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J-School zooms in to optimize online learning

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

Teachers learning and trying new ways to engage and educate

Newmark J-School faculty say they are rising to the challenges of a new semester in which most classes will be taught online. They are testing novel approaches, gaining new insights, and coping with life online — such as what to do when the internet crashes in mid-session. (Reboot!)

The school has jolted into action to optimize student instruction in pandemic times. Jeremy Caplan, the school’s director of teaching and learning, designed from scratch 10 hours of training — including a mix of videos, tipsheets, short readings, exercises, and hands-on experimentation with platforms that prepared the school’s teachers to create engaging learning materials for students. Eighty percent of faculty took advantage of the materials during the summer, strengthening their remote teaching skills. Many adopted new approaches and have adjusted their teaching methods and materials to match the online medium.

Travis Fox, who is teaching one of the first remote drone journalism courses in the country, is combining interactive videos, remote quizzes, a new textbook, and online discussions to elevate the likelihood that students will pass the Federal Aviation Agency’s drone test. 

Audio Program Director Kalli Anderson, audio adjunct Michael Lysak, video professor Bob Sacha, and senior audio engineer Chad Bernhard sharpened their skills over the summer at crafting video tutorials. They’ve filmed everywhere from Central Park (Sacha) to a clothing closet (Lysak) to guide students remotely through the art and craft of recording meaningful images — and sounds. 

To enhance reading discussions at a distance, Carmen Graciela Díaz, an adjunct in our bilingual program in Spanish and English, has guided students in using Hypothes.is to collaboratively annotate and discuss Web articles as part of their online discussion of global journalism.

At a recent faculty meeting, discussions turned to other adjustments underway, including:

  •     Increasing use of polls, quizzes, live chat, and interactive activities to strengthen student engagement in remote sessions
  •       Providing frequent breaks and shortening “live” sessions while supplementing classes with videos that students can watch at their own pace. These steps aim to reduce the challenge of spending long days staring into a screen. 
  •       Deploying educational tech tools like Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, Loom, Pear Deck, Slido and others to complement Zoom and Blackboard, guiding students with hands-on learning, a hallmark of the J-School since its founding. 

Faculty say they are learning fast about students are transitioning to the online experience. One professor was concerned that video conferencing would dampen discussion. He instead found students “speaking up” more with comments, insights, and jokes within the Zoom chat box. 

Another professor said he found a way to turn around a disappointment from spring teaching: He had been unhappy when students opted to tune into his class with their cameras off. This fall he introduced himself in a more personal way, and said he really wanted to see students’ faces, though he could not require them to turn on their cameras during class. Most did.

The school’s move online, Associate Dean Andrew Mendelson said, has led professors to “flex muscles we didn’t think we had.”

Faculty are asking questions, he said, like, “How do we most effectively divide up a three-hour class? In person, students can tune out, but now we see it when they turn off their cameras. Now teachers are discovering techniques to build a more energized environment that students want to be seen participating in.”