The KAIST Herald interviewed four professors who have been employing a range of online technology and teaching methods to cater for the varying needs of their students in different class styles. These were Hyotcheorl Ihee from the Department of Chemistry, Dong Hyuk Shin from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Daniel Saakes from the Department of Industrial Design, and Dong Ju Kim from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
What class are you teaching this semester, and why did you choose the online method you are using?
Ihee: I’m teaching General Chemistry I (CH101) this semester. General Chemistry I is being conducted through live Zoom sessions. The online lecture policies were given by the school due to the China’s Communist Party virus situation.
Shin: I’m only teaching one class this semester: Aerospace Heat Transfer (AE311). As students know, the school offered several methods for conducting online classes this semester. Out of them, I wanted to choose the most interactive option. I’ve taken online classes before and they can be really dull. Thus, I wanted to have a lot of interactions [with the students]. I came to KAIST last fall, so this is my first undergraduate class. Even though I also used to be a student here, I can’t accurately estimate the students’ levels of understanding and capabilities yet and therefore I decided on a two-way method, which Zoom at least has.
Saakes: I’m teaching Computer-Aided Design (ID219). It is a skill-based course, and [even during a regular semester,] most hours are spent practicing in the computer room. I switched to flipped learning with Edu 4.0 a few years ago and so I had videos readily available [for this semester]. I [have also] kept synchronous classes twice per week [via] Zoom, for students to ask questions, [which I answer] for all students by sharing my screen, or the TA takes the student to a break-out room. In selected classes, I give feedback in small groups, which takes a lot of time with 60 students.
Kim: I’m teaching two classes this semester, Anthropology of Food (HSS249) and Gender and Society (HSS255). I have been teaching these courses for quite a long time, but in the last year I started to record these online lectures. In the beginning I wasn’t a big fan of Edu 4.0, but I found it a very useful way to encourage students to actually do some work beforehand to prepare their own response papers for discussion. For [my courses,] discussion is a very important part, because there are many different cultural backgrounds that view [anthropology] issues in very different ways. Basically, I tried to actualize group discussions online. In the beginning I was hesitant, but I wanted to try it out with the Zoom system.
What are the most difficult parts of online teaching?
Saakes: Monitoring student progress is challenging and providing feedback is more formalized than during regular offline classes. [Also, for the physical projects in ID,] shipping the fabrication assignments to the students by mail is cumbersome. We first send a package with sample materials, they submit a digital design, our technicians make it, and we ship it back.
Ihee: Online classes aside, I think the students are having a hard time due to it being a 9 a.m. class. In terms of the online class aspect, I think the frustration and lacking the sense of a physical space caused by non-face-to-face lectures are the biggest problems.
Shin: The most difficult part was thinking ahead of all the possible situations that could arise. For example, when it was officially announced that Zoom would be used for the class, the TAs and I checked how the class would look on the students’ screens. My ideal plan was to have both the lecture slides and my writing on the blackboard be visible simultaneously; it was important that Zoom could support these technicalities. Also, we wanted to see the students’ reactions as much as possible. We have installed two computers inside the classroom: one has the slides and the other one shows the students.
Kim: My concerns are mainly about the security of Zoom, but I find it weird not to be able to see faces while having a group discussion if some people don’t turn on their cameras, so I made sure to emphasize at the beginning that nobody should take any screenshots or recordings of the class.
What are some benefits of online teaching?
Ihee: If I had to pick an advantage of the online classes, it’s that students watch the lecture videos beforehand and are more prepared for the lectures. Also, thanks to Zoom’s screen share feature, the students can more effortlessly focus on the lecture.
Shin: I don’t currently think there are any real advantages to the format, especially considering how long [preparing] for the lectures takes. But looking into the future, if I were to go on a business trip, then I could still conduct classes from far away. Typically, I would have to cancel the class and make it up later, but now I can have some flexibility in conducting the lectures. From the school’s point of view, of course it’s a difficult period, but I think we found a new possibility. I think [online lectures] could help create a greater diversity in delivery of the materials. It’s not easy, but I think it’s something we should experience at least once.
Kim: I guess it’s easier for [all the students] since you don’t have to leave your room for the discussion!
How have students responded to your method?
Ihee: Even in offline classes, there were quite a few students who would fall asleep, do other things, or lose focus. Considering these things, I don’t think the delivery or understanding of the materials have diminished much. I haven’t really received much feedback from the students yet, but the frequency of questions from students is actually higher than that of offline classes.
Shin: I have never directly asked the students [taking my course]. However, I asked the students that I advise who are taking other classes and most of them said that they don’t feel much difference. I think the professors have a lot of experience and cover the classes well.
Kim: I was actually pleasantly surprised that [the discussions are] going better than I thought! But of course, it is easier to see the difference between the more active students and the quiet students. I think online it is more difficult, because it seems more impolite to just jump into the conversation and ask spontaneous questions.
What kind of unexpected situations have risen?
Ihee: I think it’s likely due to Zoom, but I got kicked out of the room involuntarily multiple times. I quickly try to go back in but sometimes it’s very slow to log back in. It’s a shame for the time wasted and I feel anxious knowing that students are waiting for me.
Shin: As always, the expected aspects are fine, but the unexpected situations are the hardest. The week that Korean middle and high school classes started, the internet suddenly disconnected and we had to change to a tablet. It wasn’t very long but I was in a bit of a flurry and the lecture did not proceed very smoothly. Everyone has their own style, and mine is moving around a lot during the lecture. Sitting still and simply using the tablet and not being able to see the students’ faces were the two most difficult situations so far.
Other professors use one of the three methods: recording lectures, playing recorded lectures live, or just live lectures. Thus, knowing about these methods and how other professors conduct them is important. I believe that when a situation arises, the more you know, the faster you can resolve it. For example, when I had to switch over to a tablet, I managed to have a gap of only 15 minutes and resume class. I think it was possible because we were prepared for the situation. In short, I think it’s about attention and interest. I think you have interest, you can operate through many different situations.
How are you handling midterms and finals? If the whole semester is going to be online, what are you planning?
Saakes: The midterm is the same as in previous [semesters, but] if the entire semester is online, I need to adjust [the final project].
Ihee: It has been decided that General Chemistry I will not have a midterm. We will likely conduct the final in person.
Shin: [We will be having real-time, closed-book Zoom exams.] Preparing for the midterms required planning out a lot of different scenarios. I’m sure the students have a lot of worries about the real-time online test. If the internet disconnects, then some may think it’s the student’s fault. They also have to think about disadvantages they may receive due to unpredicted problems. And while I believe it won’t be a huge problem, we also have to think a lot about the prevention of cheating. We hope to conduct finals through Zoom as well [if it cannot be offline].
Kim: Midterms and finals will change format a little bit. I will have to refine the questions [so that] students can use the right elements from our class material in their responses. Also, I’m allowing 48 hours for a take-home exam, whereas I normally have an in-class exam [in regular semesters.]
Are there any changes to your grading this semester?
Ihee: There won’t really be a change in the grading system. However, since there is no midterm, the percentage of the final will be relatively very high and students will have to account for that change.
Shin: The mission was to make the grading system as close to the offline rubric as possible. That’s why we chose the real-time exam method. It will be mostly very similar.
Kim: The response papers stay the same, and the exams [can still be carried out.] However, originally I thought that I would count attendance for the grading, but with Zoom taking attendance is [more difficult], and there were cases of [faked attendance] anyway. So on that I will just have to trust the students to be diligent.
Do you have any words of advice for students taking your class?
Ihee: I’m sure freshmen especially are not happy with the nature of the online classes. But there is the saying, “A crisis is an opportunity”. I want to recommend for students to in fact take advantage of this situation to improve learning effectiveness and spend your time efficiently to use them as a stepping stone for the future.
Shin: The unfortunate thing about the online lectures is that after the lecture, students would remain after class and ask a lot of questions. While we still do it, it is definitely lacking. The lecture itself is similar to real life but students would sometimes come to my office to ask questions more in-depth. Now, they can only ask via speech and cannot write on the blackboard, for example. I feel disappointed that not more interactions are possible. Also, I want to see the students’ faces but not many students turn on their cameras. I told the students at the beginning that while I prefer to have the cameras on, it is not a requirement. The most I’ve had in one class was about half the class size, but it has been decreasing since, but I want to see you more!
Saakes: Actively participate in the online [class] forum, and don’t hesitate to ask questions!
Kim: Communicating online probably feels a lot different to face-to-face lectures, right? What is really important though is connecting with your classmates despite the online situation. It makes me glad to see my students becoming friends normally, and I hope that students will say hi to each other [in the future] even though this was an online class. This moment is something unique, and something to remember together!