Zooming In: Remote Learning Gets Creative
In response to health regulations enforced around the globe for COVID-19, NYU is conducting the rest of its spring semester in a remote learning environment. While logistical hurdles abound (let's all learn how to use that mute button!), our resourceful and imaginative faculty, students, administrators, and staff have already shown that they’re up to the challenge, making creative use of a variety of technologies to continue the work of teaching, learning, and community-building online.
Below, we’ll be curating stories of innovation and resilience from the tens of thousands of NYUers who are working collaboratively to adapt their work to a virtual environment—sometimes with surprising results. It may be some time before we see one another in person, but each day brings new evidence of how our community will emerge from this period stronger and more vibrant than ever.
Course: Simulation Learning at NYU Meyers College of Nursing’s Clinical Simulation Learning Center
Professor: Natalya Pasklinsky, executive director, Clinical Simulation Learning Center
NYU Meyers College of Nursing students usually gain clinical experience both through rotations in local hospitals and at NYU Meyers’ Clinical Simulation Learning Center, which is designed to mimic the hospital and outpatient environment. But COVID-19 brought about the cancellation of clinical rotations—and a shift to remote instruction for simulations.
“We basically, in six days, transferred 42,000 student contact hours for off- and on- campus clinicals to be all virtual," says Pasklinsky. "It took a village,”
Pasklinsky and her team have implemented a series of new technologies to create robust virtual simulations, and New York State has approved these to count toward undergrads’ required clinical hours. The technologies include software with voice-activated nurse avatars; virtual reality software with scenarios in which students have to accurately diagnose patients; an app that Meyers faculty had previously developed in which students act as charge nurses and allocate their unit staff to patients based on available nurses and patient needs; and of course, Zoom.
“For our psych course, we planned out a simulation using a standardized patient on Zoom. He played an anxious patient, and our students did a telehealth visit. Students got actual feedback from the standardized patient, and it gave them practice using technology to provide care, which is becoming increasingly necessary.
“Our goal is always to train our students to think critically to make the right decision for the right patient at the right time," says Pasklinsky. "That’s of utmost importance.”
Course: Shakespeare in Performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA)
Professor: Geoff Bullen, director of Short Courses, NYU London
In NYU London’s intensive Shakespeare in Performance course, 16 actors are selected to train at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). And each class—part of a long-standing partnership between NYU London, Tisch, and RADA—concludes with the performance of a Shakespeare play. So when COVID-19 necessitated the move to distance learning, both students and instructors were determined that the show must go on.
Course Director Geoff Bullen, in collaboration with his RADA colleagues, chose to see this change as an opportunity. This year, RADA's Gary Lagden will direct an abridged Coriolanus, tailored to video. “The plan is to take advantage of the [Zoom] format and have the play be devised as a kind of samizdat—an underground or revolutionary kind of action—but still with a keen focus on language, imagery, and delivery," says Bullen. "It could be ideal for editing into a showcase."
Understanding the challenges of an online performance, Bullen, Lagden, and cast will celebrate the anticipated happy accidents and technical blips. “We will work together to tell this tale," Lagden says. "We will challenge ourselves to be present and heroic in action.”
Course: Tap Dance
Professor: Germaine Salsberg, NYU Steinhardt Music and Performing Arts Professions
There are times when innovating means recalibrating. Germaine Salsberg, a renowned tap dancer and teacher, recently needed to alter her traditional tap courses based on the finite space her students found themselves in at home. Rather than see those spatial restrictions as limitations, she shifted the course's focus from big movements to honing accuracy.
Salsberg found videos of dancers utilizing 4'x4' floor, and took the idea to her students. “We have to change our way of thinking," she told them of the new parameters. "It makes you feel different and it makes you dance different, and it gives you a bit more accuracy." The result, says Salsberg, has actually amplified her students' appetite for tap. "As long as we find a way to make it possible," she says, "they’re dancing away."
Course: Special Effects Makeup, NYU Tisch Open Arts
Professor: Robert Benevides, Area Head of Special FX Makeup
Professor Rob Benevides faced a unique problem when his special effects makeup classes moved to remote learning in March. Used to the intimate instruction he could provide in the workshop at 721 Broadway, he wondered how he would teach students the sculpture and makeup skills they need to create vampires, goblins, dragons, skeletons, and fairies. Plus, how would they get all the brushes, paints, and clay?
