Remote Teaching Case Studies: Tiancheng Wang, School of Classics

Thursday 9 July 2020
Tiancheng Wang is a postgraduate MPhil student here at the School of Classics in St Andrews and our next interviewee in our series on remote teaching and learning. Tiancheng was relieved when we switched to teaching online in March because his family at home in China were (understandably!) quite worried about how the pandemic might unfold here in the U.K. He also tells us that he had, and still has, confidence in the University’s capability to switch to online teaching and to carry it out successfully.  He describes how you need to be more disciplined when learning a language online (Latin, in his case) and how he has built a great online relationship with his supervisor. His one piece of advice? Try not to be overwhelmed by the news and keep talking to your friends.  Doing research can be a lonely process and talking with friends is one of the really nice things that you can do online. All in all, Tiancheng thought that it really wasn’t so bad being holed up in a small room with Cicero and all those clever Romans!
Tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews.

I’m a postgraduate research (MPhil) student in the School of Classics. It’s a two-year programme and I am in my first year.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your study habits before the Covid-19 outbreak? What did you use until now?

I already had access to many online resources while doing my research, such as the digital Loeb Classical Library, but I had no experience of online classes.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching, learning, and study was switching online?

I was quite relieved because my family at home in China were quite worried. I was feeling increasingly nervous about the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.K. and I thought that learning at home would certainly reduce the risks. I did not worry too much about learning online because my friends back in China had been having online classes for two months. I had confidence in the University’s capability to switch to online teaching and to carry it out successfully.

How do you manage the process of learning and studying online?

I had three modules this semester. Themes and Methods in Classical Research (CL5002) and Roman History and Material Culture (CL5112) were delivered through Panopto recordings and Teams discussions. Before each class we read the materials, watched the recordings and wrote blog posts on the topics we were studying. Elementary Latin 2 (LT1002) was taught on Teams four times a week. Of course, more self-discipline was needed when it comes to learning a language online. I did not feel very differently while writing my essays, probably because I secured most of the physical books that I needed before the Library building shut-down. Many resources were also available online. I had regular Teams meetings with my supervisor while writing my essays.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about the way you approach your study? Did you make any changes to your study habits?

I already had access to many online resources, and I am okay with online classes. Other than that I don’t think my study habits have changed too much.

In general, how has your student experience of learning and studying online been?

In general, the student experience was good, but I must admit that Teams connection was not always great, probably due to the poor network in the area that I lived in. Mostly I could only hear the voices without seeing the teachers’ faces, but that was enough for most of my classes.

How has your experience of lectures, seminars, and tutorials (if you have them) been?

I found the seminars via Teams meetings not very different from the normal ones, but when some seminars (not many!) were carried out entirely in written forms, lack of interaction became a problem even though the teachers replied elaborately to our blogs and Teams messages. My Latin classes were taught four times a week. The interactions were good, but still not as effective as in normal classes.

You are a Masters student at the School of Classics. Which technologies or online resources have you found especially practically useful for studying Classics in particular?

I found several online resources very helpful while writing my essays. The most useful resource is of course the Loeb Classical Library,  where I can have access to most ancient texts; I found the online texts even more useful than the print books because I can search for the keywords. For example, with a single keyword I can know almost everything in Cicero’s letters about his new estate in Puteoli. I also used the Digital Prosopography of the Roman Republic, and Coinage of the Roman Republic Online for numismatics. I had these websites open almost all day long.

What has been your experience of having supervision online been?

It has been excellent. I have had regular meetings and supervisions for my essays and have built a great online relationship with my supervisor Dr. Nicolas Wiater in the School of Classics.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own student experience of learning and studying online?

Try not to be overwhelmed by the news! I think that it is important to read less news and talk to more people. For a week or so last semester, I found it difficult to concentrate on my work because of all the disturbing news coming through. Finally I decided to stop reading the news and to talk to my friends about more cheerful things. Doing research is a lonely process, especially when everything has moved online. Disturbing news makes one feel even more lonely and helpless, but talking to nice, real people reminds one of the positive aspects of this world.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

It really was not too bad to stay in a small room with Cicero and all those intelligent Romans!

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