Tag Archives: classroom

Two Sides of Online Learning: A Dual Perspective as a Student and Teacher

By Minghan Shelley Sun 

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that we spend most of our time switching between screens while taking classes, socializing, or completing  work and internship projects. The digital fatigue we get from constantly looking at screens has eliminated the enjoyment and happiness we are supposed to receive from these activities or events. Because of this, a new question has been raised: How can educators infuse more excitement and motivation into online classes? Currently, I am taking online classes for the second semester in a row at the graduate level. I’m working from China and am also a student-teacher for a class at the USC International Academy. Therefore, I’ve gone through the process of adapting to online learning from both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective, and luckily, I’ve gained some insights and hope to shed some light on this issue for everyone who is also facing this issue.

Perspective as a graduate student

During this past semester (Fall 2020), my online classes seemed to always have group discussions and tasks. Having participated in many Zoom breakout rooms, I became aware of a sense of separation occurring when being grouped with different classmates. One experience I remember in particular is when I was in a breakout room with three classmates I’d never spoken to before. When we first entered the breakout room, no one started the conversation but just stared at their screens. I wondered to myself, ‘What are they doing?  Are they checking the rubric or looking for something?’ Eventually, I couldn’t stand the awkward silence so I broke the ice by saying “Hi, guys. Have you found the work document?” which started our conversation. Although we pretty much finished our assigned task, our discussion was superficial and did not really reach my expectations for that class. I was genuinely disappointed and felt upset about what I felt was a loss in value of that class time.

However, there was another time when I was grouped with a classmate who was talkative and willing to share their ideas, and that experience was totally different. From the beginning, our greetings naturally warmed up our discussion, and some common thoughts that we expressed about the class deepened our conversation and elicited more thinking and sharing. This experience showed me that if all of the members of a breakout room are willing participants, the conversation can be great.

Perspective as a teacher

Recently, I was granted the opportunity to observe as a student-teacher in a class. Student-teachers at the graduate level typically learn to teach by observing the host teacher’s practices and teaching micro lessons in real classrooms. This is what I did at the USC International Academy during Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. Due to the sudden shift to online learning, I’ve noticed a drop in student engagement and motivation in the classes I have assisted, especially compared to the behavior of students that I observed in in-person classes during Spring 2020. In particular, I noticed one odd but common phenomenon in breakout rooms: although the teacher had carefully explained the activity the students were about to perform before going into breakout rooms, the students tended to keep silent when they first entered the room and still needed some time to discuss what the task was about. Even though the teacher had asked if the students had any questions before they joined the breakout room, sometimes they even started the breakout room discussion by asking “What are we supposed to do?”. Even though they performed better in group activities after several weeks of class, communication efficiency distinctly decreased compared to in-person classes.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
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Be Brave: Speak Up in Class

By Masae (Emily) Yamanaka

An Overview

In many Asian cultures, it is very common for students to not speak at all in a classroom setting. They are merely in schools to absorb as much knowledge as possible from the teachers. Absolute obedience is viewed as a virtue. “I don’t want to waste other people’s time.” “Nothing I share can be that important to interrupt the flow of the lecture.” “Teachers know best.” Almost all the Asian international students I have had resonated similar sentiments.

On the contrary, in a traditional American classroom, you will find the teacher picking on students to voice their opinions. With that being said, it does not mean blurting out anything you can think of in class. Your responses should be relevant and contribute to the topic under discussion. This system strives to build young independent leaders and focus on sharpening critical thinking skills of the youths.

The Two Systems

A main difference between Eastern and Western educations lies in its prime focus. Asian systems utilizes teacher-centric classes where the teacher serves as the main authoritarian figure and answers questions directly from the pupils. Lecture is the main mode of instruction. Students are often dissuaded from exchanging ideas with each other.

The American system employs a student-centered setting where students share ideas with each other and actively participate in the learning and teaching process. Originality is greatly stressed upon and valued. Since each student is unique and no two students have the exact ways of thinking, students can learn from each other and stimulate self-understanding by listening to others’ questions.

Personally, I think Eastern educational institutions offer a wider breadth of knowledge, as teachers who specialize in specific topics get more time to instruct without disturbance. However, being given more content does not equate to the amount of substance pupils actually absorb on average. This one-way direction hinders solidarity as youths are taught to unquestionably oblige to what is given. A more collaborative setting not only promotes critical thinking but serves as a built-in check-and-balance within the classroom since teachers would need to take into account inquiries of everyone and could not simply recycle previous teaching material. At the end of the day, humans are individually unique and each class’s batch of students are different from another.

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The Selfish Learner

By Dominique Murdock 

So there you are in class… the lecture has started, pens and pencils are diligently scribbling all around you, heads nod up and down in agreement with the lecture, and everyone seems to be in sync… except you. There you sit, worried, confused, and nervous because you feel like the bus left without you. At this point, you may look something like this…

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro on Flickr

You begin to panic. You can literally feel your heart beating in your throat. You know that if you could just ask one well-worded question, you would have a better understanding of the lesson. You think about raising your hand, but the idea of interrupting the flow of class for your “stupid question” seems annoying and counterproductive to the learning environment. You feel stuck and frustrated… what do you do?

Photo from clipart-library.com

First… you TAKE A BREATH. That’s right… step one to becoming a selfish (and in turn, more informed learner) is pausing your brain and taking a relaxing, clarifying breath. Kind of like this guy here…

See how his nostrils flare with confidence as he prepares himself to take on the world? Or rather the class? Yep, a deep breath can calm the receptors in your brain and allow you to achieve the clarity you need to focus.

The next step is to recognize your power. Yep, crazy thought but here, in our educational system, students have this beautiful thing called power, or more specifically, the ability to focus the class into the direction that best fits the needs of the students. As a learner, your main goal is to do just that… LEARN. As a paying college student, your #1 right is to attain information using the means that work best for your style of learning. What does this mean? It means that you have the absolute right to ASK QUESTIONS. No matter how big or small they may seem, questions are how we clarify understanding so that we can then move on to the next bit of consumed information. There is absolutely no way to learn without questioning, so you are encouraged and expected to do so. 🙂

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