With the transition to remote learning, Dr. Juliana Wijaya speaks about how she teaches Indonesian now and how that affects her relationship with the students.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA, 2020)

I remember sitting in my afternoon lecture as the professor reassured students that we would likely be able to gather together for our last class later that week. At that moment, a student raised her hand and notified him that our chancellor had just sent out an email suspending in-person classes due to concerns about COVID-19, effective the next day on March 11th, 2020. A bittersweet smile crossed my professor’s face.


Initial Transitions

"It was quite shocking because we had less than 24 hours to switch from in-person to remote teaching," recalls Dr. Juliana Wijaya, a lecturer in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, who currently teaches all levels of Indonesian. Because the announcement came during Week 10 when her students primarily had to give final presentations, the transition to online teaching was relatively easy. She was familiar with video conferencing technology, so students could still present and participate in discussions online. Additionally, because Indonesian uses [purely] Roman alphabet as compared to Thai and Vietnamese, students can comfortably type responses as opposed to sending pictures of handwritten answers or learning how to use a secondary language keyboard. In preparation for spring quarter, she added additional online resources and uploaded all her handouts. "I like that Zoom has breakout rooms, so students still do pair work and practice their conversation."

However, conducting exams remotely is not as simple. When it comes to language courses, "we not only test the knowledge of the language, but we want to test their ability to perform the language and all of the skills—reading, writing, speaking—while content courses are concerned with whether or not students understand the material." Without using programs that restrict the internet browser and testing environment, it is impossible to monitor students during the exams. Students could easily search online for verb conjugations and vocabulary during the tests. "That part…I leave it to the students. I trust the students."

Online Challenges

Even though remote learning has been more convenient, not every student is able to transition as smoothly, which also creates challenges for Dr. Wijaya. "A few of my students went back to Asia," she says. "From Jakarta, from Singapore, from Taiwan—the time difference is what is really challenging now, so I did add another session to accommodate those students in Asia." She hosts additional office hours at 8 p.m. PST and 7:30 a.m. PST, so that the students can listen to her recorded lectures and check in during a reasonable time.

On top of these adjustments, a part of the learning experience is simply not the same. "The interaction is completely different. I miss really meeting the students and just talking to them in a natural setting," says Dr. Wijaya.

Students likely feel the same way. Irene Sumampouw, a fourth-year psychology student, has studied Indonesian with Dr. Wijaya for almost two years. "As much as I like the learning aspect, I like seeing everyone. We always talk about our life events and what’s going on…it's not just about learning exactly. It’s more about the personal connections we make."

Looking Forward

This past winter quarter, Sumampouw brought a mini waffle maker and breakfast ingredients to surprise a classmate for her birthday in class. Dr. Wijaya smiles when she talks about the special occasion, "she brought fresh eggs and milk and everything…something like that [which is] very personal, you cannot have with this platform now."

Dr. Wijaya compares teaching remotely to directing an orchestra. "Honestly, it’s more tiring to teach remotely because you cannot really rest," she says. "There is less room for error." Within a 75-minute long class, she has to share her screen, send links, jump from one breakroom to the next during paired conversations, and devise innovative ways to keep everyone at the same pace.

Her effort has not gone unnoticed. "She understands what we’re all going through and doesn’t want to overwhelm us…she’s done her best to help us adjust," says Sumampouw.

Dr. Wijaya speaks fondly of her many students over the years. Some of her previous students still swing by her office whenever they are on campus and she makes an effort to share scholarships and other resources with her current classes. "We’ve been together for so long…I want them to succeed and I want them to be able to use what they have learned in their career, so it’s really rewarding for me to see [that] when it happens, but I don’t know now…I hope it won’t be too long until we meet in person again with everybody."




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Published: Thursday, April 16, 2020