SIPA has announced that in Spring 2021 it will continue to offer all courses online and some courses via hybrid and in-person instruction, subject to public health conditions and safety considerations. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York in March, SIPA had to quickly transfer to an online course format. For myself (a first year, second semester student at the time) and other students, the difference between pre- and post-Spring Break courses felt jarring: one week we were all taking class together in person, the next we were spread across the world having an entirely virtual SIPA experience.

With more time to prepare and adjust for the change in circumstances over the summer, SIPA has been able to offer different class models. In fall 2020 SIPA has been offering hybrid and virtual courses. Hybrid courses “means professors will use SIPA HyFlex classrooms to teach students simultaneously online and in-person;” check out this video displaying a Columbia University HyFlex classroom. Virtual courses are those offered only online. According to a SIPA survey, about 65% of students are taking 100% of their classes online this semester. For students in different time zones, most courses offer asynchronous learning tools through recordings posted on Courseworks. So far based on feedback, a majority of students are pleased with the virtual experience. 

Here are a few handy tips and insights for those of you beginning your time at SIPA via hybrid/virtual courses in the Spring:

Have a dedicated workspace

Some people set up a home office with an extra computer monitor, a comfy office chair, and other study essentials like notebooks. My workspace is simply a corner of my room that has a desk and a laptop stand. No matter how basic or extravagant your study space is, designating an area to work and take classes from helps establish a routine and can boost productivity. 

SIPA has multiple rooms available as quiet study spaces for students to use which can be reserved online. Lehman Library in IAB (the International Affairs Building) is available for reservation too, in addition to 5 other libraries on campus that are open for study reservations

Turn your camera on for class

When attendees have their cameras on, class is more engaging and feels more like in person classes. It is understandable if you cannot turn your camera on for certain reasons (for example, maybe you are having technical difficulties or perhaps you are taking classes from a different timezone and it is an odd hour for you). Most of the professors I have encountered are fine if student cameras happen to be off, but prefer for them to be on if possible because it makes the learning and teaching environment more interesting. Imagine being a professor and lecturing to blank screens…awkward!

Prepare for Zoom fatigue

This is a real thing. Between classes, virtual group meetings, and research, it is easy to spend upwards of 8 hours a day looking at a computer screen. Schedule in some breaks in the day for non-screen activities. For example, meditate, venture outside, or do a few quick jumping jacks. Do something you enjoy that provides a break in the monotony of being online. 

Try to stay positive and remain flexible

Though everyone is getting accustomed to hybrid and virtual classes, there are still little roadblocks like technical difficulties on online platforms and scheduling across time zones. At SIPA, students, faculty, and administration alike are all striving to adjust under the given circumstances. The experience is more pleasurable if you keep in mind that we are all in this together; expect a few roadblocks and know that it is okay to experience them. 

Stay connected with the SIPA community

It is more difficult to meet new people via online, however there are still lots of SIPA students looking to connect with each other. Student groups and SIPA’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA) regularly host events on a variety of topics where you can engage with people interested in similar things as you. Going to these events will help you build a network and start friendships, which is the best part of being at SIPA (in my humble opinion). 

Life is unpredictable. 2020 highlighted that for us all. If there is one thing to remember as you start taking online classes it is this: when Zoom gives you lemons, make lemonade.