Are you ready for the Fall 2020 semester? Well, ready or not, Fall 2020 has crept up on all of us. Before we know it, classes will be in full swing in a way none of us have experienced before. With Haas classes moved online for the semester, our everyday lives are about to look very, very different. Obviously, there is no more sprinting past Campanile to get to class and Berkeley Time will still be fully adhered to (Don’t worry, now you have an extra 10 minutes to snack or stretch between back-to-back Zoom classes). But, these two things may be the two certainties this fall. And there are plenty of uncertainties ahead…
How do office hours work?
What should we expect for class?
What do our professors expect of us?
What changed? What didn’t?
If we thought about it long enough, we could spiral down into a question hole none of us could ever escape. I get it. After all, these were the same questions I had when I started taking my online Haas summer class in July. Not sure what to expect from an online environment? Here are five things I learned:
1) If you thought group projects were hard before, it’s even harder now.
There’s just no way around it. Group projects, in business speak, are time-consuming and labor-intensive. Success lies in participation and collaboration. When we were all in-person, you could easily grab your project group before or after class to quickly schedule meeting times. It was the best way to get everyone working on the same thing at the same time. Now, it’s all done in a group chat, where there’s no pressure to respond promptly. Group projects make up a significant portion of many class’ grades at Haas, so scheduling a group meeting is truly half the battle if you want a good grade.
My summer project group made multiple When2Meets and still had time conflicts come up. Our first meeting outside class had four-of-the-six team members show up. Sometimes things happen and the best thing to do is just adapt and move on. It was only when we were all online at the same time in class that we were able to find a time when everyone was going to be free.
What do you know, it’s harder to say no in person.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to jump the gun on scheduling meeting times. It is never early enough to be proactive in cajoling five or more people to be free at the same time. The more communication you have, the better. The worst thing that could happen is your group chat sounding silence.
2) No more scary 200+ student lecture halls = Easier Class Participation
Speaking in front of 20 strangers can be scary. Speaking in front of over 200 students and your professor in an echo-ey auditorium can easily be worse. It’s not uncommon for the same few courageous students to answer 90% of questions asked throughout a class when it was in-person. What I learned in my online class is that speaking into a camera is far less stressful; it feels like you are alone instead of in a 100+ person Zoom conference. I heard way more students raise their hands to answer questions unmuted and through the chat function.
Tip: The key to this public speaking hack: Raise hand feature on Zoom. (Click the “participants” icon and then click “raise hand” on the bottom right corner from the pop up.) When you do this, you can know exactly when you are going to speak by seeing how many names have come up before yours on the side bar. Most likely, your professor will be calling on people in the order of who raised their hands first (which Zoom has already taken the initiative to track). For those who are scared to speak off the cuff, you have a chance to write down your thoughts before you know you will be called on.
* Also, your professor is probably very welcoming of class participation. Chances are, if you raise your hand, you don’t have to worry about getting passed over.
3) Networking with professors will take a bit more effort, but can be that much more rewarding
No in-person classes means no more cornering the professor at the end of class. Before the pandemic, if you just had a quick question or wanted to schedule an appointment, you could quickly shuffle to your professors as they were packing their stuff up. On Zoom, these interactions are few-and-far between. Not only is it awkward to ask a personal question in front of other people listening in on your conversation, but there’s also just no time at the end. No matter how fast you think your fingers can type, you can’t dictate when the professor ends the Zoom call.
I learned this lesson the awkward way. Our midterm deliverable was close to being due and I had a very specific question about my answer. I tried the Zoom version of end-of-class cornering. I asked my professor privately to talk to him after class about my question regarding the details and content of recommendation for Coca Cola’s expansion. He very publicly said, “Yes, if you have questions about the assignment, I’ll stick around for a couple minutes after class is over”. I thought I would be able to speak freely. Now, I realized I had to be specific about what I was asking and vague in how I said it unless I wanted everyone to know what my plan was.
Tip: Email your professor to schedule an appointment. It’s a formal process, but you get the added benefit of making sure you get one-on-one time. This is a great way to build a relationship with your professor, which can come in handy in the future and get ALL of your questions answered — no matter how trivial you thought they were.
4) Small Distractions Can Become Big Distractions Easily
Teachers used to ensure participation and full attention by prohibiting laptops and electronic devices in the classroom. “Not only can you easily look up something not related to my class, but more importantly, you can distract other students too” is what one professor said about his notebook policy on the first day of class. Now, your laptop or electronic device IS your classroom. The first few sessions of my online class, I had all sorts of tabs open on my laptop and it was just too tempting for me not to check on my emails, other assignments, news articles — you name it.
If the professor asked a question I didn’t know the answer to, I would google it. That would be totally fine…if one article didn’t turn into five. Then, by the time I had the answer, the professor had already moved on. Eventually, I realized if I closed all my tabs before I tapped on the Zoom link, I would be far less inclined to swap screens because there just weren’t any other screens to look at. We are all paying in-person rates for an online class, it’s best to get as much out of the class as possible to make this very expensive investment worth it.
Tip: You know what distracts you and what doesn’t distract you. The name of the game is to maximize the things that ensure maximum focus and to minimize the things that are enticing distractions. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something we can all strive to achieve. Put your phone on “do not disturb”, turn off notifications on your desktop, and make sure you have everything you need for class before it starts.
5) Most Things are the Same
This is a ‘catch all’ list of things that remain…
Berkeley Time – Our beloved “start 10 minutes after the scheduled time” remains in full swing. If you have back-to-back classes, you now have a commute time of 0 minutes 0 seconds. Take these 10 minutes to stretch, grab a snack, and drink some water — or whatever you want to take advantage of this new-found free time.
Haas Curve – Our infamous grading curve is still in effect. All Haas classes are curved to a B+ (3.6 on a GPA scale) as the average grade for the class. The pandemic has changed a lot, but even that hasn’t put a dent in our Haas Curve.
Class Content – Our professors are not compromising their learning content or materials, which is great for students. If you’ve been wanting to take a certain class but are unsure if you want to take it during this uncertain semester, just do it. Everything you were looking forward to learning about is still being taught. It’s just the medium you are receiving the lessons from that’s going to change.
Eating in Class – No classroom, no classroom rules. Most professors allow food and drink as long as it’s not distracting in class. Now that you are in the comfort of your own home, you set the rules. If you haven’t eaten lunch, feel free to do so. Just make sure you don’t succumb to the pitfalls of a falling meatball shutting down your computer (like another student who unfortunately had that happen during her final exam).
Fall semester is going to be a change for everyone. The most important thing to do is adapt to the environment. With the flexibility to attend class from anywhere that offers Wi-Fi connection, you have the opportunity to make this semester whatever you want it to look like. These are the five things I’m going to take with me to ensure Fall Semester goes as smoothly as it can. I hope it helps you too!
My name is Grace Huang, a rising senior studying Business Administration at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a member of the founding class of the Global Management Program. Passionate about traveling, writing, running, and finding the perfect scrambled egg recipe, I want to explore the world at the speed New Yorkers walk.