With some quick thinking and creativity, Benevides curated personalized makeup kits for students by pulling together classroom materials and microwaving individual portions of clay. He then mailed the rejiggered kits to students or met them on the street for a no-contact handover. And to counteract the limitations of WiFi dropouts and overloaded servers, Benevides also filmed high resolution tutorials (above), which echo popular DIY YouTube videos this generation of students has used for years. Thus, Zoom has remained a feature but not the focus of his remote classes. Next up? Benevides plans to mail summer session students mini tripods and attachment ring lights for their phones to allow for better visibility and closeups of student work during class time.
Course: Steps Rhythm and Movement: Hip Hop
Professor: Alan Watson, Tisch School of the Arts
Guest instructor Miki Tuesday recently stopped by Alan Watson's hip hop class to teach students "waacking," a dance style typically performed to 70s disco music and distinguishable by its rotational arm movements. Waacking was selected over other styles because the arm motions are extremely conducive to remote instruction—students only need to use their upper body—and Watson mixed the audio live to a pre-curated playlist to ensure Miki could effortlessly move from demonstration to corrections to conversation.
"The course has always been a hybrid between dance steps and their context. It now includes more discussion and lectures about context, and any dances we study are going to be approached as the best way to learn remotely. We focused primarily on the signature upper body movements of the dance to accommodate each students varied spaces, and we've also learned the power of having multiple devices zooming in to get better audio and angles.
"I've never had a class with better discussion. Going online has helped student engagement in the more academic aspects of this course, and I'm very pleased with how the students are adapting. This week I've sent them a "digital dance class" to try at home, and we'll be discussing the experience and building on the choreography as we go."
Course: Foundations of Music Education
Professor: Klára Boudalová, NYU Prague
"Each student was asked to connect with their local community to find something beneficial that can be done through music. There are a lot of people that need help, and I want them to plan a project relevant to the current situation. My students can choose how they approach this—for example, they can teach kids how to make homemade instruments out of pots or other materials, and to compose music. Students are researching what is out there, such as online apps to help you learn music, and everyone is recording videos and reacting.
The students have a lot more academic responsibility now—originally they would have developed their projects with me present, guiding them in their lessons, but now they have to respond on their own. I have one-on-one mentoring sessions with them to track their process.
As her course project for this class, one of my wonderful students, Valesca Gongora, created an online choir and together they recorded a song dedicated to health care workers. It is called 'Shed a Little Light' by James Taylor, and it's amazing, touching, emotional, and inspiring."
Course: Introduction to Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Professor: Marci Levine, NYU College of Dentistry
With patient care temporarily suspended at the College of Dentistry, faculty are using creative approaches to help students build their clinical skills from afar. Luckily, the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery had a head start.
"We were well positioned for remote learning because, for the past few years, we have had our second year dental students role-play and record their best applications of patient communication and demonstrate techniques related to local anesthesia and extractions—rather than first practicing them in a clinical setting. Instead of students working in person in small groups, we modified the exercise to accommodate social distancing, with students recording themselves at home. Students were encouraged to be creative and some have role played with immediate family members, and others with stuffed animals.
"Other parts of the oral surgery curriculum have been recreated with a combination of online live lectures, interactive small study groups, and independent study opportunities. But the role play exercise has been invaluable given the current situation—something we could not have anticipated when we first developed it."
“Video Sculpture is an installation art course where students create sculptures that move, react, or interact with the viewer. One surprise about going online was that I could demonstrate video mapping using the actual faces of the students who were online watching the course. I grabbed the video signal from the students' faces and mapped it to a physical structure and then showed them the process using my webcam.”
Experience: "While COVID-19 has created many challenges, it has also created new teaching opportunities. My agriculture course traditionally takes place at the NYU Urban Farm Lab—an outdoor classroom, research lab, and community farm. On the farm, students learn to grow, care for, and harvest seasonal edible crops in an urban environment. Since students are now no longer able to harvest crops together in person, I’ve reworked the course so that they can farm at home. Students will explore how to propagate plants from vegetables or vegetable scraps they already have in their kitchens. They will also learn how to pickle and can vegetables at home for preservation. Finally, for the students’ final projects, they will design a self sustaining garden at their homes. This can be done in their backyard, on a terrace, roof, or an indoor hydroponics setup if they don't have an outdoor space. We’re hoping to help create the next generation of homesteaders!
