Student interns collaborated with the FoNS Ed Tech team over the summer on a series of projects to enable multimodal teaching to go ahead this term.
This year, as university courses had to be swiftly adapted to accommodate multi-modal teaching in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, six students from across the Faculty of Natural Sciences worked closely with our Ed Tech team on remote solutions. As Ed Tech Interns, they helped to design and test robust and innovative teaching materials that have been integral during this term’s virtual teaching across FoNS departments.
We caught up with Maths undergraduates Zhengda (Jeff) Che - currently studying remotely from China - and Szilvia Ujvary - currently studying remotely from Hungary - to find out why they got involved and what they got up to.
Tell us why you were interested in the internship scheme. Has it influenced ideas you’ve got for your career?
Jeff: My main motivation was related to what I’m hoping to study for a PhD, which involves solving educational problems in the teaching of mathematics. I wanted to see how the educational system, particularly how the inner structure of a university, works. I also wanted to contribute to the education of other Imperial students, helping to adapt courses that could be used in multi-mode teaching.
Doing something meaningful in my career is really important to me – using what I’ve learned to help others with their learning. Jeff Che Undergraduate, Department of Mathematics
Doing something meaningful in my career is really important to me – using what I’ve learned to help others with their learning. The internship has really broadened my perspectives and given me insight into the field, especially now I’m in my third year trying to figure out what to do next! It’s made me more certain about the direction I want to go in.
Szilvia: I was aware that many new students would be starting their university degree completely online this year, and I remembered how scared I was as a first year – that I might not make friends, or that I’d feel alone – so I really felt for students starting during the pandemic, who might find themselves in a difficult situation. This seemed like a chance to use my experience to help improve multi-modal education.
As a second year I’m still exploring career possibilities – I know I also want to use maths in some kind of progressive way, to give back to the communities that I’m in. I’m trying to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible – and the internship was one way of doing that. There are a lot of other things I’d also like to try!
What does an Ed Tech intern do?
Jeff: We were involved in all kinds of projects – some individually, others in pairs or groups. One example was working on captions for the Panopto videos that lecturers were producing for their students. Accurate video captioning is really important for accessibility, and to help different types of learners use course materials effectively. We compared various captioning software on different apps, producing file comparisons to determine which worked best for our science-based lectures, to make sure that the College uses and recommends the most accurate system.
Our tasks were very varied, ranging from the technological – maybe coding or document editing – to the very creative, like designing infographics. Szilvia Ujvary Undergraduate, Department of Mathematics
Szilvia: We collaborated on many tasks and also got paired with interns from the previous group, which was great because I felt I always had someone to ask questions – especially in the beginning when I was a bit clueless about how everything worked! Our tasks were very varied, ranging from the technological – maybe coding or document editing – to the very creative, like designing infographics about video etiquette for students and for staff. I really enjoyed producing these – we worked on them together and had really insightful debates about what content to include. I like the idea that I’ve used my creativity to design a resource that’s useful for staff and students across College.
What did you enjoy and what skills did you learn?
Szilvia: Having to think about the ways in which course materials might not be accessible for people, for all kinds of reasons – for example, because of bad internet connection, or because of a visual impairment or a disability of some kind – really got me thinking in a different way, and not making assumptions. That experience is valuable – I can think in a bigger context now.
It’s nice to better understand the process of how projects come together, to see that solutions get discovered along the way and aren’t necessarily something you know right at the beginning. Jeff Che Undergraduate, Department of Mathematics
In addition to organisational skills, I also really feel that I’m a more confident person now, more comfortable sharing my ideas. It’s been great to practice these skills in the really supportive and friendly environment of the internship – I didn’t feel bad if I made a mistake or wanted to test out ideas.
Jeff: Yeah, I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the team – there was a lot of sharing ideas. I’m based in China, in a completely different time zone, but we found ways of overcoming the eight-hour time difference, so I really felt a part of the team. I’ve enjoyed getting to work with new technologies, such as Power Automate, and seeing how our work is being used by our classmates, helping them settle into a new way of learning – that’s a great feeling. It's also been interesting to learn more about courses in other departments, and the things they need for their labs. In maths, we just need a pencil some paper and a laptop!
