Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Some students taking Zoom lectures from home — or aren't taking classes at all — are planning to return to Ithaca for the spring semester.

April 8, 2020

Cornell’s New Zoom Campus: How Faculty is Using Video to Replicate the Lecture Hall

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In the past three weeks, professors in every field of study have explored the ins-and-outs of Zoom in an attempt to provide a world-class education from their living rooms.

Despite the unprecedented nature of the spring 2020 semester, professors are hoping the video conferencing platform can help create a virtual learning experience that allows students to continue their Cornell education from afar.

Prof. Darrell Schlom, industrial chemistry, quickly jumped on the Zoom bandwagon.

“I think the best help we can give our students today is to keep the doors open to learning and so that’s what I am trying to do,” Schlom said. “That’s the way I can contribute to today’s situation.”

To better prepare for the rest of the semester, Schlom held optional Zoom classes during the three week recess.

“24 kids regularly show up on the Zoom call for the optional class. That’s allowed me to perfect my delivery on Zoom because I made lots of mistakes. I knew it would take some time to learn,” Schlom said.

Professors have aimed to recreate as much of a typical learning environment as possible, while still accommodating students’ unique circumstances. With just a few clicks, students are dropped into virtual classrooms where they can see and hear their professors and fellow students.

For chemical engineering major Kaleigh Soucy ’23, real-time Zoom lectures have closely mimicked in-person classes.

“I do like how you can pause recorded lectures and really digest things, but I’m so used to lecture-style classes that I kind of like the live aspect of it and how you can ask questions during it,” Soucy said.

Prof. Aoise Stratford, performing and media arts, is excited to see how Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature — which splits a class into smaller groups — can help students in her multidisciplinary class, PMA 2620: Performing Death and Desire: Vampires on Stage and Screen, develop their ideas.

“A lot of [the] class structure is really about workshopping and sharing each other’s work, and it’s a really intimate process and requires us all to really work together a lot,” Stratford said. “[Using breakout rooms], I can easily jump in and out between the groups really quickly so I can kind of get a sense of the discussion.”

Other professors have found non-verbal ways to collaborate with students in real time, including using screen sharing function and annotating features on Zoom.

“I let the students show their thoughts by annotating my slides, which is fun. I have a thoughtful question for them and then they can circle or scribble — it’s anonymous. It’s kind of my feedback mechanism,” explained Schlom. “Trying to get them all to talk at the same time is impossible – but they can scribble at the same time.”

Prof. Stratford also highlighted the screen sharing function, which she says is almost like a virtual blackboard.

“[It] allows people to brainstorm in really creative ways — literally writing with our fingers on the same document at the same time,” Stratford said. “I think that’s going to be pretty interesting and weird and fun.”

While some are clinging to technology to stay connected while isolated, others are looking at the silver lining of new opportunities that online learning can provide.

“I’ll probably get one of my kids to dress up like a vampire,” joked Stratford, alluding to the focus of her class. “It’s a little reminder that we’re all in the weeds together. We’re all at home … and I’m looking forward to the intimacy. If they’re going to be in my house they might as well meet my kids and my dog!”