Faculty spotlight: John Hung

By Karen Hunley

Published: Sep 14, 2020 8:55:00 AM

John Hung John Hung

John Hung, professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Q: What online classes do you teach?
A: I teach four graduate courses online: linear systems analysis and design, discrete-time systems and control, nonlinear systems analysis and control, and adaptive control. Since the pandemic, my undergraduate courses are also being recorded, so technically I guess those are "online" – there are not many students coming to campus these days, sadly.

Q: How long have you been teaching to online students, and if it’s been a long time, how have your online tools and resources changed?
A: I've taught online courses during two "eras.” The first time was when we sent VHS cassette tapes to the students, using the regular mail, and students mailed their work to the university. The time lag between the actual recording and the distance student getting the tape could be a week or more. Distance students could be over a month behind their on-campus colleagues. The educational experiences for both students and me were not the best, frankly, so I quit teaching online for about 20 years.

Around 2015, I offered a few online lectures to students in some of my on-campus courses. By 2017 I started recording all my on-campus lectures in every graduate course. Distance students can now get my course materials pretty much anywhere in the world, anytime of the year, 24/7. The quality of recordings is much better, and staff support has grown with the technology. For example, we have the ability to edit and improve a presentation after it is recorded. Online students can contact me much more quickly; there's practically no difference between on-campus and online students' performances. In fact, I often have online students who are ahead of the on-campus group in terms of timeliness of work submission, as well as quality of work.

Q: What is the best thing, from your perspective, about teaching online classes?
A: Flexibility with time.

Q: And what is the most challenging part?
A: Discipline to do the work – it is easy to fall behind when juggling work and school. The distance student still misses the campus experience, but "campus life" may be more critical to the development of an undergraduate. Online students tend to be older, with different priorities.

Q: How has your class format changed due to the pandemic? 
A: In my heart, I am still "old school," in the sense that I enjoy the live lecture environment. So I still teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for an hour. The big difference is that every lecture is now recorded and can be viewed over and over. My unscientific study of the Canvas learning management system leads me to believe that good students are spending more time with the course materials than with traditional live teaching. Before the pandemic, I would have about 45 contact hours per course per semester – that's the time delivering lectures and exams. Students rarely came to my office for help. I'm now seeing some students spending hundreds of hours with Canvas course materials; that level of "contact" stuns me. When the pandemic hit, I was one of the "lucky" guys, in the sense that all of my courses, undergraduate and graduate, had been recorded already. I did have to take some time to figure out how to do online examinations to large groups of undergraduates – I'm still evolving on this point.

Q. How has your instruction evolved to provide the same quality learning experience for online students that Auburn is renowned for in traditional classroom spaces?
A: I think my biggest change has been learning to be accessible outside of the "9-to-5, Monday-Friday" work schedule. I don't think 24/7 accessibility is necessary, or even practical, but I've learned that there has to be some measure of access for the student. Taking time to respond to individual needs and working with the unique circumstances of each online student is helpful.

Q: What is the most important thing students can do to ensure their success in an online course?
A: For me, the online education experience generally works better for graduate-level students. Such students tend to be more mature, and more driven – they usually "want" the course. In contrast, a typical undergraduate student is taking my course because of a curricular requirement; it takes extra effort on my part to instill some desire or motivation for the material. For any student, the most important thing is to develop a personal learning discipline or routine. That routine will be different from one student to another, but a student should "keep at it" regularly. Like my pastor says, "Don't be a Sunday morning-only Christian. We grow the most with daily devotion."

Media Contact: Karen Hunley, kam0003@auburn.edu, 334.844.2224

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