Interview with Prof. Clovis Alvarenga Neto on his experience on remote teaching

– May 18, 2020 –

Clovis Alvarenga Neto is a CEST´s collaborator professor and a professor in the Production Engineering Dept, Polytechnic School, University of São Paulo. Alvarenga Neto holds a Master´s and Doctoral degrees in Engineering from the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is an expert in Industrial Administration by Scuola Superiore Meccanotessile e Tessile, Italy. Lead Assessor in Quality Systems Management for ISO 9000, QMI Management Institute, England.  

1. Have you already had any experience in teaching online, or was it a demand imposed by the Covid-19?

I had the opportunity of teaching some disciplines online in courses of UNIVESP (Virtual University of the State of São Paulo) in 2017 and 2018. On that occasion, besides preparing the content itself, I also recorded the lessons, recommended readings, prepared pre, and post-class exercises. I was also the tutor, answering questions during the online meetings. Besides, I also attended previously scheduled meetings with the students and had meetings with the Coordinators of the courses on general doubts about the courses. The courses on Methods in Engineering and on Quality Management are still available in Portuguese on Youtube. Still nowadays, when some of the students meet me in Production Engineering Congresses, they make comments about the classes. The experience was gratifying.

In 2018, I participated in an Education online course for teachers at the University of São Paulo. Later, I became an assistant to that course. In 2019, I participated in some events about learning methods in the Escola Politécnica-USP as well as in a course about educational classroom learning practices. I had contact with the flipped classroom method. In 2020, I participated in a one-week meeting about relevant aspects in developing flipped classrooms. All these events helped me to implement consistent and relevant methods to apply in Higher Education.


2. What are the biggest challenges you are facing in teaching online?

There are several challenges. First of all, “speaking to the screen”, as some teachers say, without observing the students´ expressions and gestures on the other side is awkward. The platforms I have adopted, have tools that allow students to make comments or send messages during the lessons. Usually, the students are with microphones off to avoid background noise, but as soon as someone comments, it is possible to turn on the microphone or to use the chat. At this moment, it is possible to see the name of the student who is speaking. This kind of interaction is truly relevant.

Another challenge is to deal with the several different resources available on the platforms. As an example, it is useful to share an image on the screen, so that everybody can follow the explanation, and have an opportunity for interaction. Sometimes, it happens that part of the screen is cut, or the sound is interrupted when we share a video. It takes several seconds until the problems are noticed, which may represent an enormous time during online classes. It is also relevant to remember the importance of an assistant. In online lessons, his role is vital as a helper in controlling the quality of transmissions and several unexpected issues.

During the first weeks of online lessons, the sensation at the end of the day was exhaustion. I presently have three courses, two of them are new ones, which brings the additional challenge of teaching many different classes for the first time.

On the other hand, there are rewards. Having a class group of approximately seventy students and a total amount of one hundred and fifty students each week, it is difficult to remember everyone´s name. During online courses, with the names of each student appearing on the screen, it is easier to know their names, which is particularly good for the interaction between the teacher and the students.

In several group presentations, the students share the work. While one student speaks, the others help with the tools. This suggests that to control all technological resources is not simple.

I usually greet the student by their names when we start the session. It helps to warm-up. To be called by one´s name seems more respectful and helps to approximate the participants.


3. What pedagogical strategies did you adopt, and are applying in your discipline to involve and engage students?

There are several strategies. There is often some preparation. Depending on the course, the students do some readings, or watch a video, write an abstract, or answer questions before class. During the classes, I present a topic, the students work in groups and present their tasks. All students have to pay attention to each other´s presentations. It is a ludic way to have their participation, attracting them to the topics. I usually challenge them to find similarities among the cases studied. They can access information on papers, or sites from companies, and magazines. I used some of the dynamics in the classroom, and now online.

During online classes, all the students remain until the end of the lesson. When a group presents a task, the others comment to show that they are paying attention to the presentation. The students are developing the ability to listen to each other and to prepare explanations about the subjects studied.

Summing up, the objective of the dynamics used is to allow the students to evaluate how real and relevant the selected topics are. My perception is that the quality is high and that the time runs fast. It is good to see their effort.


4. What are the major limitations you are facing? Why?

Among the limitations, we are not sure about how evaluations will be at the end of the term. The tasks in groups are of high levels of quality. They stimulate discussions and teamwork. An individual test will be held at the end of the semester, and the questions are under preparation. I do not believe evaluation will be an issue.

Communication between the teacher and the students happens during online meetings. There is a permanent open channel to exchange messages during asynchronous activities. The teacher´s and assistant´s emails are available since the beginning of the semester for the interactions.


5. How have students responded to the educational changes imposed by COVID-19?

The reaction of students has been positive. In messages, the students recognize the efforts of the School and the teacher in maintaining the activities to ensure they will not have losses in their studies.

The attendance in the courses is near 100%, showing the students´ engagement.
The students say that they are making better use of time, not having to take any means of transportation to go to school. They can concentrate more time on studies and research.


6. What is the big difference you have noticed between online teaching and other teaching methodologies (hybrid, and face-to-face)?

The students´ efforts to do the activities, to study, and to research can be noticed in their presentations. Their time for studies is better used. Despite not having more content, we are developing the subjects deeper. Anyway, there is a feeling of production in this period of social isolation, at least in academic terms.