Campus & community, Campus news

How UC Berkeley has improved remote instruction

By Ivan Natividad

Campus academic leaders joined Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos Wednesday to discuss what remote instruction will look like in the fall. (UC Berkeley video)

When UC Berkeley pivoted to remote instruction in the middle of the spring semester due to the pandemic, the abrupt transition from in-person to remote learning left some students disoriented and in need of help.

As the coronavirus pandemic continued, Berkeley’s leaders realized there was a good chance another semester of remote learning might be required. In response, they spent the summer developing better practices for remote instruction.

Those improvements were discussed by academic leaders Wednesday during the second discussion in a series of Campus Conversations that address the effect of Berkeley’s recent decision to begin the fall semester with remote instruction.

“This is not going to be a regular semester,” said engineering professor Oliver O’Reilly, who is also chair of Berkeley’s division of the Academic Senate. “It will be challenging, it will be difficult, but I also feel we’re better prepared for the possibilities that will happen.”

The hour-long discussion included O’Reilly, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division Lisa García Bedolla, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos, and Dean of Undergraduate Studies Bob Jacobsen.

This summer, instructors have taken the time to address student concerns, and will look to make exams and lectures more accessible by offering asynchronous time options for students with shifting schedules, O’Reilly said. Some lectures will also be recorded so students can watch on their own schedules.

Faculty will also attempt to base final grades on several lower-stake exams and assignments, as opposed to just a few high-stake assessments, said O’Reilly.

Bedolla said that the move to remote instruction in the spring highlighted the inequity of technological resources present in the student population. Students without the proper technology for remote learning in the fall can access the Berkeley Student Technology Equity Program (STEP), a student led program that has budgeted more than $4 million to provide lap tops and hot spots to students in need.

The Basic Needs Center also deserves credit for how they came together for undergraduate students and graduate students to identify student needs in real time,” said Bedolla. “We’re appreciating those relationships and we need to continue those collaborations moving forward.”

Jacobsen said high-level lab work in the fall will not be possible for most students. Academic departments, however, are committed to finding other ways to help students progress toward their degrees at an appropriate rate.

When asked about when campus will be open to in-person instruction again, Alivisatos said it is possible for students to come back sometime in the fall but it depends on the spread of COVID-19.

“There is a way for us together, to keep public health moving in a good direction,” said Alivisatos. “For our whole society we have to find a way to beat the virus and advance and move along and not have it completely set us all the way back. We can do that together.”