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Like the majority of colleges and universities nationwide, Tufts quickly pivoted to remote learning across all schools this spring in the wake of the global health crisis.  The transition challenged students in unprecedented ways, including those studying economics and finance. According to their professors, however, they rose to meet the occasion and acquired some valuable skills along the way.

A Different Educational Experience

When the university closed, B.L.R. Professor of the Practice in Finance Chris Manos was teaching more than 100 students across two courses – Intro to Finance and Topics in Finance and Entrepreneurship.  Describing the shift to virtual instruction as “complicated and certainly not ideal,” Manos found it hardest to acclimate to interacting with students solely through a screen.

“The inability to be physically present was a jarring change,” he said.  “For teachers, you can’t read body language… Are they shifting in their seats? Are they restless? Are they understanding a particularly grueling topic or are they bored with it?  For students, they miss the physical presence of a professor walking around a room, the flailing of the arms, or pointing to something specific on a board for emphasis.”

He credits the students’ tremendous efforts from day one and recognizes the challenges many of them faced outside of the virtual classroom.  For example, he described one student who was traveling to her grandparents’ cabin on the West Coast to quarantine.  “It would have been easy for her to say she needed to miss classes, but she stopped at Wi-Fi hot spots across the country to log-in and participate.  It was truly remarkable, and I would guess she did it for other classes as well.”

As the novelty of the virtual classroom wore off, the semester became harder for students.  “They had to learn a new way of learning and interacting with the professor and the material,” he said.  To accommodate international students who returned home to distant time zones, Manos also added an early morning section to his larger class.

Unexpected Opportunities

Manos believes this is not a trivial experience for this generation of college-age students and that the pandemic will impact them in a significant ways, including the skills they bring to the workplace.

“Generally, I don’t want to imply that this is a great thing for students, but they have been challenged to figure out a new world and cope with it in short order, which certainly prepares them for life beyond Tufts,” he said. “For example, when other disruptions – large or small – occur on the job, they will have to improvise and be resilient. These are qualities that would serve anyone well professionally and certainly in careers in finance and consulting.”

Fall 2020

As recently announced, Tufts’ undergraduate and graduate programs in the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering will begin on September 8 as scheduled, and the residential campus will be open this fall.  Courses across both schools will be available in in-person, virtual, and hybrid formats.

As the semester approaches, Tufts faculty are taking the lessons they learned in the spring and using best practices to develop innovative new classes for fall.  Professor Manos will be teaching both of his courses online this semester, and students will also have the option to take these classes in-person with another professor.  To ensure a first-class academic experience, Manos is currently revamping lessons and planning to use the flipped classroom model to guide instruction and discussion.

“The goal is to have students do more independent learning through reading and materials at home and spend class time discussing putting theory into practice.  I hope this means more interaction, conversation, and questions in class.  We’ll also include guest speakers when possible,” he said.

While much remains uncertain, Manos is confident that Tufts students will continue to rise to the occasion on campus and beyond it.  “At the outset of the pandemic, I said to my students ‘living history is much more challenging than reading about it.’ They are living it and it is challenging, but time and again they have proven that they can meet the challenge. They deserve a lot of credit.”