Sustaining Connections With and Between Students Spotlight #2

Faculty Info

Name: Benny Ng
Academic Program: Chemistry
Average Number of students per section: 24
Featured Course:

  • Chem121L – General Chemistry 1 Lab

Had you taught online prior to the rapid shift to virtual instruction in response to COVID-19? 

No, not until March 2020

What practice or technique have you implemented in your course?

I created a welcome video featuring rapper Snoop Dogg to engage my students to read the course syllabus. A student posted my video on her Twitter account and it went viral (over 5.3M views in her tweets and another 5M views on different media such as Instagram, Reddit, NBC News, TMZ news, etc.) 

Benny Ng | CSU Channel Islands

Why did you choose this approach?

The main purpose of making this video is to address the current learning dynamics. In the face-to-face setting, it’s easier for instructors to engage our students with live demonstrations, theatrical acts, storytelling, small group activities, etc.. Students may not have had a positive experience in the Spring 2020 semester with the sudden change from face-to-face instruction to virtual instruction. Additionally, students may feel that they are working alone in the dark because they see a bunch of black name cards in Zoom (no camera-on, no profile picture) in the remote online environment.

I wanted to change their mindset in Fall 2020 because Spring 2020 was in a survival mode. Therefore, I tried to find a way to reach out to my students before the first day of class so that they knew Fall 2020 is in a THRIVE mode of remote teaching. If I can capture their excitement at the beginning of a new semester that can last throughout the semester. And that’s why I decided to make a welcome video. 

The theme of the video is about the syllabus because it’s often the first document students receive from their teachers. Yet, it is also the most overlooked document by students. As a first-gen college student at UCLA with an immigrant background, I did not know what the syllabus was about. As I become a professor, we spend a lot of time crafting the “perfect” syllabus that students don’t read. I wanted to change my students’ mindset because a welcoming syllabus sets the tone and expectations for the class. My students now know what we need to do together to have a successful teaching and learning journey together.        

A welcoming syllabus includes not only the content that students will learn, but also the key information such as a diversity statement, accommodation arrangement, preferred communication method and expected response time, student support services, etc. This key information is very crucial in the syllabus because I didn’t know of the student support services available when I was a student. Our student population is so diverse that we as instructors need to explicitly list out those services to help our students succeed in school. While my syllabus may be overwhelming to some, it’s absolutely crucial component for the course.

When courses resume on our physical campus, will this practice transfer to your in-person classes? If so, why?

Yes, the welcome video is a good way to start bonding with students, and they need to read the course syllabus. 

What’s your advice to EDUCATORS preparing for a virtual Spring 2021?

I would recommend teaching our students how to study in an online environment. For example, focus on one study skill per week for your students to implement and reflect. We want our students to be lifelong learners, but we have to teach them how to study effectively and efficiently. Don’t assume students have the necessary study skills, time management skills, technical skills, and discipline knowledge for your class, especially in a virtual/remote learning environment. Many students have a difficult time balancing their work and classes. Be open to give students extensions for assignments during this difficult period.

What’s your advice to STUDENTS preparing for a virtual Spring 2021?

Be flexible and open-minded to try new study techniques.  Students will need to learn a new set of study skills for online learning. It’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, they will be ready and successful in learning whether in the classroom or virtual. This will make them competitive in the real world. I told my students that most of my professional trainings are online, and online training will only become more common. Therefore, the sooner they adopt, the better they will be for the future.

Students should allocate sufficient time for each online class. They should create a weekly schedule themselves for watching lecture videos, participating in discussions, and completing assignments. The time should be at least the same as in a face-to-face class. Virtual classes do not mean “easy” classes. They have the same rigor as the face-to-face classes.

Which 3 resources and/or tools do you consider essential to effective virtual instruction?

To make a good video for any purpose

  1. Hardware: Camera, Lighting & Microphone – A camera or phone should be able to record 4K at 30 frames per seconds (fps). You may even need 60 fps or higher depending on what you want to show your students.I purchased two LEDs light panels and daylight light bulbs to get sufficient lighting for filming. A good microphone would help minimize any post-production editing. Sometimes, you can’t even fix the audio if it’s bad.    
  2. Video editing software – Camtasia, Adobe Premiere Pro, etc. I am still new in video editing, but it’s crucial to learn how to use them to get what you need. 
  3. Videos from TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram – I watched videos to learn what’s trending in making videos and how to make some cool videos that students like.  

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