In addition to growing, managing, and preserving crops, we’ll be looking at the history and future of urban agriculture. In the course, we have already covered the past 100 years, learning about its ebbs and flows. The students learned that urban agriculture is usually pushed or supported by local government, federal government, or grassroots organizations during times of crisis. We are now in a crisis. With certain considerations in mind, I’ll be pushing my students to project if there will be another rise in urban agriculture—especially with the fear of food shortages and another recession.”
Course: Reporting the Nation & New York
Professor: Yvonne Latty, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
The class quickly shifted focus this semester as COVID-19 spread. Students went from writing about a range of topics to learning how to report on a pandemic in real time, while also becoming adept at how to overcome unexpected challenges and safety issues—lessons that will serve them well in their careers.
"As soon as the crisis began in NYC, they started reporting," says Latty. "I worked with our webmaster to get a site up quickly to host the work, and every day I have been working with them on stories and they keep filing. I am so proud of them and truly believe this is the best of NYU Journalism—fearless inspired reporters, pushing through so many obstacles."
The students' stories are chronicled on this website, and cover topics including the dwindling of NYC tourism, lockdowns across the country, and the struggles of the service industry.
Course: General Chemistry II & Laboratory—a class with 411 students(!)—normally held in the Skirball Performing Arts Center.
Professor: John Michael Halpin, Faculty of Arts and Science
“For that first lecture on Zoom, I pretty much just used the same presentation that I would have used in Skirball. That is, a presentation of lecture “slides,” with illustrations, photos, and short videos embedded within it. I also use a lot of props (e.g., my calendar book often flies across the stage to represent an errant molecule or atom) and body movements (I can bend and stretch like a chemical bond), and so the ability of the students to see me is always a component of the presentation. I also accept questions during the lectures and use “clickers” to ask the students questions and to motivate them to talk to each other—at selected moments during class. Zoom either has the ability to include all of these, or at least has similar capabilities.
In using Zoom, something that was an unexpected benefit of going online was that I sat with a whiteboard behind me and was able to hand draw a graph at an appropriate moment—which I can never do in Skirball. I know that Zoom also has the ability to allow the students to ask questions and that it has a polling feature. I plan to use those in the future. What I didn't expect was that the students used the Zoom “chat” feature to ask questions of each other throughout. A colleague who sat in on the lecture commented that the chat messages were on topic and quite insightful.”
Course: Community Health Nursing
Professor: Stacen Keating, NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing
Soon-to-be-nurses in the Community Health Nursing course—made up of 222 graduating seniors—participated in a design thinking project, which focused on creating solutions related to four well-known public health crises: separation at the border, the Flint water crisis, Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricane Maria.
The students tackled these problems in a Zoom hackathon, where outside guests with expertise in public health, epidemiology, and design thinking joined to hear their innovations and provide feedback. Students then debriefed together and worked the feedback into updated prototypes.
“It was a huge success and seeing what the student groups designed as solutions brought up a range of emotions for me, knowing that through this pandemic and uncertainty, they were able to follow the remote assignment guidelines without a glitch. The students were also able to focus, apply their collective knowledge, and come up with the most professional, heartfelt, and creative solutions. I am proud of our students who are graduating soon and entering a world of uncertainty beyond what we have ever known,” said Keating.
Course: The Age of Listening at NYU Gallatin
Professor: Ben Ratliff, visiting assistant professor and former music critic at The New York Times
For Gallatin students studying the act of listening—and how to write about it—COVID-19 has audibly shifted their experience. Stay-at-home mandates have quieted city streets, encouraging a different kind of listening.“We’re focusing on the subject of listening to music, but we’re also opening it out to listen to the environment and listen to one another,” says professor and music critic Ben Ratliff.
As more journalists have responded to those auditory changes, including Lindsay Zoladz for The New York Times and Ruth Saxelby for NPR, Ratliff saw an opportunity. He incorporated their reflections into the class, asking students to read and discuss their articles in real time. He even invited Ruth to speak to his students via Zoom. “She was really great," says Ratliff. "She grasped the strengths and limitations of the medium and she was able to deliver her thoughts in an engaging way.”
