From classroom to quarantine: Remote learning in the age of COVID-19

University Community — April 10, 2020

From classroom to quarantine: Remote learning in the age of COVID-19

With campus closed and much of the world sheltering in place because of the coronavirus outbreak, first-year business student Kexin (Cathy) Qian decided to leave Ohio State for her home in Guangzhou, China. Three weeks after boarding a plane at John Glenn International Airport, she finally made it. 

Like all Ohio State students, Qian had to keep up with her studies, regardless of her travels. Unlike most students, however, she had to do it in quarantine and in a time zone that put her at opposite ends of the day with her instructors in Columbus.

Qian left Drackett Tower and flew out of Columbus on March 19, bound for Shanghai. While she herself wore a mask and gloves at all times, some of her friends on the flight took the additional step of donning goggles and protective suits, lending a surreal feel to the 27-hour journey.   

It was every bit as strange when she landed at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, one of the 10 busiest in the world. Health officials in hazmat suits boarded the plane and checked passengers for signs of COVID-19. Eventually, Qian and other symptom-free passengers were bused to one of the 20 or so hotels set aside for coronavirus testing and quarantine. Through it all, she was amazed by the cooperation of passengers and the patience and thoughtfulness of health-care workers, some of whom, she found out later, had been working 36 hours straight.  

Qian slept a lot during the first few days in the hotel, trying to counter the exhaustion brought about by jet lag and the stress of her sudden relocation. Then she tried to catch up on her lectures and homework.

When her test results came back negative a week later, health officials permitted her to fly to her hometown of Guangzhou, a city of 13 million people about 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong, where authorities immediately directed her to another hotel for 14 more days of isolation.

Thankfully, Qian wasn’t bored or lonely during quarantine. She didn’t mind spending time alone and stayed busy doing coursework and chatting with friends and family on the phone. A nurse would look in every day, and twice a day Qian was required to take her temperature and send the results to a group chat that the hotel created. For food, she depended mostly on delivery, which she found to be tastier and less expensive than hotel fare.

There were challenges, of course. Internet access could be sketchy, and the VPN connection was slow. And there was a 12-hour time difference to contend with.

“Because I mostly have morning classes, that meant I could still attend those lectures online during the evening,” said Qian, who is pursuing a double major in accounting and finance. “But there was one class, Econ 2001, that required me to wake up at 4 a.m. to attend. … That was really torture.”

Her instructors were quick to solve any problems that came up, she said. For example, when Qian called into a Zoom tutor room from Shanghai to get help with her CSE 2111 class — a course in Microsoft Excel and Access — the audio connection didn’t work. In addition, she had difficulty sharing her screen with the teaching assistants because she needed to use a VPN to show her work. But turning on the VPN made the Zoom connection slower. To get around the problem, course coordinator and instructor Diana Kline and instructor Catherine McKinley worked directly with Qian, directing her to email her files so they could provide feedback. (See related story below, Meeting the needs of students, any way necessary.)

On April 9, Qian left quarantine and finally returned to her home, a 15-minute drive from the hotel. She and her parents celebrated with a party that evening, but she’s already looking ahead to finishing her coursework for this semester and taking three classes this summer. And if the coronavirus outbreak is under control and life is back to normal, she said, “I will definitely be in Columbus in August!”