The remote orientation semester is behind us and this is what we’ve learned

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It’s no secret that the first semester at every university is usually the most exciting and very challenging. This year, however, something completely new occurred. Nobody could predict, not even in the wildest dreams, that this year will bring the COVID-19 pandemic except maybe Bill Gates.

Last year, a #thirdparty student Suad Kamardeen wrote an article explaining how the first semester, orientation semester (OS), at CODE looks like outlining the most important yet challenging aspects. But when we announced at some point in summer that the fourth generation of CODE students will start their studies remotely, the challenging semester became ever more challenging.

“In my own experience with remote setup, I can say that remote setup is not only a challenge in itself but also an additional burden when you are just starting your studies. Social activities, in particular, suffer from this, as many things are not possible to the normal extent or are not possible at all,” says Barb Iverson, orientation semester coordinator and a lecturer for Interpersonal Skills. The main idea behind the orientation semester is to try to get students to do a step back from the old way of education. “In that semester we try to get students to let go of the old ways they thought about education and learning and how to show it (tests!), and embrace a different style that values showing acquired knowledge differently (no tests!) and understanding and reflecting on it,” she explains.

The main idea behind the orientation semester is to try to get students to do a step back from the old way of education.

Although she and the OS team worked hard to make the remote OS the best possible, we wanted to hear reflections from the student’s perspective.

This generation of CODE students joined together to find ways to grow as a community, even though they span 13 time zones. Four CODE students from the #fourthdimension are sharing their perspectives.

Katerina Zafeiri went back to university at the age of 27 in this madness of a year, as she calls it. She’s not questioning the challenging aspect of studying in a remote-first context and through a screen, without real connections with her peers. However, “not all is bad,” she points out. She shared her takeaways on studying remotely:

  1. There is never a perfect time for anything in life. If we keep waiting for one to come around, we will spend the rest of our lives waiting. This is the time we have. Let’s make it count right here, right now.
  2. Enjoy your moments in lectures, group works, and events. This might seem weird to some but bear with me – whether we are aware of it or not, moments are incredibly fleeting. So, take it one lecture at a time and try to be more aware that being in the same time and space with everyone from the fourth generation is extremely precious.
  3. Yes, it is restrictive not to move freely, hug, kiss, and party around, but it is a minimal price to pay, especially considering that people have paid with their lives in this pandemic. One sentence keeps resounding by Eva Menasse I read a while back. Roughly translated she says: “As long as we live, every disaster can be turned into its opposite. As long as we live, the best [outcome] is always possible”.
  4. Human connection is possible under any circumstance. We simply have to take action. We cannot wait for others if we are not brave enough to open up, even through a screen.
  5. These vastly cursed screens – screens that I see more as a blessing than a curse by now. They make it possible in times like these that we can sit around together and see each other. Our reactions as humans have not changed. If anything, our reactions are amplified. So be brave and show yourself on camera because chances are you are missing out on connecting with others. Also just let yourself react how you usually would and don’t try to control yourself in front of the screen all the time.
  6. Community is not built through physical proximity. It is built through your actions every day. Showing up, speaking up, and making yourself heard. I am deeply in awe of the people I study with, their drive, their ideas and their poise, and I am a decade older than many of my fellow students. I can’t wait to see them grow and to grow alongside of them.
  7. I got overwhelmed quite a few times during this semester and had bursts of frustration, anger, sorrow, and anything along these lines. Luckily, I have many proven ways to cope with them: whether by re-reading some favorite books of mine, watching a fun episode of New Girl, doing some yoga, or dancing wildly through my apartment until a neighbor starts hammering against the wall. And on the rare occasion, my countermeasures do not work, and I just let myself be. The diversity of emotions that we feel throughout this time has its place and its validity, and without the bad, how would we recognize the good.
CODE Campus without students
CODE Campus without students

Nicholas Romeo is doing his lectures from the other part of the world, Seattle:

“It’s hard to imagine what an onsite OS would be like after about six months of remote admissions and courses, but even if everything didn’t go as smoothly as I expected, I was always surprised by just how much effort everyone put in. The teachers really tried to connect with and motivate students, and the students arranged remote social gatherings and kept Slack lively. The tools sometimes failed us but I do feel like I’ve made meaningful connections and trust that those will help me keep up with my learning.”

Corona hit all of us and brought many changes: how we interact with people, how we approach work and studies, and how to prioritize things in life.

Luca M. Roth initiated CODE Mixer – a Virtual Campus on Discord to host a series of events where students can play online games, watch movies together or just have a chat with fellow students and team:

“In my own experience with remote setup, I can say that remote setup is not only a challenge in itself, but also an additional burden when you are just starting your studies. In particular, social activities suffer from this, as many things are not possible to the normal extent or are not possible at all. Unfortunately, digital meetings cannot compensate or replace this. I believe that the 4D was unable to gain some experience as a result, which is not unimportant for the coming core semesters. Nevertheless, I also had many very positive experiences, and the CODE team did a great job to make the remote semester the best possible success.”

Thais Correia sees CODE’s orientation semester as an experimental laboratory to train various things:

“Corona hit all of us and brought many changes: how we interact with people, how we approach work and studies, and how to prioritize things in life. The first thing was to get used to watching online classes. How to interact with students and professors in this environment? That is a subjective answer. I believe each person approached the problem differently. I decided always to have office hours with someone from each course every week. Sometimes we will talk about the project and other times about life, the present and future or any other thing. So I did what was possible with the tools I had and it works pretty well. I’ve got to know the professors, the students and tried to simulate the real interaction. Is it perfect? No, but it was the best we could do to face this weird situation. I learn a lot this semester; be more flexible, patient, and learn when and how to ask for help, which can be a real challenge if you are not used to it.”

These and similar examples are showing us how students embraced the projects and goals that we have put in front of them. “Even though we wouldn’t choose to do a remote orientation semester again, #fourthdimension showed us it was possible to do it well,” Barb concludes.

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