CLEVELAND — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everyone has experienced the positives and perils of remote and hybrid education or work. Once the pandemic is over, however, how can companies and classrooms balance the ease and convenience of being remote while also fostering collaboration and connection found only by meeting in person? A Case Western Reserve University may have found a solution.
It is all but guaranteed that telecommuting or a modified remote work schedule are going to be some of the lasting byproducts of the pandemic as countless companies have reported positive results through having their employees work from home. Doing so, however, isn’t without its challenges; “you’re muted” has become as common of a colloquialism as “can you hear me?” regardless if its in the classroom or the boardroom. The rhythm and flow of natural communication and conversation is largely absent over Zoom. Additionally, when meetings that feature both in-person participants and those attending via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the dance grows even more delicate.
“I think for many of our students that are actually going out into the workplace, they’re going to be confronted with a world where they may be remote and some of their colleagues may be in-person,” said Michael Goldberg, an assistant professor of design and innovation at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. “Perhaps some of the things that we’re doing here in the classroom are a good taste of what’s to come in the work world.”
As a small group of students enter into Goldberg’s "Beyond Silicon Valley" fall seminar course and begin fanning out. Goldberg already has a series of large screens turned on, featuring a Zoom waiting room. The students settle in and connect their laptops. For the next hour they will receive in-person instruction.
But they’re also remote.
“A few years ago, I was probably one of the fewer faculty members that said ‘no laptops.’ I felt actually really strongly that I needed their attention at the front the classroom,” Goldberg said. “Fast forward to 2021 and perhaps I’m one of the only [professors] that actually has laptops in the classroom. I do that because I want them to be engaged in the classroom. I have to do a little bit of tech support as we go. I feel like it’s worth it for that dialogue with our students.”
As part of Goldberg’s seminar, he often has guest speakers that come in from around the country and the globe. Videoconferencing has been a common tool. However, instead of having the guests greeted with one camera showing a wide view of the students in the classroom, Goldberg has each student log into Zoom individually because it ‘levels the playing field’ and helps to facilitate better communication.
“I think it’s really important for those speakers that are joining us in conversation to see and hear from students directly,” Goldberg said. “I want to make sure that I deliver a really good experience to my students but I also want to make sure that using this technology that I give a good experience to those guest speakers.”
Of course, any time technology is involved, even the best laid plans come with a few hiccups. Each time Goldberg calls upon a student to ask the guest speakers a question, he has to quickly mute the main feed in order to avoid ear-ringing feedback. The challenges of orchestrating everything may also lead to opportunities, he said.
“The technology is going to get better but the people piece of this is going to continue to be a struggle,” Goldberg said. “How are you going to run a meeting when you are in-person in a conference room? We’re all going through that at some level. I think our laboratory that we’re using here at the university I think is a good indication of what’s happening in the world around us.”