- Approximately 1,200 online classes are being offered during the cyber semester. -
COVID-19 is transforming the way KAISTians live. Many restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus have us adjusting to a new environment swiftly. A cyber MOU signing ceremony with a foreign partner university took place on March 25, as did a cyber Board of Trustees Meeting on March 26. KAIST’s Main Campus is normally one of the most iconic picnic destinations for the citizens of Daejeon, but this is not the case this spring, as the campus has been temporarily closed to protect our own community as well as our neighboring communities.
KAIST has been offering approximately 1,200 courses remotely since this semester opened on March 16 and will do so until further notice. Students and faculty members are experiencing the newly emerging norms of remote education in this time of social distancing. This unexpected disruption might advance the new digital pedagogy at KAIST, which was already ahead of the curve with its online learning and teaching infrastructure.
Professor Youngsun Kwon, the Dean of KAIST Academy and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, said, “We had already initiated the KAIST Learning Management System (KLMS) in 2011 for introducing flipped learning, a student-centric creative-learning pedagogy. Since then, about nine percent of all our classes have been run using this methodology. Students pre-study the online streaming lecture materials that professors have uploaded in advance outside the classroom, and in-class activities are mainly group discussions and problem-solving activities.”
According to Dean Kwon, the university was planning to further introduce real-time online education from this spring semester and were in the process of setting up the system started from last year. “Our plan was to connect the real-time video conferencing service Zoom to our existing remote educational platform KLMS. However, things related to COVID-19 all happened so rapidly that we didn’t yet have a full-fledged connection,” said Dean Kwon.
Professors had to choose either to conduct their lectures remotely in the form of a pre-made one-way lesson or a real-time two-way lesson. They could also modify them using both platforms. Professor Youngchul Kim from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said, “I had to also make some changes in my class activities and assignments. I removed a group design project and some tutorial workshops that were meant to provide students with hands-on experience using design tools such a 3D printer and a laser cutting system. Ironically, I found that students seem to focus on online lectures more intensely than I expected. I feel like students give me their thoughts and respond much quicker as well.”
Unfortunately, the online learning and teaching infrastructure and resources that had been put in place could not handle the overwhelming volume of classes being uploaded over very short period of time.
To handle the new demand, IT technicians are setting up the technical environment with stable servers to improve network traffic. For professors, teaching assistants, and students to teach and learn better in an online space, department offices have been lending spare equipment such as laptops, tablets, headsets, and webcams to those who do not have their own, based on availability. Academic support staff have also been pitching in by developing the best guidelines for online training.
“Even in these uncharted waters, all of the members of KAIST are doing their best to keep the ship steadily sailing in the right direction. I am very grateful for everyone’s efforts to make things work,” said Dean Kwon.
< Professor Youngsun Kwon delivering a real-time two-way lesson online. >
< Professor Youngsun Kwon delivering a real-time two-way lesson online. >
About 60% of the courses currently offered online are being uploaded using the non-real-time KLMS, and the remaining 40% are run in real time via Zoom. Each class runs for 50 minutes per academic credit, and comprises at least 25 minutes of lecture, a Q&A session, and a group discussion.
Students enrolled in the 481 courses that include experiments are asked to conduct their experiments individually after watching a 50-minute online lecture. Experimental, practical, and physical courses that are impossible to provide online have been cancelled or postponed until the next semester or summer/winter breaks.
“I find the online lessons quite convenient for the courses that I am taking this semester, especially the non-real-time ones, because I can watch the lecture videos over and over again even after the class has finished to understand the contents better,” said Jaymee Palma, an undergraduate student from the Department of Chemistry.
Ada Carpenter, an undergraduate student from the Department of Physics, added, “Students who normally feel uncomfortable speaking in class raise their questions on an online Q&A board more easily. Besides, I saw many other students asking questions and leading a discussion verbally as well. I think, when students join a synchronous Zoom classroom, they are more engaged than when just attending a regular lecture in a conventional classroom. It’s like everyone can sit in the front row of the class.”
Still, there are reportedly pedagogical, logistical, and technological challenges to these extraordinary educational measures. Some students express concerns about keeping up with professors and other students if they don’t have sufficient technological knowledge and skills. Some also cite the disadvantage of online classes having much less interaction and engagement among students and between professors and students than offline ones. “Fortunately, I think my professors are all excellent, so I can immerse myself well during all my cyber classes,” said Sang-Hyeon Lee, a graduate student from the School of Computing.
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