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Inside Classrooms in the Age of COVID-19: Kobe Institute of Computing

Just as many other universities around the world have done, Japanese universities have continued to hold classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The current situation has continued for over a year. How do you feel about participating in lectures and seminars from your home?
At first, there was a lot to get used to, and there was probably a lot of stress involved, but how do you feel now that time has passed?

Last month, the Kobe Study Abroad Team met with Professor Masayuki Tsuchida of the Kobe Institute of Computing, and spoke with him about online classes.

Professor Tsuchida

Kobe Study Abroad (KSA): Please tell us about how you’re currently going about holding classes and seminars.

Professor Tsuchida:
Most of my classes and seminars (as of June 2021) are being held online, but when we aren’t under a State of Emergency, we use a method called “hyflex” (hybrid flex). The Kobe Institute of Computing has four types of class: in-person, online, on-demand, and hyflex.

First, in-person classes are of course classes that students take directly by coming to classrooms. Before the pandemic, all of our classes were in-person.
Next are online classes, which are held on services like Zoom and other video conferencing services that I’m sure all of you have used before.
Third are on-demand classes, in which a teacher records a class, and students can observe the pre-recorded class at home when they’re ready to take it.
The last type, hyflex, is one in which classes are held both online and in-person, according to the needs of each individual student.

KSA: What do you think about the current class types? Are online or hyflex classes more easy to do than in-person classes?

Professor Tsuchida:
I sense that a lot of my students prefer in-person classes.
I think there are students who think that it’s really important not only to have class in-person but to be able to see their friends as well, and I think there’s value in the fact that with an in-person lesson, the students and teachers are able to communicate back and forth with one another directly.

Online classes have their weak points, too. For example, if your internet connection isn’t very good, the sound may cut out, and students won’t be able to satisfactorily take part in the class.
There are also a lot of students who join online classes with their videos off, and I find it difficult to teach when I can’t see their reactions.

But when compared with not having any class at all, I do think it’s worth holding classes online.

It seems there were professors teaching online lessons at the Kobe Institute of Computing even before the pandemic, but Professor Tsuchida hadn’t taught online before the coronavirus. The amount of preparation required for an online class and an in-person class, too, it seems, is about the same.

KSA: Are you giving out homework? Since online and hyflex classes have become the predominant type of class, have you changed the type or amount of homework you assign?

Professor Tsuchida:
The amount of homework I assign hasn’t changed, but before the pandemic, I often used to have the students get into groups and problem solve together for about twenty minutes, and have them turn in their homework. Since we’ve moved online, we’re able to have group talks in break-out rooms, but students aren’t really able to talk properly, so I’ve been having them do their homework by themselves, thinking on their own. There are also students who have their cameras off during online classes, so I can’t tell if they’re really participating or not. By having them turn in homework, I’m able to see if they’re really listening, really participating, or not.

I often have students give feedback on classes, too. I have them write down their thoughts as part of their homework, and in the next class I’ll pick comments from a few people and answer questions about some points I find relevant.

Professor Tsuchida’s classes have about 30 students each, and most of these are taught online.
Many students who live by themselves request in-person classes, while others who live together with their families and/or older relatives prefer to be extra careful about their infection risk by taking their classes online.

Participants in a “hyflex” seminar

After interviewing Professor Tsuchida, we were also able to participate in a hyflex seminar.
There were four students joining online, and one participating in-person. We were able to take a look at some of the projects the students had been working on at home, and they spoke in-depth about their specialized research. It was really interesting!

During a seminar

Once the seminar was over, we spoke with the students about a number of topics.

KSA: Which do you prefer, online classes, or in-person classes?

There are good things about online classes, but there are a lot of inconveniences, too. When online classes started I didn’t have to commute anymore, so I was able to use that time on myself instead. I have online classes recorded, so that even if I can’t participate in real time, I can look at the videos later when I like, which is really convenient.

But with online classes, I can’t speak directly with the teacher like I can in the classroom, so I find it difficult when I want to ask a question but can’t. Face-to-face lessons are much easier to understand when it comes to practical subjects like programming. In English classes, there’s a lot you might want to communicate through gestures, so that’s much easier to do in an in-person class.

There are also times when communication doesn’t go smoothly between teachers and students, and you might have issues. But when I take classes from home, it also means I have time for other things, which I think makes things easier, so I don’t think online classes are a huge problem.

KSA: I’m sure it’s difficult to take online classes for a long period of time, always sitting in the same position. What do you do to make that easier?

It depends on the class, but if I happened to be taking the class with the video off, I can take the class while I’m walking around my room, or while standing up.
I’ve spent a lot more time sitting down, but I’ve found that if the chair is properly fitted for my body, I can sit in it for a long time without any lower back pain, so I bought a quality chair and a gel cushion.

Ishii, who took the seminar in-person that day


When we asked Professor Tsuchida and his students about online classes in a post-coronavirus world, they said they’d like, “for both in-person and online classes to stay in practice.”
Thanks to online classes, even students living far away can take classes at Kobe’s universities. For students who have already joined the workforce wanted to study, they needed to work during the daytime and take classes at university late at night, but now, once they finish their work, they’re able to take their classes from the comfort of their own homes, and use their time more efficiently.

In writing this article, I too came to think that online classes really are a good thing, but that there are some things about in-person classes that just have to be experienced in person, so I think it’s difficult to say which is ultimately better.
Having said that, online classes are really convenient, so I think it will probably be nice if they’re still an option even once the pandemic starts to abate. What do you think?