Language Classes Taught From Afar Via Webcam; Two Teachers Saddled With Visa Issues Until Oct.

Students in Gongming Yan’s Chinese classes interact with their new teacher, answer his questions and participate in class discussion. But Yan is over 6,700 miles away in China. As two Instructors in Language face issues with their visas, their respective classes will be taught via web cam or by a different teacher until October 1. According to Peter Merrill, Chair of the World Language Department, extra security delayed the visa process, preventing Yan, Instructor in Chinese, and Cesar Moreno, Instructor in Spanish, from teaching in the United States until October 1. In order to allow Yan to still teach classes, the Chinese Department worked with the Technology Office to create a videoconference class located in the Unobsky Room in Samuel Phillips Hall. Yan is currently teaching four Chinese classes via web cam from his apartment in Beijing. According to Merrill, the videoconference technology was a relatively low-cost endeavor. Yan’s classes are conducted using three webcams, two laptops and two conference phones. The technology runs on a program called WebX, which allows students to see both Yan’s image and his computer screen. Yan said that before the school year started, he practiced using the program and teaching via video with the other Chinese teachers. “I find it challenging managing a couple of screens, because you can only enlarge one screen at a time,” said Yan. Yan also noted the lack of a microphone at the whiteboard, making it difficult to perform skits and forcing students to return to the table to ask questions. However, Yan said that the audio quality was “great,” and that in teaching Chinese, speaking is more important that seeing. Ben Elder ’09, one of Yan’s students, said that the class is “really cool, especially because it has never been done before.” “It is a little difficult to get used to, because the teacher isn’t in the room…it feels like a tenuous connection,” continued Elder Kevin Qian ’11, another student of Yan’s, said, “It is an interesting and innovative idea if a teacher isn’t able to come to class physically, but I would prefer to have a face-to-face class.” Yan said, “The first day, there was a little confusion, but I hope by the end of the first week it will be like regular teaching.” In order to make sure that all technology functions properly and that students focus in class, a member of the Chinese Department will always be in the classroom. The Spanish Department asked returning faculty members to teach Moreno’s eight classes, ranging from Spanish 100 to Spanish 520, until October 1. Moreno’s work visa does not permit him to begin teaching until October 1. Moreno, who previously taught Spanish at Harvard College, lives in the Boston area, and has been sitting in and observing his future classes. “I am very excited to start classes because it’s better than just sitting in the class and seeing others do your work. It makes you feel a little guilty,” Moreno said. “I’m trying to be [on campus and in the classroom] to make the change as smooth as possible.”