A photo of Royce Hall.

Lessons Learned: UCLA Symposium on Remote Teaching during COVID-19

Students haven’t been the only ones navigating a new college experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. For faculty, switching to fully remote teaching posed a challenge unlike anything they’d experienced before.

UCLA’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching, along with its partners CEILS, EPIC, and OTL,* hosted its third annual symposium for UC faculty and staff in April. “Teaching at UCLA – Looking Forward with 2020 Vision” featured panel discussions, talks and workshops centered on lessons learned during remote teaching since March 2020.

A central theme was how to keep students engaged in a virtual classroom. At the faculty roundtable, professors discussed the effects of holding classes and office hours virtually from home, with some noting that the newfound flexibility of remote teaching had enabled them to make stronger connections with students.

A photo of Royce Hall.

A view of Royce Hall from the southwest, across the Shapiro Fountain.

“[Remote teaching] brought us together in ways I have never experienced in 24 years at UCLA. I felt a level of humanity with my students that I had not experienced before,” said Abel Valenzuela Jr., professor of Chicana/o and Central American studies and of urban planning and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Valenzuela said that hosting virtual informal hangouts with his students to talk about anything on their minds was particularly impactful.

English professor Danny Snelson shared different gaming tools he used to make lectures fun and engaging for his students, including Discord, Animaze, Gather Town and Snap Camera.

Other faculty discussed the various ways they adapted their assignments and class organization to be mindful of the challenges of remote learning and the pandemic. Being flexible with deadlines, offering smaller, low-stakes assignments, and giving students space in discussions or journals to express their thoughts and concerns were all successful in keeping students engaged and supported.

Student panelists noted that although it was challenging to connect with their classmates in a virtual setting, working in small groups and spending more time discussing topics as a class helped them feel part of a community.

Imani Easton, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, said that remote learning has equipped students with valuable communication skills that will prepare them for life after graduation.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we have to speak up and contribute. Before we used to just sit in lecture and take notes,” Easton said. “When we go back to campus, I’m looking forward to having more of a dialogue and open communication.”

David Schaberg, senior dean of UCLA College, dean of humanities and professor of Asian languages and cultures, said that despite the successes of remote learning, he wants to get as many people back on campus as possible.

“Nothing can truly replicate the excitement and personal growth students experience on a college campus,” Schaberg said. “We cannot give up the ideal of the campus space where people interact with their full selves. This is where students come to test out their adult selves, and you can’t do that online.”

Watch recordings of all sessions from the symposium here.

*Center for Education Innovation & Learning in the Sciences (CEILS), Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC), Online Teaching & Learning (OTL)

This article was written by Robin Migdol.

A photo of the Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo.

UCLA Announces New Digital Hub For Globalizing Japanese Studies

A photo of the Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo.

Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo, designed by Kengo Kuma. (Photo courtesy of Yutaka Iijima)

In 2013, the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures faced a troubling possibility: its entire program in Japanese literature and culture might collapse. Both its faculty members in this popular field of study were being courted by an Ivy League institution, jeopardizing its efforts to hire a third faculty member.

In the years since, however, the Japanese humanities have emerged as one of the greatest success stories in UCLA’s Division of Humanities. In 2017 and 2019, the department succeeded in recruiting two additional scholars of Japanese film and kabuki, respectively, transforming its program into one of the most robust in the nation. And early in 2020, Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai gave $25 million—the largest individual gift in the history of the division—to endow The Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities. Since its creation in 2014, The Yanai Initiative has been directed by Michael Emmerich, that third Japanese literature specialist to join the program.

In just eight short years, Emmerich and his colleagues have catapulted UCLA’s program in the Japanese humanities to global prominence through an impressive array of Yanai Initiative projects, including more than 70 academic and cultural events that have benefited not only students and faculty, but also the broader Los Angeles community. Today, UCLA is known as a hub for research in the field, attracting hundreds of graduate students, scholars, authors and artists to campus from all around the world.

Emmerich and The Yanai Initiative recently announced their intention to build on this record and on the networks they have developed by launching Japan Past & Present, a centralized digital hub for interdisciplinary and international research in Japanese humanities.

“This will really be a game changer,” Emmerich said. “Until now, it has never been possible to conceive of the Japanese humanities as a truly global field. Ironically, I think COVID-19 has helped us see more clearly that we can create truly meaningful intellectual bridges, and build an inclusive scholarly community, online. We want to seize this moment to do that.”

Embodying a vast, truly global vision, Japan Past & Present is a collaborative project of UCLA and Waseda University in Tokyo. It will bring together wide-ranging resources to benefit and facilitate communication among scholars in the Japanese humanities based around the world. The hub will include databases of translations and scholars, research materials, event notices, and a venue for mentorship and collegial advice. Emmerich and his colleagues also hope to create a system designed to open up access to primary and secondary materials in the Japanese humanities to scholars at institutions that can’t afford a subscription to the ILL system.

“This project exemplifies UCLA’s role as a public research university in making research widely accessible, and it furthers The Yanai Initiative’s aim of strengthening the Japanese Humanities as a global field,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of the humanities division. “Inviting the participation of scholars of all backgrounds, and from all different countries, will stimulate new research and intellectual exchange.”

Japan: Past & Present will consist of three “collectives” focused on premodern Japan, early modern Japan, and modern and contemporary Japan—more than a thousand years of history and cultural production.

Paula R. Curtis, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, is leading the development of the Premodern Japan Collaborative and has been instrumental in conceptualizing the project as a whole.

Japan Past & Present is an unprecedented effort to strengthen the ties between diverse communities of scholars from all around the world, and to make the Japanese Humanities more inclusive and equitable. It’s a daunting undertaking, but it’s also incredibly exciting,” Curtis said.

Toeda Hirokazu is co-director with Emmerich of The Yanai Initiative at Waseda and director of the Waseda International House of Literature, which will be hosting the digital hub.

“I’m delighted that The Yanai Initiative is launching this exciting project to help globalize the field of Japanese Studies, and look forward to more exciting developments as the project unfolds,” Hirokazu said.

Emmerich said the first stage of this enormous project, focused on premodern Japan, is currently underway and that he hopes to keep things moving rapidly ahead.

The Yanai Initiative, established through a major gift from Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai, is part of the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and is a collaboration with Waseda University, one of Japan’s most prestigious universities. It supports academic research and cultural programming and facilitates student and faculty exchanges between the two universities.

This article was written by Margaret MacDonald.