Provost Jean Morrison Answers Student Questions about Remote Learning
“We ask that everyone be patient and flexible—students and faculty alike”
Call it social-distance learning.
Boston University students have a lot of questions about how online classes will work, now that the University has moved to remote teaching and learning in an effort to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, and how the change will affect their education. BU Today posed their queries to Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, and Chrysanthos Dellarocas, BU associate provost for Digital Learning & Innovation and Richard C. Shipley Professor of Management at the Questrom School of Business.
“We recognize the move to remote teaching and learning may be bumpy at times,” Morrison says. “Our focus is on ensuring that students can finish the current semester, be fairly evaluated, and receive full academic credit.”
With Jean Morrison and Chrysanthos Dellarocas
BU Today: Today students face everything from travel restrictions and delays to the need to protect their health. Many are concerned with how this unprecedented situation will affect their academic work. What would you tell them?
Morrison: We are encouraging faculty to recognize the challenges students face with the disruptions of this extraordinary situation. This is very stressful for many students, and the uncertainties and worries they face daily are challenging and anxiety-producing. We understand this and collectively ask that everyone be patient and flexible—students and faculty alike.
Under the University’s Remote Teaching Readiness Plan, faculty will continue using Blackboard (or Sakai, at Questrom) to host their course materials and receive student work and use Zoom for remote class sessions. How interactive will classes be on Zoom? Is it like Skype?
Dellarocas: Our expectation is that faculty will hold synchronous—live—Zoom sessions at the same days/times as their regular class schedule. Those sessions are indeed like “Skype” conference calls, only better. Zoom technology is extremely versatile and allows interactive learning to take place. Large numbers of simultaneous participants can be supported, and everyone can see and hear one another. Obviously, this works better for smaller classes than for larger classes, but it does work. Faculty can easily switch between showing the students’ faces and sharing any window of their computer with students. This way they can show slides, documents, etcetera. Students can jump in and talk at any time, and there is also a feature that allows them to virtually “raise their hand” so that class discussions can be better coordinated.
Faculty can divide students into smaller groups for breakout group exercises and “visit” these virtual groups to provide support and answer questions. Lectures, discussions, group exercises, and group presentations are all easily supported. Almost anything that faculty and students do in a classroom—except activities that require interaction with physical objects—can be adapted to the Zoom environment.
I live in another part of the world. Do I have to get up in the middle of the night to attend classes on Zoom?
Dellarocas: We are encouraging all professors to record their synchronous sessions and make them available to students who are in different time zones, in addition to doing the live, synchronous interaction. We encourage students who need access to recorded class sessions to be proactive in requesting that from their professors.
What if there are technical difficulties?
Morrison: The reality is that converting to remote teaching and learning for all our courses in such a short time presents a number of challenges. There are going to be glitches, but we will provide guidance as we learn what those issues are. Is this going to take patience on everybody’s part? Absolutely.
Dellarocas: When there are tech problems students should reach out to the IT Help Desk
What if Zoom crashes because so many universities will be using it?
Dellarocas: We have been in constant contact with Zoom, and they have assured us that they are ready to handle the increased traffic and they are proactively monitoring the service and are adding resources as needed. (They have given us a detailed technical explanation of their preparedness that signals to us that they have thought this through.) If necessary, we have other services from Google and Microsoft in use at BU and will recommend and support those.
What if I am taking a lab or studio course?
Morrison: Individual faculty members and their departments are working to determine how best to transition those kinds of activities that do not readily transfer to online. There are going to be some creative solutions. Faculty and departments have the discretion and flexibility to work with their students to find a way to complete their lab requirements.
Our focus is on ensuring that students can finish the current semester, be fairly evaluated, and receive full academic credit.
One of my professors is a bit technically challenged. How is the University helping faculty?
Dellarocas: It is true that some faculty have no experience with remote teaching, and it is normal for there to be some anxiety for both parties. However, the technologies we are going to use are easy to learn. The University has mobilized an unprecedented level of support for this unprecedented situation. Every school and college has designated a Remote Teaching Coordination (RTC) team consisting of faculty and staff with experience in remote teaching that provides the first line of support to faculty. They have set up trainings, office hours, and hotlines to support their faculty. The office of Digital Learning & Innovation, supported by central IS&T and the Center for Teaching and Learning, provides central coordination to the RTC teams, offering additional trainings and study guides, and ensuring that questions that require University support are rapidly resolved.
The message I am getting from everywhere is “we will be ready.” Students, too, have a part to play. We are asking them to be patient and supportive with faculty that perhaps have not had as much comfort around technology, and also with one another.
If students and professors disagree over what’s adequate in this situation, is there an appeal process?
Morrison: The usual lines of communication should be used. If you can’t work something out with the faculty member, the next step is to contact the department chair, the same as it would be normally.
How will group in-class assignments such as College of General Studies capstones and BU HUB projects work now that students are scattered?
Morrison: Students should wait for guidance from faculty members, but in general there are many kinds of programs where it should be possible to collaborate remotely. Students can work together through a whole range of online platforms, as they often do already.
What about students involved with internships and other third-party experiences in places such as public schools that may shut down or deny them entry due to the coronavirus?
Morrison: When a third-party experience is part of an academic course and that third party has stopped the interaction, we are going to work with the faculty and their schools and colleges to find a way to provide credit at the end of the semester. We are asking professors to look for ways for students to complete the semester without being penalized.
What if I left my textbooks in my dorm and can’t come back to get them?
Morrison: Make sure you let your professors know right away. We have provided guidance to faculty about how they can make the relevant portions of material available electronically.
I don’t have broadband at home, so how can I take online classes?
Morrison: That’s a tough one, and I believe that would affect a very small number of students. These students should call or email the Dean of Students office immediately. Each case will be dealt with individually.
The University has said it will reevaluate the situation around April 1 and consider reopening on April 13, but what if that can’t happen? Some other schools have already canceled the rest of the semester—and exams. What is going to happen with finals?
Morrison: It’s an evolving situation, but we are looking at a number of possible solutions if we are unable to resume in-person classes. Professors will have guidance on ways exams can be administered remotely. We are working with faculty and their schools and colleges to find ways to complete the semester if we cannot resume in-person classes. Our goal is to ensure that all of our students who are currently enrolled are going to be able to complete the semester with the academic credits they are enrolled in.
One rumor is that some courses will become pass/fail.
Morrison: That is one of the options under consideration.