Distance Learning at Princeton

I am writing this blog on my last day of undergraduate classes. As I clicked “leave meeting” for the last time, I realized that this is not how I thought my Princeton career would end, i.e. virtually. And while I would be lying if I said that it’s been a great time, I also can’t say that it’s been terrible, either. It’s just meant that professors have had to change the way they teach, and students have to change the way they learn. 

I’m only in three classes this semester because my thesis counts as a class unto itself: Advanced Persian Prose, Photojournalism in the US and Russia, and Comparative Communism. None of these are lectures — which is good for me: woohoo, smaller class sizes! — but this does mean that they are all participation-based, which is hard to mitigate over Zoom, which, for one, doesn’t let more than one person talk at once. 

(This is a photo from my Comparative Communism class.)

It’s definitely fair to say that each class — professors and students — has risen to the challenge, but in a variety of ways:

1. Modern Persian Prose. The class has only three people, so it’s quite informal. We like to read poetry and prose aloud. That hasn’t really changed — I’d say that the content is nearly the same, in fact. We are all really dedicated to the Persian language, so, consequently, we are all dedicated to finishing the books that we started at the beginning of the semester!

2. Comparative Communism. This used to be a three-hour seminar… but those don’t really work over Zoom. So instead, this class has become tripartite:

Our professor records lectures for us to watch before class, in order to provide us with necessary context. 

We meet over Zoom for a little over an hour to discuss certain primary source documents that she sends on the topic of her lectures.

We use our class discussion boards to discuss the readings even further after class!

3. Photojournalism in the US and Russia. The professors here are really tech-savvy, so it’s been a very easy transition. The structure hasn’t changed — but since we have to look at a lot of photographs and images, we use a lot of screen-sharing. This class is among the best I have been in at Princeton, so it’s been a real pleasure to be with such students who are dedicated to learning, no matter the circumstances! The best part was on our final day, we each shared the most ridiculous news photo we’d ever seen, which was a fun thing to do as we all shared our screens.

4. Bonus class: thesis! Since I primarily work on my own, this hasn’t really changed, but it does mean that all of my meetings with my advisor have gone online. It does make it harder to access resources, but in a way, it hasn’t made a huge difference (and even helped me): now that everyone has “gone online,” so many people have offered to read and comment on my thesis. In addition, the Princeton library has been very generous in purchasing the ebooks that I’ve needed for my work!

Every university has a different approach to online learning, but so far, Princeton’s has been pretty good. While I’m sad that this is my last semester, I don’t really feel that I’ve lost out on my academics!

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