How do you make the best out of the worst situations? Leave it to the Bears to figure it out.
Like every other school, we’ve had to shift our operations online and our in-person classes have been replaced by Zoom sessions. And at first, it was exciting to try out this new platform; I amused myself by using the Zoom private messaging feature to send cheesy jokes to my friends, and it was convenient to be able to attend my online lectures from the comfort of my own bed. But the novelty wore off pretty quickly, and the initial excitement gave way to the understanding that Zoom would be our only way to interact with each other until the end of this pandemic, an undetermined amount of time. The realization was hard to swallow.
However, rather than wallow in the disappointment of disrupted classes, Berkeley rallied. This past semester I’ve seen incredible resilience and ingenuity from faculty and students alike to produce online courses that in some instances exceed the value of in-person learning. One class in particular stands out for the incredible opportunity the professor saw within this new platform.
Rhetoric 145: Science, Narrative, and Image, taught by Professor Winnie Wong, ended up being one of my favorite classes in my three years at Cal. It was a unique course in that we only read work from two authors: science fiction writer Samuel Delany, and poet Marilyn Hacker, both impressive scholars whom I otherwise never would have experienced. Every week I looked forward to our three-hour seminar to discuss the assigned readings, and to listen to different thoughts and theories from my peers. It was disappointing when our in-person conversations had to be moved online midway through the semester, but nonetheless, our class of fifteen continued to convene on Zoom each Wednesday to discuss the texts from the week.
As our semester neared its end, Professor Wong went above and beyond and contacted Marilyn Hacker, the poet whose works we’d been reading all semester, and invited her to join one of our Zoom classes. Low and behold, Hacker accepted the invitation, and the award-winning poet Zoomed into our seminar all the way from Paris to (virtually) discuss her work. The resulting conversation produced an unforgettable discussion, and I feel unbelievably lucky that I was able to participate. By leveraging the Zoom platform to access different experiences, our Berkeley Professor expanded our curriculum to new horizons and I gained so much more from that class than expected.
I’m thrilled to say that the experience isn’t over either; at the end of the semester, Professor Wong organized a summer reading group for a few interested students and we’ve continued to read together over the summer, occasionally meeting over Zoom to catch up and talk about the texts. Experiences like this reading group and our discussion with Marilyn Hacker never would have happened under different circumstances and without the help of a dedicated and passionate professor. This class helped me to see the optimist’s perspective on Zoom lectures: we have the chance to use this new platform to augment our classes in ways that we would have never previously considered. Zoom cannot fully replace the value of in-person learning, but if we’re forced to be online for the rest of this pandemic, it’s important to make the most of it by reimagining the new possibilities that Zoom opens up for our classes.
So as we prepare to start the Fall 2020 semester online, the challenge now becomes putting some zest in the rest of my Zoom classes. We’ve been presented with this difficult and unprecedented circumstance, and it’s up to us to leverage this situation into a beneficial experience for both faculty and students. It’s quite the test, but I know that Berkeley is up to the task and I’m excited to see how we continue to light the way through these challenging times.