Unusual times bring valuable lessons as learning restarts online

April 6, 2020
Before the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ashesi’s IT team had been helping establish an ecosystem of software tools and resources meant to aid operations, teaching and learning. Teams across campus actively experimented with deeper use of virtual collaboration tools; new student information and learning management systems were deployed for supporting teaching and learning; and nearly all university offices – from Career Services to Finance – had deployed virtual tools meant to amplify campus operation.

Nonetheless, the University’s full transition to online operations earlier in March is bringing a new set of lessons for many across campus – especially faculty and students. Through a two-week window teaching plans and content were remodeled for remote teaching, and class simulations allowed both students and faculty to strategize for anticipated challenges ahead of the semester restart.

“I am learning new strategies for effective teaching.”

Elena’s lab classes focus on how to redesign organisms for useful purposes, by engineering them to have new abilities. 

Dr. Elena Rosca, teaching a Synthetic Biology class this semester, had her first online teaching experience with the formal restart of classes during the week of March 30th. Creating virtual replicas of experimentation spaces for the lab-based class allowed Elena to see an unexpected silver lining.

Dr. Rosca’s “lab” at home is much simpler than her lab on campus but hasn’t stopped her from helping students navigate lab experiments at home.

“My students and I realized that it would not be productive to use our live online sessions for teaching presentations,” she explained. “Sharing pre-recorded presentations with students ahead of classes enables us to better use our live sessions for discussion, knowledge application, and problem-solving. We also found software that allows us to conduct lab simulations online, making it easier for my students to also practice on their own. It is helping me identify new strategies for productive teaching when campus reopens.”

Elena, like several other faculty, is also making room for her class to reframe its content around the coronavirus, with students learning about the bio-molecular model of the novel coronavirus, and developing equations to understand its spread in the human body.

Takako Mino is discovering that she is learning more about her individual students, even as they are physically farther apart
“I am connecting more individually with my students.”

Faculty like Takako Mino have also identified that live classes may not necessarily be the most effective approach for their classes. Content for her classes – Leadership, and Written and Oral Communication – is pre-shared for students to read while she has focused her face time with students on personalized coaching, meeting each individually.

Encouraging students to not take themselves too seriously is important for Takako, especially as she teaches against the backdrop of an unsettling period. The sessions are allowing her to learn new things about her classes, and especially connect with those that had been less vocal on campus.

“Having had over 50 sessions this past week, I know I have connected more individually with my students,” she shares. “Students also get to see my personality more, as I sit in isolation in my crazy house looking disheveled. It’s cool!”

Acting Dean of Engineering, Nathan Amanquah, believes that both faculty and students will gain from the experiences with online classes. Especially important, he sees the added responsibility for students to more actively drive their learning as a boon for their academic careers.

“I love that there is an increased level of interaction for my class online as compared to in-class teaching,” he says. “Students are learning to do a lot more independent study and analytical work. It is added preparation for any future graduate school they attend, and for their careers as Engineers.”

“I see the effort our lecturers are putting in, and it makes a difference.”
To support student participation in online classes, Ashesi provided monthly data bundles to all. And though exceptions to defer classes were allowed for students in locations with weak internet infrastructure, most were plugged in when classes started the week of March 30.

With the trip from bed to an 8.00 am class now much shorter, and more flexible schedules introduced, David Boateng ’20 had not expected online classes to be more demanding.

“You have to dedicate more time to studying, as classes are more focused on discussion,” David says. “It is an exciting challenge, but one that I had not anticipated.”

But students are also recognizing that faculty are doing all they can to support them through the period. For some, like Awurama Atoborah, it helps overcome the sense of being far apart. “I see the effort our lecturers are putting in to close the vacuum, and that makes a lot of difference for me,” she says.

Awurama also tries to keep up with her sister, currently living outside Ghana.

And in keeping with the spirit of silver linings, Entrepreneurship faculty Leonard Annan believes that guest speakers for his classes no longer have to worry about the commute to campus.

“We now have all our panel discussions via teleconferencing,” Leonard explains, laughing. “The road to campus is no longer a factor to consider when accepting invitations to speak with students. This makes our work much easier.”


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