Remote Teaching Case Studies: Tiancheng Wang, School of Classics

Tiancheng Wang is a postgraduate MPhil student here at the School of Classics in St Andrews and our next interviewee in our series on remote teaching and learning. Tiancheng was relieved when we switched to teaching online in March because his family at home in China were (understandably!) quite worried about how the pandemic might unfold here in the U.K. He also tells us that he had, and still has, confidence in the University’s capability to switch to online teaching and to carry it out successfully.  He describes how you need to be more disciplined when learning a language online (Latin, in his case) and how he has built a great online relationship with his supervisor. His one piece of advice? Try not to be overwhelmed by the news and keep talking to your friends.  Doing research can be a lonely process and talking with friends is one of the really nice things that you can do online. All in all, Tiancheng thought that it really wasn’t so bad being holed up in a small room with Cicero and all those clever Romans!

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I’m a postgraduate research (MPhil) student in the School of Classics. It’s a two-year programme and I am in my first year.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your study habits before the Covid-19 outbreak? What did you use until now?

I already had access to many online resources while doing my research, such as the digital Loeb Classical Library, but I had no experience of online classes.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching, learning, and study was moving online?

I was quite relieved because my family at home in China were quite worried. I was feeling increasingly nervous about the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.K. and I thought that learning at home would certainly reduce the risks. I did not worry too much about learning online because my friends back in China had been having online classes for two months. I had confidence in the University’s capability to switch to online teaching and to carry it out successfully.

How do you manage the process of learning and studying online?

I had three modules this semester. Themes and Methods in Classical Research (CL5002) and Roman History and Material Culture (CL5112) were delivered through Panopto recordings and Teams discussions. Before each class we read the materials, watched the recordings and wrote blog posts on the topics we were studying. Elementary Latin 2 (LT1002) was taught on Teams four times a week. Of course, more self-discipline was needed when it comes to learning a language online. I did not feel very differently while writing my essays, probably because I secured most of the physical books that I needed before the Library building shut-down. Many resources were also available online. I had regular Teams meetings with my supervisor while writing my essays.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about the way you approach your study? Did you make any changes to your study habits?

I already had access to many online resources, and I am okay with online classes. Other than that I don’t think my study habits have changed too much.

In general, how has your student experience of learning and studying online been?

In general, the student experience was good, but I must admit that Teams connection was not always great, probably due to the poor network in the area that I lived in. Mostly I could only hear the voices without seeing the teachers’ faces, but that was enough for most of my classes.

How has your experience of lectures, seminars, and tutorials (if you have them) been?

I found the seminars via Teams meetings not very different from the normal ones, but when some seminars (not many!) were carried out entirely in written forms, lack of interaction became a problem even though the teachers replied elaborately to our blogs and Teams messages. My Latin classes were taught four times a week. The interactions were good, but still not as effective as in normal classes.

You are a Masters student at the School of Classics. Which technologies or online resources have you found especially practically useful for studying Classics in particular?

I found several online resources very helpful while writing my essays. The most useful resource is of course the Loeb Classical Library,  where I can have access to most ancient texts; I found the online texts even more useful than the print books because I can search for the keywords. For example, with a single keyword I can know almost everything in Cicero’s letters about his new estate in Puteoli. I also used the Digital Prosopography of the Roman Republic, and Coinage of the Roman Republic Online for numismatics. I had these websites open almost all day long.

What has been your experience of having supervision online been?

It has been excellent. I have had regular meetings and supervisions for my essays and have built a great online relationship with my supervisor Dr. Nicolas Wiater in the School of Classics.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own student experience of learning and studying online?

Try not to be overwhelmed by the news! I think that it is important to read less news and talk to more people. For a week or so last semester, I found it difficult to concentrate on my work because of all the disturbing news coming through. Finally I decided to stop reading the news and to talk to my friends about more cheerful things. Doing research is a lonely process, especially when everything has moved online. Disturbing news makes one feel even more lonely and helpless, but talking to nice, real people reminds one of the positive aspects of this world.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

It really was not too bad to stay in a small room with Cicero and all those intelligent Romans!

‘Live from the Hive’ in July

Live from the Hive continues next week, with two exciting sessions:

Monday 6 July at 14:00 BST

Jennifer Hamrick from Digital Communications talks about making web content accessible.

> Join event

Wednesday 8 July at 14:00 BST

Jennifer Taylorson, Director of Teaching in the International Education Institute, will share the St Andrews Good Practice in Online Teaching Guide – a current collaborative development.

> Join event

Recordings from previous Live in the Hive sessions (login required):

Prof Paul Hibbert: Delivering Teaching in Different Modes
Prof Kirstie Ball: Creating an engaging dual mode learning journey

Access and join the Hive.

