By Neil Nachbar
Since the University of Rhode Island transitioned to remote learning for all undergraduate and graduate classes on March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, faculty and students have had to adjust to a new way of delivering and receiving instruction.
While URI has provided resources and support to make remote learning as seamless as possible, the loss of face-to-face contact has been missed by students and faculty.
“Faculty have to spend quite a bit more time preparing materials for presentations and assessment, and students lose the ability to ask questions in a casual way after class. They also can’t just wander into a professor’s office or converse with friends while leaving class,” said Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Peter Swaszek. “Missing that connection in the sudden transition to online learning has been difficult for students and faculty.”
One of the casual ways that electrical engineering students at URI connect and learn is through tutoring sessions.
For years, the URI student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has helped prepare electrical engineering students for upcoming exams by offering tutoring sessions. Just as faculty have adjusted how they deliver their courses, the IEEE tutors have changed how they offer their services.
“These are challenging classes that are made more challenging by the fact that they are not in person,” said Nicholas Amore, president of the URI IEEE chapter. “Adding remote study sessions provides students with more opportunities to reinforce concepts or clarify issues that they may not have had the chance to clarify in class.”
The response to the club’s online tutoring sessions has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Amore and Vice President Robin Hall have had to set up multiple online tutoring “rooms” to accommodate the number of students who were interested.
“Nick and I set up two separate Webex rooms where we could run test problems and answer questions,” said Hall, a senior from North Smithfield, Rhode Island. “Having two rooms was critical because we had around 30 students attend and we were able to answer more questions in smaller groups.”
Amore and Hall have been preparing students for exams in Swaszek’s ELE 212 Linear Circuit Theory course. The professor shared some learning materials with the tutors, including problems and solutions from previous tests.
Besides the obvious academic benefit, the tutoring sessions have provided some much-needed interaction with peers during a time of social distancing.
“It’s important for students to still connect, to maintain a semblance of normalcy during these times,” said Amore, a senior from Warwick, Rhode Island. “The barrage of news and changes to schedules can be anxiety-inducing. Some of that anxiety can be alleviated by keeping a schedule similar to what we had when we were all still in school. It’s also nice to see and converse with friendly faces. I think the sessions have had a positive impact.”
According to Swaszek, tutoring sessions can also play a large role in a student’s academic growth.
“It is imperative that students stay connected outside our virtual class times,” said the professor. “Study groups are a large part of success in the early courses and help set the stage for senior capstone group work.”
The tutors, which include other members of IEEE’s executive board, have also started recording video tutorials as a way to supplement their live sessions.
“We are releasing basic tutorials on such subjects as LTspice, a free software that simulates circuits,” stated Amore. “It will help students check homework answers and allow them to visualize what certain circuit topologies do, which is beneficial for students who don’t have access to a lab.”
In addition to the videos for ELE 212, Amore and Hall plan to post tutorials for other electrical engineering courses.
“Recording and posting videos will allow us to continually help students, even when we aren’t running tutoring sessions,” said Hall.