Preserving Synchronicity when Teaching Remotely: 15.S08 and 15.230
Student participation is integral to the classroom experience. This is especially true in two Sloan courses – 15.S08, FinTech: Shaping the Financial World, and 15.230, Public Policy and Private Sector – taught by Professors Gary Gensler & Simon Johnson. When transitioning these courses to Zoom, Gensler wished to preserve the immediacy and connection of a synchronous experience. He created a series of ‘Zoom Etiquette’ guidelines to set expectations of in-class student behavior.
To establish a sense of community, Gensler starts his classes with a short interlude welcoming students. He scans Zoom for imaginative backgrounds in order to call out and appreciate student creativity.
Gensler, in accord with MIT Sloan norms, requests that students keep their video enabled during class as a way to enhance a sense of community and support engagement. If someone has disabled their video, Gensler may politely remind them, reinforcing the message that everyone in class is a potential participant.
Gensler also recognizes the complex realities that his students are dealing with when learning at home. He establishes a safe atmosphere of acceptance of the unavoidable interruptions of roommates, family, children, and pets.
When participating in class discussions, students use Zoom’s ‘raise hand’ feature. TAs monitor the list of raised hands, call on students, and help guide the flow of class. If there are no self-initiated raised hands, Prof Gensler or one of the TAs will politely ‘cold call’ class participants, again reinforcing active engagement.
Students are also encouraged to use Zoom’s chat feature to comment and engage their peers during class. Gensler and his staff monitor the thread for insights and questions that add to the class discussion.
In addition to establishing behavioral norms, Gensler weaves issues of professionalism, ethics, and integrity into his core class curriculum. By presenting an array of foundational concepts, Gensler makes the connection between his students’ current engagement and values to their future professional outcomes.
Creating connection with students
To help build a sense of community before the transition to remote teaching, Prof Gensler met weekly with small groups of eight students for informal lunches. When all activities moved online, Gensler continued Zoom lunches with his students. As demand grew even stronger, he extended lunches to twice a week.
Canvas used for slides and videos
Gensler uses Canvas for his class materials, posting slides the night before class and video recordings within 2-3 hours after class.
A cohesive community in and out of class
Prof Gensler has recreated a multi-faceted cohesive community online and has normalized active student engagement in a remote setting. Beyond the ‘classroom,’ Gensler maintains connections and sustains community through social luncheon gatherings. By setting the expectation for professional standards of engagement and participation, Gensler has achieved a vibrant synchronous learning experience within a remote teaching environment.