Remote Teaching Case Studies: Raja Shah, School of Biology

Raja Shah is a fourth year student in Biochemistry on his placement year at the University of Edinburgh and we’re interviewing him about what it has been like studying remotely with St. Andrews. Raja has had a very positive experience with online learning and tells us that the supervision he has received from his supervisors in the School of Biology has been excellent. He didn’t doubt for a second that St Andrews had (and still has) the capacity to carry out online teaching successfully and to our usual high standards. Indeed, he thinks that all the resources that the University has put online since the pandemic broke out should be made available permanently. While he does occasionally miss face-to-face interaction, he thinks that our new way of doing things makes life a lot easier for our less physically able students who may not be able to attend university in person and he thinks that knowledge of how to use online resources makes students more employable.  The only major change has been to his study space. When the labs were all closed, and the libraries all shut, Raja had to adjust to working on his bed in his bedroom. But he did tell us that given the extraordinary context we were in, things could have been worse, and the only main challenge he faced was not falling asleep while working!

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I am currently in my fourth year at the University of St. Andrews studying the integrated Masters in Biochemistry. I am on a placement at Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw’s lab at the University of Edinburgh. I’m working on a dissertation on glycolysis in the cell.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your study habits before the Covid-19 outbreak? What did you use until now?

I think I used technology a fair bit before COVID-19. Most of my coursework throughout my university life was done on the computer using Microsoft Office. When completing my coursework I used online journal articles a lot. I could find and read most of them online quite easily. Some work also needed access to certain specialty websites such as the BRENDA database or ExPASy. We were also taught how to use specific software like PyMOL, R, and SigmaPlot, and we used these programmes quite regularly throughout our work. In fact, we had a whole module dedicated mostly to teaching us R. Another module had a heavy bioinformatics workload where we had to run sequence alignments using the BLAST alignment tool.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching, learning, and study was moving online?

I was not surprised. The pandemic made it a necessary step and I had heard that most universities were already moving their teaching to an online platform. I didn’t have any concerns. I thought that St Andrews clearly had (and still has) the capability to carry out online teaching successfully. I actually think that this should have been done years ago to make things easier for our less able students who may not be able to attend university in person. I think all of the online resources we now have should still be made available after the pandemic.

How do you manage the process of learning and studying online?

I managed quite well to be honest; it was not a very difficult change. My St.Andrews coursework during my year away in Edinburgh is conducted online anyway. There was no change on the lecture-front this year, since we had no lectures; the only true online learning we have done was online tutorials and all of these went smoothly. Lab work was all done on site here in Edinburgh, and coursework for St Andrews was uploaded on MMS as usual.

From time to time, I have missed face-to-face at St Andrews: I think there is a sort of personal element lost when speaking to someone online. However, at the end of the day, it isn’t so detrimental, and you just learn to get used to it.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about the way you approach your study? Did you make any changes to your study habits?

Not really, to both those questions. The way I study hasn’t changed a lot as even previously most of my work was done online – it was a minimal, if any, change for me. This year for me was very much lab based and again, we had no lectures and tutorials were all done online.

I would like to mention that my study space has been quite different. When I was working at St Andrews and the Library was open, I would usually spend hours there doing my coursework on the computer or studying my written lecture notes. However, since I am away in Edinburgh, before the pandemic I would usually work in the lab office because I had access to a desk which my house does not have. Since the labs closed, and the University of Edinburgh libraries are still all shut, I had to get used to working on my bed in my bedroom, which has been quite a change to working in the library. The main challenge is trying not to fall asleep!

In general, how has your student experience of learning and studying online been?

It has been really good, including before the pandemic broke out. We had good teachers showing us how to use the specific software or databases I mentioned above, and any issues were easily resolved. We had online quizzes for the Chemistry modules I took in first year and these only enhanced our learning. Online tutorials this year ran well too, and I think the School of Biology has done an excellent job of making sure that placement students get all the resources we need despite not being on site. In fact, the School has done a great job of teaching and supporting us in using online resources over all of the years that I have attended St Andrews. As time goes by, I’m realising just how beneficial this is proving to be since more and more workplaces are increasingly using special online programmes to carry out certain experiments and analyses.  Knowledge of how to use online resources therefore makes you more employable.

How has your experience of lectures, seminars, and tutorials (if you have them) been?

They have been great. I haven’t encountered any issues personally with my online tutorials. Supervision has been excellent and we use Teams and email to stay in touch regularly.

You are an undergraduate at the School of Biology. Which technologies or online resources have you found especially practically useful for studying Biology and Biochemistry in particular?

Statistics software R and SigmaPlot have made it easy for me to carry out statistics and enzyme kinetics work throughout my years studying Biochemistry. The BRENDA database is very helpful in learning about your protein or enzyme of interest and I use it a lot. Also, I took advantage of YouTube quite a bit in university: there are a lot of videos of people explaining concepts to you that you may not have understood before and some of them are great.

What has been your experience of having undergraduate supervision online been?

It has been a good experience. My supervisors have been great at being available via email or Microsoft Teams, and I can easily contact them whenever I want if I have a query or issue.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own student experience of learning and studying online?

Make sure to take frequent breaks in between studying as all those hours spent looking at the screen can give you eye strain and headaches as it has done me!

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

No, that’s all. Thank you.

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