Course: In with the Old, Out with the New: Debates on Tradition in Western Music, which surveys some of the most dynamic debates on music’s past, theorists, critics, artists, and audiences as preserved in historical literature.
Professor: Kwami T. Coleman, Gallatin School of Individualized Study
“The major adaptation is in the realm of playing class audio and video. One of the cool functions embedded [in Zoom] is that it allows me (and all users) to share their screen, which allows me to have media files in separate windows that can be shown/played and there's still a floating window with my face in it where I can provide commentary.
One surprising thing about going online is students' willingness to "show up" and be attentive and engaged. Strange to instruct a class that looks like the opening credits of the Brady Bunch though.”
Course: The Politics of New York
Professsor: Mitchell Moss, professor at NYU Wagner and affiliated professor at NYU Tandon
The coronavirus epidemic provides a way to understand the role of the mayor and governor in a crisis and how the closing of the city's economic and cultural life has led to the loss of jobs and threatens its city's future. Participation through Zoom is often better than in-class attendance.
"We connect students with NYC even though they are located miles away. NYU undergraduates learn how New York City has experienced disasters over the past two centuries, whether from disease, terrorism, or financial crisis."
With more than 50 students located across the U.S. as well as in Europe and Asia, we explore how this has transformed the relationship between New York City and the rest of the nation. In this course, offered through NYU Wagner and the Metropolitan Studies Program of the College of Arts & Science, students learn about the stress on hospitals and health care workers and the communities where coronavirus deaths are concentrated. Students are able to share their ideas and insights through the chat function of Zoom as the lectures unfold, illustrated with up-to-the-minute charts and graphics.
Confronting COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails
Course: Mass Incarceration—Implications for Social Work Practice
Professor: Kirk (Jae) James, clinical assistant professor, Silver School of Social Work
"Without knowledge, action is useless, and knowledge without action is futile." –Abu Bakr As-Siddiq
"My Zoom online course at the Silver School of Social Work examines ‘mass incarceration.’ Our syllabus—which could not have been more timely—begs the question: What has social work done to fight this human rights abuse? However, prior to the class, a brave student emailed and asked if we could also discuss our final assignment—a ‘praxis project’ which asks students to utilize the knowledge gained from the class toward an action (social media advocacy, educational literacy, interventions, etc.) that could benefit a population of their choice impacted by carceral systems. The student argued that with the onset of COVID-19, where much debate rages on what to do with vulnerable people in jail and prison, we could not afford to wait another two weeks to begin this conversation. We had a great class in which we began to formulate ways in which we could support various movements locally, nationally, and globally that are working to ensure the safety of vulnerable people in jails and prisons during the COVID-19 outbreak. We decided also to use social media to connect and invite activists and organizations to partake in portions of our class and share with us their work and the ways in which we can support it. I am super proud of my students for showing up during an unprecedented moment in the arc of history—and for their commitment to vanguard social work’s organizing value of ‘social justice’ and dignity for all people.”
Course: Economic Policy Analysis
Professor: Gernot Wagner, associated clinical professor, NYU Wagner; clinical associate professor, Department of Environmental Studies, College of Arts and Science
"Sharing 800 square feet with my spouse and two children—well, the past few weeks have been...interesting.
There are lots of fun parts of teaching a class from home—and not just my six-year-old making a quick cameo during one of our class discussions in my NYU Wagner Economic Policy Analysis course. At one point, for example, I preempted a planned midterm and designed the entire exam around a benefit-cost analysis of whether to shut down New York City the next morning, Friday, March 13. In short: yes, and it was instructive for all, students and instructor, to see this scenario play itself out over the subsequent week.
Holding class discussions online has also made it easy to tap into lots of different perspectives. We had Professor Chad Briggs from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, join one of our classes to discuss disaster planning and risk assessment lessons from his experience in the intelligence community. It's one thing to discuss risk and uncertainty for climate change in the abstract, where things might play out over decades and centuries. It's another to live through it within the course of days and weeks during this pandemic – and have class discussions reflect that new reality."