Students and faculty discuss time zone difficulties in adjustment to online classes

Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 1:49pm

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Design by Christine Jegarl

After the first week of transitioning to remote learning platforms, some University of Michigan students and faculty faced scheduling adjustments, particularly related to difficulties with time zones.

LSA sophomore Sydney Lum moved back to her home in Kailua, Hawaii. She shared her experience with transitioning to online courses in Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time, which runs six hours behind Eastern Standard Time, the time zone in Michigan.

“With the time difference, I’ve had to start my classes at four in the morning,” Lum said. “So on Monday, I had my (sociology) midterm at 4 (a.m.), and the teacher was like, ‘Yeah we have to do it all at the same time, there’s no exceptions.’ So that’s definitely a negative, like waking up really early, especially trying to have time with my family at night, because I have to go to bed really early.”

Lum’s courses currently include live discussion sessions, in which students call into class through online platforms like BlueJeans or Zoom. Lum said she thinks these live sessions pose challenges in creating a similar environment to traditional classroom settings.

“I think it’s a bummer for me because I love going to classes, and I love going to discussion, and it's been really difficult trying to have those discussions,” Lum said. “I think a lot of people are less likely to participate in Bluejeans or Zoom, because you can kind of hide behind a screen in many ways, so a lot of discussion hasn’'t been as enjoyable, to be honest.”

French professor Sabine Gabaron teaches four classes this semester and has been testing out various platforms this past week to adapt to the changing situation. She said the department had a discussion about how to accommodate students living in different time zones.

“Should we change our class time to accommodate everyone and try to find a middle ground that works for everyone?” Gabaron said. “And we all came to the conclusion that it was impossible because all of our students are taking different classes. And so as everybody starts moving class time all over the place, then it becomes more hectic in terms of getting organized for everyone. So then we decided that it made more sense for us if we wanted to teach live to teach at our class time, and then try to offer other options for those who could not join.”

Gabaron said several language departments decided to offer students the opportunity to tune into live lectures or discussions at different section times other than their original time. This offers students who live in different time zones a chance to engage in live discussions at reasonable hours of the day, Gabaron explained. 

“As the schools were closing it became challenging for people to work from home with a new family situation,” Gabaron said. “So that was also a little bit difficult but I think it was great because students were very much understanding of the instructor’s situation and the instructors were very understanding of the student situation. So I really felt that what happened this week was very strong in terms of emotions, but also in terms of bonding and understanding of each other. And so I feel this was really, really wonderful.”

LSA freshman Neil Kapadia is from Mumbai, India. He said his professors have been understanding and accommodating for his math classes. 

“So far, the transition has been quite smooth, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would have been,” Kapadia said. “I mean, this is obviously not an ideal situation, but professors are at least trying their best to make it the same. For my math class, they’ve shared the worksheets, they’ve extended deadlines, and they’ve given us the opportunity to collaborate with everyone else because that’s what math class is about.”

However, Kapadia said there still remains a barrier to attending online office hours with professors whose time zones are in a country across the globe. Eastern Standard Time is 10 hours and 30 minutes behind the time zone in Mumbai.

“The only thing I find a little tough with the time zone is with office hours and all, because the timings are not going to change,” Kapadia said. “They’ll probably be around midnight, but that will be okay I guess, for like one or two nights to stay up.”

Organic chemistry professor Kathleen Nolta said she has always recorded her lectures, even before the coronavirus situation forced classes to go remote. Though she has experience with uploading lecture recordings, she said she has still found this past week to be a learning curve. 

“Well, it is challenging — right now I find myself feeling very fortunate that I have recorded lectures for so long,” Nolta said. “I am still recording them, but they are empty which means that I have to stop myself from going fast or making silly mistakes. I would say it has probably been the most educational week in my career, mainly because troubleshooting is always something to learn from.”

Despite the challenges, Nolta said she makes an effort to provide positive content for her students. 

“I find myself trying to think of new ways to make the students smile,” Nolta said. “I have some interesting side videos being made that have given me a fun outlet and I hope will be a fun outlet for students.”

Despite the difficulties of a six-hour time zone difference, Lum said she still values the experiences she gains from live discussions for her classes. 

“I don’'t want to miss out on the opportunity to be in those discussion classes, and I think that’s why I haven’t reached out to those professors regarding the time difference,” Lum said. “Just because we spend a lot of money to go to Michigan to have the opportunity to have conversations with these amazing people and professors, so I just don't want to lose out on that opportunity.”

Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu