In this section, Prof. Gensler outlines the changes that were made for this iteration of 15.S08 in response to MIT’s cancellation of in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’re in very unusual times. Many of us at MIT learned our teaching skills in the classroom with anywhere from 15 to 100 students in a class. All of a sudden, with a snap of a finger, we’re all online. Most of us at Sloan felt it was important to keep some sense of community, and so when I started the first class online, I asked all the students, those that could, to listen together, synchronously.
This class was taught at 8:30 to 10:00 AM on Monday and Wednesday, and so it didn’t work for everyone. People who were in Europe were in a good time zone for it. But people that were signing in from California weren’t. So we did record it. But we got about 85% to 90% of the students signing in synchronously. I thought it was not only important that it was synchronous, but secondly, that everyone had their video on. I told the students, “I know that you might have a friend, a spouse, a lover, a child who might walk past the camera. You might have a delivery. That’s life. We’re going to relax about all of this.” I felt it formed a better sense of community.
In Zoom, there’s a feature called the chat room, and this is normally antithetical to any faculty member. You don’t want students passing notes, or a piece of paper around, or using their cell phones to chat with each other. But in this class, we actually encouraged students to use the chat feature. The teaching assistant was kind enough to read the chat, and sometimes he’d say, “You know, Michelle has this interesting question,” or, “There’s three people in the chat that just don’t understand what you’re saying,” and that was a way we engaged folks.
Teaching online was a heck of a challenge. This was a class with 80 registered students and 38 registered listeners, so we sometimes had 110 people in the Zoom meeting. Normally about three quarters had their video on and normally 10 or 15 would engage in the conversation and talk, so it was lively, but I would still prefer to be in the classroom with the students.