Colin Powell School
How Remote Teaching Spurred Adaptation and Innovation: Reflections from Professor Mehdi Samimi
Professor Mehdi Samimi joined the Colin Powell School’s Economics and Business Department in the middle of the pandemic when all classes were being conducted online. Here, Samimi shares his reflections on his first full year of remote teaching:
Teaching online was initially challenging for me for several reasons such as not knowing the audience, lack of online teaching experience, lack of direct immediate feedback from the audience, and technological difficulties. On the other hand, necessity is an important driver of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. I was able to overcome some of the challenges and in some cases even found some advantages in online education.
Here are the challenges I had in more detail:
Lack of familiarity with the audience: My only in-person contact with Colin Powell School students prior to teaching was my campus visit in Dec 2019 in which I met a few students and heard their concerns. While the meeting became an important source of information for me, it was far less than what I needed to know my audience and be able to teach and learn from them. I had taught students at Iowa State University and that experience was extremely helpful, but significant differences exist between students at different schools and in different regions. As we often do when we lack information on something, we relied on heuristics and other alternative approaches. For example, I designed assignments to be a medium to get to know my students better in addition to serving the normal purposes of assignments. When I teach mission and vision in my principles of management course, I ask students to write a personal mission statement. When I teach personality and work attitudes, I tell students to take a personality assessment test, report the results, and discuss the jobs they have had in the past and what they would prefer to do in the future.
Lack of online teaching experience: When I started my job at CCNY, I had only half of one semester of experience of online teaching. While the goal of online and in-person teaching is the same, the means of reaching the goal are fundamentally different. One thing that helped me in this matter was to hold weekly meetings with a few other senior professors in our department to share experiences and to remind each other that we were not alone.
Lack of direct, immediate feedback from audience: Teaching (especially when it comes to social sciences) happens through a two-sided interaction. Such interactions are based on feedback that each side gets from the other side. I adjust my teaching based on reactions I get and see in the audience. Additionally, my brain works better in bringing relevant examples when I am in a dialogue with others than when I am the solo speaker. Therefore it was a big challenge to not have the normal channels of feedback from students. To confront this challenge, I added more class activities, break-out rooms, and question and answers in online sessions.