Remote Classes: Student Stories

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Attending Class From Around the World

Attending class remotely? We’ve got this. For Golden Bears, adapting is what we do.
When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in classes shifting to remote formats mid-semester in spring, instructors — and their students! — at UC Berkeley adjusted quickly. As most students face the reality of attending class remotely, Berkeley students share their experiences about academic support they found during and after the transition.

Students spoke about themes of adaptation and success in unexpected circumstances: Stories about professors who made everything — down to the last lab assignment — accessible online, or classes that transformed semester finals into all-encompassing projects that could accommodate every student.

Creativity in virtual classrooms

Daisy Lewis, studying from Sacramento, California, shared about her Southeast Asian Studies class (R5B) with instructor Thiti Jamkajornkeiat. Thiti brought in engaging guest speakers and found creative ways to invite students to participate, like Zoom breakout rooms, where students are able to hold small group discussions.

“There were only about 20 of us in the class so we all had our cameras on. This was crucial, because it meant that anyone could see if I was engaged or not. Also, this was a discussion-based class, so we were able and encouraged to talk. We often broke into breakout rooms, where smaller groups made it easier for some people to engage who otherwise would have been too shy to talk. Overall, the class was really engaging and stayed that way, even with the changes.” – Daisy Lewis, Sustainable Environmental Design major

Daisy Lewis, Sustainable Environmental Design major

Instructors are not the only ones who made the most of technological features. Daisy mentioned a similar helpful experience she had with tutoring from the Berkeley Student Learning Center (SLC): “I liked that there was a main room (on Zoom) and then we were sent to breakout rooms for the subject we wanted to get help with. It felt organized and structured.” The SLC offers both professional and peer tutoring services to Berkeley students.

Remote support structures made it easy to engage

Studying up north in Toronto, Ontario, Simon Guo also experienced classroom innovation in his Data Structures course (CS61B) with Professor Paul N. Hilfinger.

“CS61B has a lot of support structure for students. There are virtual office hours, which actually is easier than in person office hours, as you just need to hop on a call. There were virtual homework and lab walkthroughs, as well as all kinds of discussion sections and review sessions. I could also watch video recordings of past discussions so it is quite helpful for reviewing. The course staff really did an amazing job.” – Simon Guo, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences major

Simon Guo, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences major

Simon teaches a DeCal, which are peer-to-peer courses designed and taught by Berkeley students, so he appreciates the adjustments both instructors and students have made in virtual formats: “I think Berkeley acted fast and professionally regarding changing style of instructions. Professors care a lot and listen to troubles that we have.”

Creating accessible classes for remote locations

Berkeley students and professors have learned to be flexible to support all kinds of situations, like with Zeynep Enson, a freshman studying from Istanbul, Turkey. Rather than proctoring a 5 a.m. final, her professor of mathematics, Alexander Paulin, made some changes to ensure assignments were fully accessible.

“He got rid of the exams! Instead, we did projects every week and a final assessment as a final. This way, he was able to grade us fairly and we were able to apply what we learned to an assignment. This really took a lot of the pressure off my back as an international student. He was really thoughtful regarding every student’s situation.” – Zeynep Enson, Environmental Sciences major

Zeynep Enson, Environmental Sciences major

Whether studying from half a world away or next door in Oakland, students were able to stay engaged with campus, classmates, and classroom activities. The 2020 spring semester has shown that, no matter what, Berkeley students will do what they do best: overcome.