 of BU’s Voices & Reflections series features: Kinh T. Vũ, College of Fine Arts, Chris Dellarocas, Digital Learning & Innovation, Michael Kaye, College of Fine Arts, Yashica Kataria, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2023, Karen Jacobs, Sargent College, and Alexandra Nulty, Questrom School of Business MBA, Class of 2021.
From a distance: That is where I would like to be standing two, three, four months from now looking back at all that has transpired during this incredibly mysterious and frightening time in world history. Instead, I, like the rest of humanity, am practicing social distancing, something that may not come naturally to those of us in the performing arts. We are used to sitting or standing side-by-side with our friends and colleagues singing and playing music together in the same room. This week has posed several opportunities for growth as an educator.
My students have shown each other and me that remote learning can be delightful. While I was instructing Secondary General Music Methods, the class discussed how to redesign the curriculum so that micro-teaching activities simulate what online music education might be like in the future. We played with Zoom’s mute and unmute function, screen and video sharing, as well as clapping, echoing, and dancing. Yes, the digital interface can be somewhat challenging due to various qualities of learners’ internet speeds or technologies; however, those issues did not inhibit our emotional bond as a class.
On March 16, with less than one week’s notice, 4,000 Boston University faculty and 35,000 Boston University students transitioned to remote teaching and learning.
Most faculty had never taught remotely before, and for most students, this was a swift introduction to online learning. The transition wasn’t easy—even nerve-wracking for some. After one of the most eventful spring breaks in campus history, our BU community embarked on an unprecedented journey and resumed (remote) classes on schedule, without missing one day.
Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander Visits CFA Acting Class via Zoom
Jason Alexander was amazing. Leading up to his visit, Dean Young reached out to Jason, we set up the Zoom meeting and invited all my seniors both BFA Acting and BFA Theatre Arts majors. When the day came, Dean Young did a check-in with the class, sent his well wishes followed by a short introduction of Jason, and handed the meeting over to me.
I asked Jason how he was doing, and he told us he’s just at home (LA, I’m assuming) and that he’s doing well. I asked him some general questions to start—mainly around the current state of the entertainment industry from his vantage point. We then opened it up to questions from the students.
I was initially confused by exactly how we would learn online but soon discovered that I found it much more convenient. I was able to save time by watching recorded lectures at double speed and could work at my own pace since I could rewind the lecture recordings to go over something I didn’t quite catch the first time around. My professors were extremely adaptive and supportive, which led to the transition being a lot smoother than I thought it would be.
Online learning also made everything feel more approachable in a sense and I noticed that students who usually didn’t speak up in class started taking an active interest and participating in discussions. As a bonus, the virtual background feature on Zoom made things a little more exciting than regular in-person classes.
I’ve had many years of distance education experience so the transition to remote teaching was seamless for me. This was not the case for most faculty. I was happy to be in the role of Remote Teaching Coordinator for Sargent College so I could provide support to our community.
What I observed was that faculty readily volunteered to help and support each other. For example, those with confidence in using Zoom for live discussions or Blackboard/ExamSoft for assessments shared their knowledge; creative approaches to student group work were brainstormed. The focus was always on supporting each other and our students so we could continue to provide excellence in teaching and learning.
I’ve always been a student who benefits more from the classroom experience than from online education. When BU announced it would cancel all in-person courses and move to remote teaching, I was very nervous that this sudden disruption to my routine education plans would impede my studies.
The biggest surprise by far is the fact that each class, to me, feels oddly like a normal class meeting. Discussions are facilitated by the instructor and presentations and other course material have been successful thus far. The smooth transition and understanding from professors and students alike have eased any apprehensive emotions about moving into this new way of teaching and learning.