BU Remote Teaching & Learning Part 2

BU Voices & Reflections: A Commitment to Student Learning (Part 2)

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 2 of BU’s Voices & Reflections series features: Questrom’s Erol A. Peköz, Daniel Doña with the College of Fine Arts, the Center for Teaching & Learning’s Deborah Breen, Class of 2022’s Johanna Geary, School of Public Health’s E. David Zepeda, Pardee’s Talin Yaghoobian, and Binyomin Abrams with the Chemistry Department.

Erol Peköz

Erol PeközI was worried remote teaching would be awkward and lonely, but I was wrong. I really enjoy remote teaching. I learned that our students are way ahead of the faculty in terms of experience connecting online, and many work at companies with remote teams and have already been communicating this way with friends for years. Meeting in person seems old-fashioned to me now.

Here is something else I’ve also learned recently: beyond providing content, creating a supportive and caring learning environment is a key function of the instructor. If the environment is not supportive and the material is difficult, students will blame the difficulty on the environment and won’t push themselves to learn. But if the environment is supportive they will attribute the difficulty to the material being intrinsically challenging and will push themselves to learn.

Daniel Dona BU
The past month has been a bit surreal, as the COVID-19 crisis has upended life as we know it. None of us knew that our lectures and lessons the week before BU spring break would end up being our last face-to-face contact with our students for the academic year. As I have a fair number of seniors in my classes, I am sad that we’re not able to finish our time together in the way we had planned. This especially hits home with my viola student Rohan Joshi ‘20, who was supposed to have his senior recital on April 10, serving as his capstone project showcasing the work he has put into his playing during his undergraduate years. The sudden transition to teaching online came with a fair share of fear and trepidation. How are we supposed to adapt our class content to an online format, especially applied music lessons and chamber music coaching?

View CFA Applied Viola Lesson Zoom Duet

Deborah Breen

The opening lines of “Sometimes” by poet Mary Oliver, who lived for much of her life in Provincetown, Massachusetts, seem particularly resonant with this moment: “Something came up/out of the dark/It wasn’t anything I had ever seen before.” The arrival of COVID-19 challenges us to become learners as much as teachers in this new experience: encountering new technological tools, adjusting assignments and schedules, and learning how to engage students in different ways.

BU Deb Breen QuoteA later stanza in the poem—“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it”—is perhaps Oliver’s most well-known aphorism. “Paying attention” during this sudden shift to remote teaching may seem almost impossible: Anecdotal evidence suggests that faculty are busier than ever. Yet it may be as simple as checking in with students at the beginning of each class, or helping them find resources to resolve questions of digital access, or adjusting assignments. Many of the “small teaching” suggestions of Professor James M. Lang remain relevant as ways of refocusing attention in the online classroom.

Johanna Geary BU

Johanna GearyI have been impressed with how quickly my professors adapted their classes into online formats. The transition has revealed a lot of creativity from both professors and students in my opinion. In my small Spanish class, my professor has taken to using the chat function on Zoom in order to write vocabulary for us to copy since we no longer have a chalkboard. Additionally, my [BU] Synchronized Skating team has been using it to hold workouts during isolation.

Generally speaking, my larger lectures almost seem more personal despite the virtualness of it all. My professors seem to more regularly invite questions and discussions now. I also think students find class participation less intimidating when they don’t actually see their peers or have the ability to hear their reactions.

E. David Zepeda

Zepeda BUThere have been challenges with transitioning to the Zoom platform in both courses. One deliverable in my PH718 class that has been challenging is the IGNITE presentation. The first class session on Zoom required 81 students to deliver an IGNITE presentation. Undoubtedly, I had trouble getting the preassigned Breakout Rooms on Zoom to work. A BIG thanks to my TAs for stepping up and getting their own Zoom meetings up and running. I am so proud of my students for also stepping up and delivering their IGNITE presentations as scheduled.

A challenge in my PM832 class is the semester-long sponsored team project. Students work with a local sponsor organization on an actual operational issue that the sponsor organization is struggling with. Understandably, the current public health challenge requires that many of the sponsor organizations redirect some of their attention and resources. Operating remotely has also limited the ability for students to get firsthand experience with the sponsor organizations’ operations, one of the key learning opportunities provided by the course. Regardless of these challenges, my students have delivered their mid-term progress report recognizing the challenges that they are facing.

Talin Yaghoobian

Talin YaghboonianTo our surprise, Pardee faculty who describe themselves as techno-phobic have done exceptionally well during the transition to remote teaching because they dedicated hours of their time to training with our RTC coordinators and learning on their own.

When someone who is not accustomed to online interfaces first sees a screen with all kinds of banners, colors and boxes, it can be overwhelming. The lingo that is second-nature to experienced users can sound nebulous to folks with less screen time. Why are tabs called tabs and windows called windows? When do we say uploading versus downloading? Having our faculty step back and take a moment to read through the content and start recognizing the subtle structure of websites has been crucial in building their tech savviness, and repeating this process has allowed them to take their remote teaching into their own hands.

Binyomin Abrams BU

Binyomin Abrams BUWhat’s truly inspiring is the degree of care and dedication that we’ve seen across the board—students, faculty, and staff. The students are amazing. When I saw that nearly all of my students (>95 percent) logged into that first remote lecture, it really lifted my spirits. First, it reassured me that they were doing okay—that was most important. Everything else really was secondary.

Funny enough, it was like having them in class, but the complete opposite of that. I’m not quite sure that anything had really prepared me to teach a class to an empty room while talking at a computer screen. But I guess it worked. It made me feel very happy that all of the work that the faculty had put into getting things ready for them was coming together. It was working, and that was not a foregone conclusion.