How professors are exploring the implementation of online classes (Part 3 of 3)

How professors are exploring the implementation of online classes (Part 3 of 3)

Fri, Nov 27, 2020
How professors are exploring the implementation of online classes (Part 3 of 3)

Professor Hiroki Tohya completed his undergraduate degree at Waseda University. After which, he went to the U.S. to do his master’s degree at MIT and then finally earned a PhD at Keio University. He worked at various organizations and Hiroshima University before resuming his current position.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, Waseda University had to conduct all classes online during the Spring 2020 semester. Although some classes are being carried out on campus in the fall semester, online learning and teaching continue to be the norm for most classes. So how did the faculty members feel about online teaching? We have interviewed Professor Hiroki Tohya from the Faculty of Political Science and Economics to find out more.

When the University decided to implement online classes, how did you prepare for them?

A unique feature of my online classes is that I use audio from a text to speech reader software and animation to create video content without myself appearing in them at all.

When I first started preparing for online classes, I thought of creating on-demand videos where I would show up at the beginning and at the end, and the main part would be voiced-over PowerPoint slides. However, after viewing the 45-minute pilot version of the video that was created as a test, I was disappointed with its low quality.

So, I decided to take an approach with an idea in mind that on-demand videos and in-person classes are completely different kinds of content, almost analogous to the difference between a live concert and a studio album production in the music industry. As a result, this teaching style was borne. Also, for faculty, an online class could be just that one class they are teaching, but students take many of them, which is why it is necessary to reduce the stress level and put in more effort than an in-person class to keep students motivated. Because of these reasons, my basics policies for creating videos became “keep it short,” “keep it busy,” “be playful,” and “don’t let viewers feel that they are alone.”

Professor Tohya creating an online class content at home.

Please explain about the basic policies in detail.

For “keeping it short,” I summarize each smaller topic into a 15 to 25-minute video. On top of that, I assign mini tests and tasks to complete per video to help students establish their understanding. I’ve received positive feedback from students with comments like, “It’s just the right amount of time to stay focus,” and, “I feel motivated to study because there is a mini test that comes as a set with the video, and reviewing the content is easier because the video is short enough.”

An example of a busy image.

For “keeping it busy,” I literally used graphs and images that would keep students occupied as much as possible. When explaining something in words, it takes time. However, even if the content is difficult, using busy-looking graphs and images can make the presentation more comprehensible. In fact, most content that took 90 minutes to explain in an in-person class was compressed into two 15-minute videos. On this as well, I received comments like, “Even though the content was at the advanced level, the video was easy to understand, and I was able to understand it well,” from students every time.

Often times, I hear that the down side of having online classes is that there are no digressed conversations or small talk after class. As I thought of students who are taking online classes all day in loneliness and anxiety, I came up with the idea of creating a class that would be something like a midnight radio show that students would secretly look forward to and listen every week in their rooms to “be playful” and “not let viewers feel that they are alone.” “Midnight Q&A” is the prototype of this concept. In this video, I had students write questions in the free space column of a survey and answered them as if I were a radio personality. As I answered the questions while having digressed conversations and sharing my sense of humor, I streamed a video of myself playing self-composed music and reciting self-written poems.

Midnight Q&A

In a survey, students responded with comments like, “It cheered me up!,” and, “I can’t wait for the next sequence.” The comment that left the most impression on me was, “I felt that I wasn’t the only person taking this class.” As the show went on, the content of the questions leveled up, influencing other students who saw the video to ask questions and creating a virtuous cycle.

What are some issues to resolve in the future?

Currently, the feedback I’ve received from students in the survey has been very positive, but the reason for this could be that my style was considered unique because we are now in the dawn of online classes. Still, I believe that I was able to present an example of online classes that are not merely just substitutes of in-person classes.

Right now, I am interested in the secondary use of on-demand videos. If we could take advantage of how short the videos are, it would be possible to plan courses in ways such as, “If you watch the videos in this order, this is what you will learn,” or, “Watch the videos in this order to know more about this topic.” Not everyone needs to watch the same videos in the same order.

Until I started preparing classes for this past spring semester, I had no experience creating videos, and I still struggle a lot. However, despite how busy I am with my professional duties, I still make time, even if it is just a little, to continue researching on the Meiji Restoration. This is a topic that I have been studying since I was a student. Even if it’s just 10 or 20 minutes a day, doing things that I enjoy makes me feel better and refreshes my mind and mood, influencing the video content production in a positive way. Perhaps, many students may feel that things aren’t going their way because of the coronavirus and that they are spending way more time than usual to take online classes and to complete the piles of assignments. Even in such situation, I hope students will spend their student life by making time to do things that they enjoy.

This is a translation of a Japanese article created by the Waseda Weekly team, which regularly produces articles of interest to Waseda students.

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