NYU Instructors Get Creative with Remote Instruction

By Keith Allison and Lizzie Burger | March 23, 2020

profile photos of Chen Wei and Kathryn Posin

Left: Chen Wei, Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts at NYU Shanghai. Riight: Kathryn Posin, a Professor of Dance at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study

The nature of what NYU, the country, and much of the world is going through right is unprecedented. Unlike in past crises that affected the NYU community, there is now a technology infrastructure that makes it possible to carry on through remote instruction. One of the unique challenges of shifting from primarily in-person to exclusively online instruction has been how to accomplish this with courses that traditionally require students and instructors to be physically present, such as physical and performative arts. In response, NYU instructors are finding creative ways to keep their students engaged, by using a wide range of remote teaching and learning technologies.

Two interesting approaches to this come from the world of the arts. Chen Wei, Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts at NYU Shanghai, has devised a method to teach her Group Piano course; while Kathryn Posin, a Professor of Dance at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study, has turned the sudden global distribution of her students into a strength. Both professors are using NYU Zoom and streaming media to make sure that just because their students are not physically together, no one is remote.

Teaching Piano at NYU Shanghai and across the Globe


Professor Chen Wei was already using video in her Group Piano class. In her NYU Shanghai studio, Professor Wei and her students each sat at pianos while a large, in-room screen displayed a live, close-up camera feed of Wei's hands as she played so students could follow her movements. For her, the puzzle to solve as her course moved online: how to retain the close-up of her hands while also facilitating face-to-face interaction with her students, both of which are crucial to teaching and learning piano. Additionally, Wei’s students were now located across the globe, from Shanghai to South America, making it difficult to find a time that’s convenient for live, online interaction.

Her solutions for each of these issues were detailed in a recent post to NYU Shanghai's Digital Teaching Toolkit blog, maintained by the NYU Shanghai Library's Research and Instructional Technology Services. Teaching Piano with a Dual Camera Set-up explains how Professor Chen took advantage of NYU Zoom's built-in capacity to automatically detect and dynamically focus on whoever is speaking. She set up a second camera and aimed it at her face, then logging that camera’s video feed in as a separate Zoom participant. When Zoom detects the sound of her playing the piano, it brings the camera aimed at her hands into focus, and when it detects her speaking, it focuses on the camera aimed at her face. Class sessions are recorded, so students can watch (and rewatch) at a time that is convenient for them.

To facilitate discussions with individual students in place of real-time group classes, she uses Zoom's "breakout rooms" feature to create private online spaces where she can interact with students one-on-one, and offer office hours. Her ingenuity in exploring how best to apply the services at her disposal has enabled Professor Chen to continue making music and videos with her students. Realizing that she, like everyone across NYU's global presence, was figuring these things out as she went, Chen recorded an in-depth how-to for her fellow NYU instructors.

Around the World with Gallatin World Dance

Professor Kathryn Posin in thhe dance studio

Like Professor Chen, Professor Kathryn Posin teaches a course at NYU Gallatin that normally depends on physical presence: a World Dance class. And like her colleague in Shanghai, Posin decided to make use of NYU Zoom to keep on dancing. Students joined a Zoom meeting from their remote locations —including one student who had returned home to Dubai. During this session, six students discussed and demonstrated via the live video feed a world dance of their choice—"cheer, tango, commercial jazz, flamenco, soca"—and, as Zoom detected they were the primary speaker (or dancer), the screen filled with video of the student performing. Students were also able to play their own music from their computer.

"This World Dance teacher's heart was full," remarked Posin, "and we have created a new world space together."

Posin continued, "I learned that online teaching, especially with dance—which is about signs, symbols, semiotics, and non-verbal expression—is a new medium on its own. It's almost like we have a new instrument, a visual, audio quilt that the cloud supports."

Posin was not an experienced Zoom user when circumstances required her to move the class online. Anticipating the change that was about to come, she visited the Digital Studio at Bobst Library for a Zoom training session. She also reached out to her local IT support at Gallatin for assistance with setting up a laptop and properly positioning the camera. "The IT dance," she calls it.