So Far, So Good: NYU Shanghai Completes First Week of Distance Learning

Feb 21 2020

Signing on across oceans and time zones, more than 1,000 NYU Shanghai students and faculty successfully participated in the University’s first week of remote teaching and learning. Using state-of-the-art digital tools, students and faculty engaged each other in virtual lectures, discussions, and even dance classes from as far away as Brazil, India, and the United States, and as close by as the Jinqiao Residence Halls.   

“The first week of classes went much more smoothly than we even hoped for,” said NYU Shanghai Library Director Zu Xiaojing, whose Research and Instructional Technology Services (RITS) team worked overtime through the Lunar New Year holiday with the Information Technology team to ensure that spring semester classes could continue despite the coronavirus epidemic that has forced the closure of the campus through at least the month of February. “The vast majority of students this week were able to attend their classes with little to no trouble. Our work in the past few weeks with faculty on course design and technology preparation for the digital phase paid off.”

With NYU Shanghai doubling its international and domestic digital capacities to accommodate an unprecedented volume of traffic to its servers, University faculty conducted some 717 sessions this week using a wide variety of remote teaching tools including NYU Classes, NYU Stream, NYU Zoom and VoiceThread, which enable live feedback and interaction in both synchronous and asynchronous ways.

“I was very reassured and proud to see that the courses have been of very high quality,” said Liu Qichen ‘22, who attended his first classes in Linear Algebra and Introduction to Marketing this week. “I think that the digital classes have opened up many possibilities. Some professors have uploaded an entire week’s worth of course content in advance, allowing students freedom to learn at their own pace. I believe that my classmates at NYU Shanghai are motivated enough and have enough initiative to guarantee the quality and efficiency of learning.”

Faculty have taken seriously the challenge of recreating live classrooms online.   Assistant Arts Professor Christian Grewell, who is temporarily based in New York City, stayed up past 3:00 AM this week in order to teach his Branding and Innovation class live, at its originally-assigned Shanghai time. Grewell is using Zoom to conduct his classes in real-time. “In terms of the live classroom feel, it's better than I expected,” Grewell said. “For activities that lend themselves well to digital interactivity, it's actually better than the live classroom, as I'm able to augment a sentence or slide with an activity very quickly, and then jump back into video or screen sharing. Class discussions have also been lively and productive. The biggest challenge I'm likely to face is that learning through building is such a large part of what I want students to accomplish, so it remains to be seen how well that will work when done at a distance. I'm excited to try.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Leonardo Rolla, who is temporarily based in Argentina, worked for weeks consulting with his colleagues and the Director of NYU Shanghai’s Center for Teaching and Learning Jace Hargis, to design a digital version of his Honors Linear Algebra II class for 35 students using the Voice Thread tool. The results this week have exceeded expectations, he said. 

 “A twenty-minute Voice Thread that I had created using a dozen slides became a complete two-hour interactive lecture,” Rolla said. “While and after viewing my video, students began proving theorems (instead of me in a talking head video), answering each other's questions, and providing constructive suggestions on how to improve their solutions.”

All these online discussions took place while Rolla was sleeping in another time zone.  “When I awoke, I opened the student videos, pressed ‘play’ and was delighted to view a ‘discussion-lecture’ created by the students - on day one!”  Rolla said he is using Google Forms to gather feedback from his students on a daily basis. “One student wrote, ‘Sometimes VoiceThread is better than face-to-face teaching.’”

Whether digital classes last a few weeks or for the rest of the semester, RITS and NYU Shanghai’s IT staff are prepared to go the distance, said IT Director Chang Pan.

“NYU Shanghai IT and NYU IT formed a joint team to track the performance of online courses in real time, in order to ensure the audio and video quality of online classes. For courses experiencing packet loss and delays, IT and the Library have reached and will be reaching out to students and faculty with a real-time response plan, and are helping users optimize the network in real time.” Chang said. In the meantime, NYU Shanghai’s technology teams welcome feedback, and are constantly looking for ways to work with faculty and students to strengthen the university’s delivery of digital learning.


Faculty and students who encounter any questions with online courses may get support through live chat at from 8 am to 12 am Shanghai time. RITS, Library, IT, plus our Library colleagues from Abu Dhabi will work together to ensure your teaching and learning experience. 

Urgent needs between 12 am to 8 am can be directed to the IT Service Hotline at +86 21 20595555 and will be supported by colleagues from NYU Washington Square. and are additional ways to reach out for support.