My problem solving skills have also improved – sometimes it can feel like you have absolutely no idea how to tackle a problem, but we’d all be communicating and chatting and somehow we’d find solutions because we worked together – that way of working is really satisfying. It’s nice to better understand the process of how projects come together, to see that solutions get discovered along the way and aren’t necessarily something you know right at the beginning.
What do you think the future of education looks like?
Jeff: For me it’s been 100% remote learning this term, and I miss being on campus. Living in a community is essential for human beings, so I don’t think we’ll get to a point where virtual study becomes a complete substitute, but I think great progress has been made in remote teaching – in the future education will probably be more multimodal. In fact, some of my friends say that taking certain parts of the course remotely – like lectures – has actually benefitted their studies. It allows them to rewind the parts they find challenging, and fast forward through sections they feel comfortable with, so it’s kind of convenient. Virtual options might mean that good quality education becomes more accessible for those who can’t easily travel or live in expensive cities.
Szilvia: Yes, I agree, it might be one way to make education more inclusive. I also hope completely remote education won’t last forever! I want to go back to campus. Reflecting on my first year of being an undergraduate in London, I now realise how important the experience has been in making me what I have become.
Some people might be more comfortable than others when they’re in online environments. This remote learning experience is a chance to make those two personalities – the online person and the in-life person – more similar! It’s really made me more conscious of making the effort to keep connected to friends in different parts of the world. I’m really glad that we’ve been able to maintain our university friendships online during this time. During the internship, I interacted with people who I’d not met before, but now it feels like we’ve know each other for a really long time! So maybe this year of enforced remote education might mean that people are a bit more comfortable interacting online.
Why is student input so valuable in designing courses?
Szilvia: It takes time for new students to get to know how the university works. It’s easy to assume that, because staff are super smart they’re not approachable, but Imperial is really good at helping students to feel that staff really care and that they are approachable. We can work with them and make suggestions, and our ideas are something they consider carefully. This internship was a really good experience in terms of getting used to communicating with staff and being confident in presenting my ideas. I realised that teaching staff are interested in hearing student perspectives, and that our opinions can be useful. My cohort in Maths, for example, is studying a new system of modules that have been redesigned based on previous cohorts’ feedback [as part of the Curriculum Review]. Some older modules were replaced with new modules, that we’re now really enjoying, so it’s progressive to ask students for their opinion.
Jeff: It’s important that different perspectives are reflected in courses that make up the foundation of our learning. Tutors will see things differently to the way students see things, and so the opportunity for us to get involved is great because we can help each other.
Any advice for students navigating multimodal learning?
Jeff: First, don’t panic! It’s easy to make mistakes when you panic, like when you come to upload files for the timed remote assessments [TRAs]. It’s important to use the resources on offer to get used to these new systems in good time before deadlines – to see how the systems work and what kinds of problems are possible, and to learn how long things take. Ask others for help! We’re all going through this together.
Do go out for socially distanced fresh air! It’s easy to spend a whole day at home and get swept up in wanting to finish certain problem sheets, but it’s very refreshing to go out for a walk, and to check in with friends. Szilvia Ujvary Undergraduate, Department of Mathematics
Also, we’re not physically in College so I think it’s important to make the most of online opportunities to interact. Things like problem classes are great places to communicate with others and ask questions. Do arrange meetings, take advantage of office hours, and talk to your tutors – don’t change how you interact with people just because it’s online – don’t be afraid of remote communication.
Szilvia: I’d say it’s also important to structure your day – give yourself a similar routine to the one you’d have on campus: get up, get dressed, sit at your desk at nine or ten in the morning and see it as a normal working day. This is perhaps an opportunity to figure out what learning styles work best for you and focus on the advantages of the situation. Sometimes I don’t find it effective to sit and just watch a virtual lecture – I study better from the lecture notes because I can read through them at my own pace and make notes in my own time. In this remote setting I can spend a day focusing on one module and learn the whole week's material from it, so I can absorb the content better. We have a bit more autonomy and flexibility learning remotely, rather than having to be at a lecture theatre at a certain time because that’s when the university has scheduled it.
Also, do go out for socially distanced fresh air! It’s easy to spend a whole day at home and get swept up in wanting to finish certain problem sheets, but it’s very refreshing to go out for a walk, and to check in with friends. My maths friends and I still get together online to help each other study, as we did on campus last year, and I find this super supportive and helpful – solving problems, explaining solutions together – it’s possible to replicate this online too.
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