Coping with COVID-19 at POSTECH – Online Lectures
Online and On Air: Our Wise Online Life
We have already passed the halfway point since the semester began online due to the ubiquitous onset of COVID-19. The spread has cooled at POSTECH, but remote learning has been extended for the entirety of spring semester to keep social distancing and ensure the absolute safety of all members. According to the survey conducted by the POSTECH Undergraduate Student Association, the students’ satisfaction rate of the online lectures stands at 67.1% (POSTECHx). After an awkward and trying period for both professors and students, the online instruction has become a daily routine at POSTECH. We peek inside the online classrooms of three professors.
#You have entered the classroom of life sciences professor Sanguk Kim.
Lively lectures, more dynamic than the classroom
Like most lectures, Prof. Kim also uses recorded videos and real-time instruction using Zoom – a way of teaching called ‘blended learning.’ He is not shy on camera as he has conducted numerous lectures pre-recorded on platforms like K-MOOC and POSTECHx. However, he misses the organic interaction with his students in the physical classroom, which helps to adjust the pace of his teaching or choose the right examples. So, he opts for more energy.
In recording his lectures, he prepares over-the-top gestures and more vibrant images. He adds speed to sustain the students’ concentration. What is missed in the recorded lectures, he supplements in real-time classes. Students are kept on their toes during his Zoom sessions because he will give pop quizzes and answer live chat questions. Students cannot black out their screens or even wear pajama pants – You never know when he might ask, “Shall we stand up now?”
Prof. Kim says, “Some point out that the recorded lectures are generally boring. So to appear normal in videos, the speaker needs to exaggerate their actions much more than in classrooms. I can be even more theatrical to enable our students to engage and understand the material from the other side of the screen,” he laughs. And to the anxious students and worried parents who are doubtful if at-home online lectures would suffice, “We are doing well. So no need to worry too much.”
#You have entered the classroom of mathematics professor Jeehoon Park.
“When he called my name, I became a flower.” Freely but kindly
Prof. Park’s class is conducted in a free and open atmosphere. He does not take attendance. You can turn off your screen or upload a profile picture. Even dozing off or slacking off may not be ‘caught’ since there are no rules against doing them. It is completely up to the students.
Prof. Park explains, “I essentially believe in my students. Otherwise I think that online instruction itself is impossible. A class is a mutual interaction between students and professors, and amongst the students in a shared space; and the online space is indeed limiting. To overcome that limitation, it’s very important to build a strong bond and trust between the instructor and the students.
Prof. Park calls the names of the students to build camaraderie. He also holds his office hour 30 minutes prior to class to field questions from students on previous lectures or assignments and catches up on life. More questions are posed during class than average – Prof. Park tends to ask more. Though conducted online, his class is special in that he does not just lecture the students but rather exchanges questions like a talk show. On top of that, he gives detailed assignments to students and invests time to record videos on problem analysis.
In particular, the Department of Mathematics has created its own Zoom account in case the online instruction period prolongs. They also opened Hilbert Space, named after the German mathematician David Hilbert. It is a place where professors, teaching assistants, and students of the department are free to ask questions and give answers at any time.
He urges his students, “Remote learning does not excuse you from wearing whatever or behaving carelessly. I also cannot force grown adults to act in a certain way. However, focusing and actively engaging in the lecture with good attitude can be your asset to win in the long-run.”
#You have entered the classroom of computer science and engineering professor
“We are stronger than we know” Preparing for the post-COVID-19 era
Prof. Ahn presents his lectures in English. That is why he has to allot extra attention to record them. He shoots and edits the videos over and over to enhance his delivery and even in anticipation of the students’ response. He supplements what is missed in the recorded lectures during the live Zoom sessions. He tries to catch even the slightest changes in his students’ faces on the small screen. As more than 110 students attend the class, more time is spent checking their assignments and answering questions. Prof. Ahn, however, meticulously answers every question even if it takes time because he wants to engage more actively with his students.
Prof. Ahn commented, “At first, the students and I were both caught off guard by this unusual situation. But once we started, we are faring better than expected. All professors share the same goal to provide quality lectures and to properly teach the students – the methods are just different. I am thankful and proud of my students for keeping up,” he says encouragingly.
POSTECH starts its semester two weeks before other schools. Unfortunately, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Daegu fell on the first day of classes at POSTECH, on February 18th. POSTECH immediately delayed the start of the semester and held the freshmen orientation online. Then it began to discuss about online learning in case COVID-19 would persist. After twice postponing the start of the semester, all classes began online on March 16th. The future was upon us.
Prof. Ahn, in charge of the technical support for POSTECH’s entire online instruction, says, “I think that the classroom of the future has perhaps arrived a few years early due to COVID-19. But professors and students alike are adjusting well. Some technical issues linger but classes are operating smoothly without a hitch, even in this unprecedented situation of conducting all classes remotely. I can sense POSTECH’s hidden potential and seasoned expertise.”
Now, POSTECH is taking a step forward and preparing for the post COVID-19 world. Discussions have already begun on how to utilize the online lectures as an auxiliary tool, and which systems or infrastructures to construct in order to usher in a better tomorrow.