April 2, 2020

University community members finding their way to success in the transition to remote learning, teaching and working

For Leena Tohaibeche, an undergraduate student in the College of Health Solutions, ASU’s move to online modalities has meant attending class and working from home — alongside four siblings. Tohaibeche is among the more than 100,000 students relying on ASU’s array of convenient digital tools to keep students learning.

“All of my professors have been recording their lectures and posting (them) afterwards so that has been useful,” she said.

Tohaibeche also works at the University Technology Technology Office, where she continues to work remotely thanks to tools like Zoom, ASU’s universitywide video/audio conferencing solution.

March marked a milestone for surpassing 100,000 Zoom sessions, with the actual number to date now approaching 150,000. An equally if not more remarkable benchmark is the fact that 60 million minutes' worth of these interactions transpired throughout these nearly 150,000 Zoom sessions. That amounts to roughly 115 years of Zoom. Over this staggering period, the Sun Devils have been busy living out new possibilities for work and learning. 

“I miss the students and my studio, but I have to say I have been so pleased with how our Zoom delivery has turned out,” said Penny Dolin, faculty member at the Polytechnic School. “Students who may not have spoken up much before, appear empowered to do so now. I feel like we are laughing more and I get to see my students’ pets.” 

Each Zoom session — a class, a meeting, office hours, a virtual coffee catchup — has encompassed the learning experiences, collaborative strategizing and personal connections that have helped the university thrive during a challenging time. In a silver-lining turn of events, the move to online meetings has often fostered a greater sense of community than was sometimes possible face-to-face.

“Zoom meetings invite me into everyone’s dining room, thanks to all my colleagues for the fellowship and intimacy,” said Jennie Blair, an ASU adjunct instructor and the assistant director of Enrollment Services, where she oversees the strategic implementation of an integrated front-counter service.

For those who aren’t as keen on giving everyone a glimpse of their natural habitats, custom virtual backgrounds in Zoom are transporting Sun Devils everywhere — including on campus. The ASU Marketing Hub recently released more than 40 virtual backgrounds that capture ASU’s spirit. Regardless of the backdrop, community members are seizing this opportunity as a way to build camaraderie.

“It truly makes business personal when you can be natural and wearing a T-shirt and talk about our new world of work and how everyone and their families are doing before jumping into the project,” said Shay Moser, managing editor at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“I love using Zoom to meet with my employees one-on-one and to check in with them or meet their pets or children, which is something that was unlikely to happen in the former modality,” echoed Art Hernandez, customer service supervisor for the ASU Operations and Experience Center at the University Technology Office. 

In addition to helping community members form these closer connections, the accelerated use of Zoom is prompting people to rethink their meeting structures. Zoom allows for small-group breakout discussions, instant screen sharing, whiteboarding and more.

“I think that we have different meetings for different purposes: Zoom meetings for coffee talk, Zoom meetings for general updates and acknowledgements and then other meetings that are focused on getting projects done or figuring out how to solve an urgent need,” said Erika Lankton, learning services manager at the Polytechnic School.

For instructional designers at ASU, intentionally selecting a medium for any kind of experience is part of the daily job. The learning design community across ASU has been vital in helping to support faculty needing some guidance on how to leverage a combination of available tools to enable deep, interactive learning. 

“I like that Zoom helps keep me from having long ... conversations typing back and forth. A back-and-forth conversation on Slack or email can take 20 minutes, (whereas) I can accomplish the same discussion via Zoom in five minutes,” said Vicki Harmon, instructional designer and manager of professional development at ASU’s EdPlus. “So the question of synchronous benefits versus asynchronous benefits comes to play in each decision I make whether to Zoom, email or Slack.”

In the end, this is all in service of students like Tohaibeche, who admits that getting comfortable in the shift online took a couple weeks — but understanding faculty have made it easier. 

“My classes are in full swing and I have been able to manage my online classes to the best of my ability,” she said. “I understand that all of us are going through this together, and I thank and appreciate all the ASU professors who are trying their best to make this a smooth transition for their students.”

Faculty are finding new ways to encourage student agency and allow for deeper dives into learning materials, which has been a huge part of this transition.

“I get to watch the lecture videos even after the class (and) if i have any questions, this has been really helpful to go back and check what happened,” said RJ Gopinath, a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a student worker for the ASU Learning Futures Collaboratory. “The Zoom classes are more student-friendly; I can take small breaks when I want (and) that helps me keep focused in the class.” 

For ongoing guidance with Zoom and other resources, students and faculty can look to the remote teaching and learning pages hosted by the University Office of the Provost. Staff members can also get started right away by visiting asu.zoom.us and logging in with their ASURITE. Select the Meetings option on the lefthand menu to schedule a future session, or launch an instant meeting by navigating to the Profile section and finding your sharable Personal Meeting link at the top.

Written by Samantha Becker/UTO