I was a TA during last Spring Semester when in Belgium the health policy discourse changed from “covid is a flu” to “full lockdown and borders closed” in a matters of two weeks or so. I was lucky to work with a professor that had a student-first mentality and really pushed to adapt and reduce the stress induced on the students by the situation. We had ~60 students enrolled in the course and it was an introduction to biostatistics for undergrad in their third years using the JMP software. A small feedback:
The license for JMP must have been paid by the student at a reduced price if they wanted on their personal computer because the university provided room with computers with the software. We were able to push to have free licenses for the students due to the lockdown to be sure everyone can participate to the course. That was a relief. I made a quick install guide and acted as a hotline for any technical problem related to the course.
I gave 4 remote lessons with a 80% attendance each time. Students come with mic and camera off and it is almost impossible to have interaction with this size of group orally. I used a “Twitch”-strategy : Asking the students to interact with me in the Teams’ chat and answer the question live or in a delayed fashion. Others students with similar questions began to “react” in the chat to give weight to the question and allowed to spot when the majority did not understand a specific concept. It worked way better than waiting to someone find the courage to switch on their mic and asks their question.
I don’t know who my students was. With the mic/cam off and only having written contact by mail or teams’ chat, I have catch a few names but I was not able to associate them with any face.
The mentality of the professor was really important for the students. She manages to provide video recorded lessons and adapted to the situation. For example, she totally changed the type of exam so she will not have to use one of those ugly spying web platform ahem. A student-first approach is key to provide a reassuring environment in troubled time. It was not business as usual and the academics who did not or would not understand that have really hurt their relation with students and the performance of students.
On a technical level, because we were not allowed to go in your office, I had to work from my personal computer whcih is on Fedora/Gnome Wayland. Giving lessons was a funny set-up :
It was shaky but it works 99% of the time. It was a fun experience for me.
I started grad school in Belgium and lived there for a few years (Louvain-la-Neuve, UCL) before moving to CMU. I had an Erasmus Mundus fellowship.
It’s cool to see you had an 80% attendance rate for lessons. We had significantly less in recitations as the semester got closer to the end. I assume this a combination of the recitations being async and being less and less related to the final project and more just to reinforce the lectures. Obviously, this posed the problems we talked about in the post.
Funny, it was at UCLouvain where I was researcher during three years and TA for a semester. Now I am looking for something in the Netherlands.
The missing part about the 80% attendance was that students had to submit a report 2 weeks after my lessons and I gave more directions than I will do during the lessons. I found that the key for student to feel that they are not on their own is to provide multiple channels to contact you. They had access to direct email, Moodle and Teams. Different profiles of student used those channels and it really helped them to feel they can have access to the teaching staff (and did not mind to have lagged answers as soon they realize that an answer will come and everybody is in a shitty situation).
The attendance level are really dependent on how the course is structured and how students are evaluated.
A bit off-topic, but are there videos of this course anywhere online? It looks extremely interesting.
Since the recordings of the course contain student information (e.g., faces, names) we cannot release them per federal guidelines (FERPA).
The technical challenges part is such a frustrating constant. The boot camp style programming academy I’ve spent time with budgets a full week to get students up to speed, and the exact same problems with Windows editions, CPU features, and decade-old machines just continue to surface.