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Sam Jiang headshot

My Perspective on the First Week of Online Classes

First-year MBA student Sam Jiang ’21 shares his experiences attending class and taking part in social events online during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sam Jiang headshot
Photo by Charlie Feng ’21

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all of Yale SOM’s classes are taking place online. Our core Global Virtual Teams course had only given us a small sample of remote online work, so I was curious about what this quarter had in store for us. Based on my first week on Zoom, while challenges are indeed aplenty, we’re off to a strong start.

Two of my (and many people’s) biggest initial concerns involved grading policies and the use of Zoom attention-tracking. They were quickly addressed, however, with the administration announcing a pass/fail grading policy (with no curve) for the entire quarter, and TAs reassuring us that the goal of attention-tracking was simply to encourage classroom participation, so switching out of Zoom to take notes or look something up was totally fine (and no, Dolores Umbridge doesn’t work here). Everybody was facing different time zone and logistical challenges, so the school and faculty wanted to be as accommodating as possible.

Our professors have been doing their best to craft enjoyable online classroom experiences. The How to Design and Run Business Experiments course made great use of Zoom by hosting live polls to drive interaction. Social Media Analytics resembled a Twitch livestream in terms of style, delivery, and engagement. Core courses like The Executive, The Innovator, and State and Society all made great use of small breakout rooms to boost student engagement. Moderators have helped by calling out raised hands and providing live technical support, and most of the professors have been happy to stay on after class to answer any lingering questions.

On the student side, I’ve seen an increase in classroom participation diversity. Psychological studies have shown public speaking to be America’s number-one fear, so it’s not surprising that students who were usually quiet during in-person classroom discussions would feel more comfortable speaking up from their bedroom, study, or poolside armchair. I think this development is one of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 situation, as it showcases the benefit of experimenting with different classroom formats. I’m sure that insights gained from this quarter will prove invaluable to further improving the Yale SOM curriculum (especially Global Virtual Teams).

One major challenge is keeping students engaged in class, given how concentration declines rapidly when we’re sitting in front of our screens for hours at a time. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for experimentation, and as we learned earlier in Managing Groups and Teams, the best way to come up with good ideas is to come up with many ideas.

The school is acutely aware that there is still much to be learn. This past Friday (March 27), the Academic Affairs and Student Life (AASL) department held a virtual panel to learn about student experiences over the first week. Chris Lash ’20 did an amazing job hosting the panel, consolidating opinions and asking for clarification, which our first-year students were happy to provide. Grading issues, classroom practices, and mental health (including COVID-19 news overload) were all brought up, and AASL will be working closely with faculty in the coming days to tackle these issues.

Classes are only a small part of any MBA program, of course. The Yale SOM community has been busy during the COVID-19 quarantine with:

  • Hosting Zoom socials and sharing Instagram challenges
  • Recommending local restaurants to support and order from
  • Signing up for a Love is Blind-inspired MBA dating service
  • Organizing online poker, movie-watching, and video-gaming events
  • Streaming fireside chats on Twitch to share laughs and stories from the week

Though we’ve all been actively engaging in social distancing, the Yale SOM community is as strong as ever. The fact that every SOMer is putting in effort to band together and keep ties strong goes to show how tight knit the community is, and how committed we are to creating the best possible learning environment for each other. I think we’re off to a great start, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the quarter has in store for us.