Tag Archives: communication

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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Music: the Universal Language

By Michael Neufeld

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

I get it, learning a language is difficult. Not only do you have to learn the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of a different language, but you also have to discover all of the nuances, idioms, and contexts for word usage so that the things that you say make sense and express meaning. Because learning an instrument holds many of the same challenges, music is often referred to as a language of its own. Not only must you spend time learning to play an instrument or sing, but you must learn to read and listen to it carefully to truly engage with it. There are multiple levels of meaning in music, and a lot of those levels are changed by the perception of the listener.

Photo by William Recinos on Unsplash

The main similarity between music as a language and actual spoken languages is that the content never changes. In the same way “a ball” in English is “una pelota” in Spanish, a D major chord may be called something different in a different culture. However, many cultures still recognize a ball as a round object used for playing games. In the same way, a D major chord still retains the same sound produced; it doesn’t change across cultures. Thus, when orchestras perform the works of Tchaikovsky, they will sound the same. Played with some level of variance due to the styles of each culture (think of it like speaking with an accent).

The sounds that are produced do not change much across cultures, so emotions and ideas can be universally translated. What I mean by this is, what sounds beautiful in America will often sound beautiful in Japan. What sounds bad in Germany will sound similarly bad in Mexico. A romantic song may still carry that romantic connotation in another context. A scary song can still be used to induce fear in other settings. This is the magic of music: it can carry such emotional weight across a variety of cultures and nations, and by doing so it transmits power, messages, and feelings where words cannot.

Photo by Sergio Capuzzimati on Unsplash

An example of this can be found in the popular J-Pop song, “夜に駆ける,” or translated to English, “Racing into the Night,” released at the end of 2019. I personally have a very small understanding of the Japanese language; although, I know enough to hear fragments of words or sentences, I cannot understand the entirety of a song without looking up translations. However, I can still feel the undeniable energy of a song, the compelling melodies in the vocalist and piano parts, and the emotional release during the breaks and key changes at the end. This song in particular has been on my mind since I discovered it for myself, due to its attention-grabbing qualities. Interestingly enough, this song was based on a Japanese short story by the name of “タナトスの誘惑,” or “Temptation of Thanatos.” Thanatos was the ancient Greek personification of non-violent death, likened to a god according to the mythology of the time. Here we can see how the art and ideas themselves have transcended cultures, both spatially and temporally.

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Taking English for Granted

By David Schroeder

[4 minute read]

Language is not something I really think about on a day-to-day basis. Most of the time, I just go through my day freely communicating with ease and not running into any language-related problems. I feel like this is the way a lot of native English speakers living in America feel, and I’ve found that it is a very ignorant way of thinking. Everyone should acknowledge that being fluent in English is a major privilege that is often overlooked or taken for granted by native speakers.

During my first conversation session at ALI, I was talking with an international student specifically about what our high schools were like. He said that he had a few required classes that he had to take during high school, and that one of them was four years of English. I mentioned that I was also required to take a foreign language and my conversation partner was puzzled by this, and he questioned me on why I would be required to learn any other language besides English. This forced me to step back and think more deeply about English.

spark

My conversation partner’s statement is sad but true, because in a practical sense, if you know English, there is not a need to know any other language because of English’s dominance in the world. This is unfortunate, because it is not fair to rate languages above each other because it creates a big disadvantage to those who are not native English speakers, and thus they are given the burden of learning another language (usually English) out of necessity.

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