ovid-19 has upended daily life for millions of Americans, as social distancing has become a key strategy for fighting the pandemic. For many UCLA students, this has meant moving back home with their families and adjusting to remote instruction for an indefinite period of time. The University first announced March 10 that it would move to remote instruction which was later extended through the remainder of the academic year and Summer Session A. Students were encouraged to move back home, requiring faculty to take on the challenge of quickly finding ways to bring their courses online.
Here are the ways faculty and students have tried to adapt to remote instruction, and the different struggles they have encountered in the process.
Adapting Classes to Online Formats
For most lecture-based courses, instructors have opted to replicate the lecture experience over Zoom, UCLA’s primary approved software tool for remote live and recorded academic sessions and meetings. During a typical Zoom class, the instructor will give the lecture as they normally would in an in-person setting, and display PowerPoint presentations and other visual aids by sharing their screen with the entire class. To promote in-class participation and group discussion, instructors will often divide the class into Breakout Rooms, which sends students into smaller Zoom meetings with a handful of classmates, allowing them the chance to discuss the material in smaller groups. The instructor has the ability to “hop around” and join any of the Breakout Rooms to see how students are doing. After the session is over, students will exit their Breakout Rooms and return to the main class meeting.
Despite these efforts to emulate in-person classes, many students said online learning posed various new challenges, such as not being able to focus as well or interact with classmates and instructors as smoothly. Students have also complained about disruptions due to technical difficulties such as lagging Wi-Fi. Some instructors who especially value in-person interactions during class are opting not to replicate the lecture experience over Zoom. Instead, they are pre-recording lectures and lecture slides for students to go over on their own time. This provides additional flexibility for students, especially those in other time zones who may otherwise need to wake up at odd hours of the night to tune in to live Zoom lectures being held on Pacific time.
Remote instruction poses even greater complications for courses that require physical, hands-on instruction, such as labs and performance-based courses. Some of these courses have had an easier time adapting to online formats. For example, many dance and theater movement classes have students learn and practice movements by following instructors on Zoom, similar to an online workout class. However, the theater and film departments have chosen to postpone several classes that require physical instruction, or have these classes focus only on theory in the spring and postpone in-person learning components.
For STEM classes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) with a lab component, many of these labs are now being conducted via online simulations. Similarly, nursing students who are required to complete in-person clinical rotations at hospitals are now doing some of their clinicals via online simulations as well. Despite recognizing the necessity of such measures, many students have expressed that conducting experiential learning online is not as effective as in-person instruction
Access to Course Materials
To help students access textbooks and physical course materials, the UCLA store has offered free delivery to students’ homes or on-campus housing, and has introduced a new option for online textbook rentals. Several education companies have also made their textbooks and digital learning platforms available to students online for free, as has the UCLA Library which has made many textbooks and academic research materials available online. Since access to course materials is now primarily dependent on access to technology, UCLA launched the Bruin Tech Grant Fund
to provide grants and loans to students who may need financial assistance in purchasing essential equipment such as computers, tablets and Wi-Fi hotspots.
While it may no longer be possible for students to raise their hands in class to signal when they wish to speak, Zoom allows students to imitate this action via its raise-hand function. Students press a button when they would like to “raise their hand,” and a hand icon will appear next to their name in the participant roster and become visible to the instructor as well as other students.
Zoom also has a chat function that allows students to send text messages to the group during class. Both the chat and raise-hand functions allow students to communicate with one another and the instructor without disrupting lecture. Messages can either be sent for the entire class to see, or they can be private messages directed at specific individuals. While direct private messages cannot be seen by others when class is in session, they will still be recorded in the post-meeting transcript along with all other public messages for the meeting host to see. Therefore, students are expected to maintain a respectful and professional demeanor in their communications during classes on Zoom.
Managing Disruptions, Digital Privacy and Security
As hosts of their Zoom meetings, instructors have the ability to mute all participants when class is in session, and often request students to mute themselves by default when joining a class to prevent disruptions from background noise. When it is a student’s turn to speak, they must manually unmute themselves.
Students and instructors have also experienced more serious issues in which outsiders who likely aren’t enrolled in a course join a Zoom class meeting and intentionally disrupt the class, often by making racist and bigoted remarks. These incidents, known as “Zoombombing,” have prompted the University to outline stricter guidelines on protecting online privacy and security when using Zoom. Most instructors now require passcodes for their Zoom meetings to prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access. Instructors also have the ability to remove specific individuals from the meeting or terminate their video and audio if they display inappropriate behavior.
The increased usage of technology has furthered concerns about digital privacy and protection of personal data. To protect the privacy of all participants in a Zoom meeting, students are prohibited from recording class sessions or taking screenshots of the lecture material and chat log, unless pre-approved by the instructor. If participants do not want their background surroundings to be visible, they have the option of using Zoom’s Virtual Background feature to select either one of Zoom’s default backgrounds or a custom background of their choice.
Remote learning has made it more difficult for instructors to monitor students’ behavior during tests and assignments, and instructors have turned to alternative methods to preserve academic integrity in a digital environment. One common solution is using a program called Respondus Lockdown Browser during tests, which locks down students’ internet browsers and records them via webcam to detect signs of potential cheating while they take an online assessment. To diminish the likelihood of blatant cheating, some instructors have instead opted to give open-book essay exams or allow students to collaborate on take-home exams.
Despite the unique challenges that remote instruction may pose, the process has been an educational one. As everyone learns through trial and error what works and what doesn’t, students and faculty have begun adapting to this new normal. Being physically separated from the rest of the campus community just isn’t quite the same, and everyone longs for the day when they will all be able to come back to a bustling and thriving campus. Nevertheless, every member of the Bruin community strives to make the most out of this situation, learning as they go, lifting one another up and continuing to uphold True Bruin values.