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Class Connections

Face-to-face classes are about to look really different

By Nahla El Gendy, as told by AUC faculty

Jillian Campana, theatre professor and associate dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences 

For over 20 years, I sought to avoid online teaching and even hybrid course design. Learning and teaching are more than the transfer of knowledge. They are about falling deeply in love with a subject matter, research question, theory or practice. They involve a reciprocal relationship between educator and students in which together they question ideas, discover approaches and solve problems. This is really difficult to accomplish via an online platform or email correspondence. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures are currently citing high levels of isolation, and most of us are less connected to people outside of our bubble. Without the ability to establish new relationships, we are not challenged to understand perspectives other than our own.

For this reason, I believe that when we are able to return to face-to-face educational experiences, there will be a surge in pedagogical trends that seek to connect students and honor dialog and experiential educational practices.

Students have missed the classroom. Teachers have missed the classroom. We will all be grateful to resume study in a space together, and out of this gratitude will come innovation.

At the same time, problems generally lead to creative solutions and groundbreaking discoveries. In our current situation, students and teachers are at the forefront of such problem solving because we have a finite time, typically four years, to work and learn together, and so we need to make the most out of remote and hybrid study. Many professors are learning to use and incorporate technology into their courses better, and these tools will remain a steady part of our classes even after we return to campus, connecting older faculty to the younger generation who rely on technology. Students are reaching out to their instructors more for informal conversations. I have had many individual Zoom meetings and phone calls with students — an example of how individualized instruction will forge lasting connections.

As a professor of theatre, remote work has been a unique challenge but also an opportunity to transform and invent new forms and make new connections.

We have had masterclasses through Zoom with distinguished artists living abroad like Yussef El Guindi, and we held a playwriting event last spring in which almost 100 students, faculty and alumni submitted original plays. These events would not have happened if we had not been craving creative outlets.

Of course, theatre relies on the relationship between artist and spectator, in much the same way that a classroom relies on the connection between student and teacher. It is the very energy in the space and the way the emotions and ideas spread from performer to audience that make the medium of theatre powerful. We simply cannot bring an audience into an enclosed space these days, so rather than change the discipline, we are making use of different types of performance venues and audience engagement techniques.

AUC’s Spring 2021 play, Msh Zanbek, formerly titled You, W-Ana Too, is an outdoor site-specific performance in which five original short plays will be performed in five different outdoor locations. Small audience groups of approximately 10-15 people will watch each play (masked) and then follow a student guide to the next outdoor location to watch the next play. In this way, audiences will rotate through all five plays, watching the stories unfold. Since the topic of the play is sexual harassment, I am particularly interested in how conversations between audience members will unfold as they walk together to the next performance. The experience will be more interactive than a traditional play and will hopefully spur change and dialogue. Without the current restrictions on public gatherings, this performance would have been held in the Malak Gabr Arts Theater or The Gerhart Theater. As comforting and easy as that would have been, it is incredibly exciting to come up with an unusual and new approach to making and viewing a play.

I believe that out of this very difficult time will come a stronger, more connected and more innovative educational community.

Ahmed Tolba ’97, ’01, associate professor of marketing

Can the COVID-19 pandemic produce positive consequences? Can we look at the glass half-full?

I believe we can, particularly in the education field.

Since March 2020, faculty members have passed through three phases. First, there was the “panic” phase, whereby all what we hoped for was to save the semester. Then we experienced the “adaptability” phase, where we gained confidence in delivering online courses, albeit with a few reservations and still with a hope to return back to campus. Finally, we are passing through the “new normal” phase, where we hope to maximize the use of the effective online tools to complement face-to-face instruction.

In my opinion, the new normal in education should include more hybrid models. Students should be able to attend synchronous classes on-campus and online. This should attract international students to join programs and courses without travel. The new normal will involve more use of technology and more reliance on experiential learning in class to complement online learning tools. This will avail more time for interaction and practical applications, which, in turn, should raise the quality of education.

It is up to us to look at the glass half-full. Let’s capitalize on a crisis to build a better future!

Hamed Shamma ’99, ’02, associate professor of marketing and BP Endowed Chair at AUC’s School of Business

COVID-19 has been a significant disruptor to our lives — probably the most considerable one we have faced so far. It has forced us to change how we do everything. In education, it has forced us to go online. We never thought or believed that being online would be as good as face-to-face instruction. But I have to say that online learning opened up new avenues that we never realized until we actually experienced it.

Going online made me question: Are we really making the best use of our face-to-face classes? If most of what we do in class can be done over Zoom — this is the case in my marketing classes; it may differ for sciences or other disciplines — then what should we offer in face-to-face classes? It made me challenge myself and think that I need to bring learning to a new level once we are back on campus. 

Going online provided an easier connection with practitioners, consumers and businesses from Egypt and worldwide. If we need to connect with any stakeholder, it is much easier than we thought. With a click on a Zoom link, we are all together in class. This is obviously convenient for everyone. It also allowed us to better communicate with students, who realized that it is easy to talk and have a video call with professors, colleagues and other entities outside of class time. This was formerly limited to office hours on campus, but now, this can virtually happen at any point in time.

We have realized the benefits of online learning, but we have also realized that 100% online is just not the best experience.

Once the pandemic starts to diminish to safe levels for us to go back to campus, I am sure we will do things differently. Here is what I will do:

1. Less explanation of concepts and more engagement with students in class 

2. More open-book exams

3. Regularly connecting with other students, marketing practitioners and consumers in different parts of the world to augment the practical learning experience and international exposure

We have always been talking about blended learning. We can no longer depend on 100% face to face nor 100% online. A mix of both tools will be the way forward. 

Education is changing for good. This disruption will force educators to change their learning methodologies and use a mix of tools to provide students with the best learning experience. The future of education will definitely be more exciting than it currently is.

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