On my first ever 125 participant class

Consider this as a story of how education changed after the lockdown in the eyes of a teacher (who is also a student), as well as an appreciation for one of the biggest student-run clubs at MIT known as the Educational Studies Program (ESP).

ESP runs programs throughout the year for middle-school and high-school students. One of them called HSSP is run in the Spring semester as well as the Summer. A close friend of mine and I had attended a course on CRISPR, the revolutionary genome-editing tool, organized by a research group (led by Pranam Chatterjee at Molecular Machines, MIT Media Lab) at MIT in January this year. Right after that, we signed up for teaching the same course, in-person, to a much younger population for six Saturdays spread through our Spring semester. The class focused on molecular biology basics followed by the fundamental biochemistry, usage and ethics issues pertaining to the CRISPR-Cas9 system. We had 30 participants register for our class, and we very excitedly prepared for our class. As soon as our classes for Friday ended, we started making attractive slides for our first class, which was going to be more or less introductory biology. And we were fortunate we could actually take the class, with just 19 students spread in a room of capacity 125. It was fun, but believe me, not as much as the same class taken virtually. As the pandemic struck, HSSP was cancelled, and now we are in May registering again for teaching the same class to fulfill our long-standing dream.

We filled the class limit of 125 students entirely and all of them actually showed up. Earlier it was difficult for us to take attendance of just 19 of them because of their seating choices, and now it was simply reading off a digital list and Ctrl+F -ing each name in the roster. We also had so much control over the participants, as in we could encourage talking by making breakout rooms, facilitate asking questions without interruption using the Zoom chat (where they message the teachers directly and hence are no more concerned about “what would the others think”), disable public chat to prevent toxic talks or derailing from the topic, mute people, admit selected people or remove them if disrupting the policy, and this control made our class possible. We used interactive YouTube videos (like those from the Amoeba sisters), which they could modulate the audio as they wanted, and online quizzes (special hoot to Kahoot!) where almost everyone participated while maintaining anonymous identities. No matter how much this sounds like an ad for using Zoom and how much ever we did not like not being able to attend our schools due to the pandemic, this platform has by far benefitted the students and teachers alike in terms of how much they learn and participate. And you know what’s the best part? Time zones and extended sympathy for the students enforces the need to record lectures and share the class material for later reference, and I myself have absolutely loved this aspect. With the last class left in this series, I am still awed at how we two rising sophomores are educating an overwhelming number of 125 students from across grades 6-12 and imparting very essential and relevant-to-the-public biology knowledge to the audience. Thank you ESP for giving me the chance to do this, and to all of you, continue learning and teaching!

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