The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox

Choose from our newsletters

The Hechinger Report is collaborating with The New York Times to produce Bulletin Board, page 2 of the Timess education supplement, Learning. 

Raina Tung, senior at Manhattan New Explorations High School, and a violinist in the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra, recorded and edited a collaborative online performance of a movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Credit: Raina Tung

No longer nerds

When the New York Youth Symphony had to cancel its spring concert at Carnegie Hall because of the coronavirus crisis, its members decided to collaborate on at least one piece from home, remotely.

There was no question about who would record and edit this complicated work — the second movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan” — performed in isolation by each of the orchestra’s 71 members: Raina Tung. The video kid.

“I’m always that person people go to when they want to make their video,” said Tung, a senior at Manhattan New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math High School and a violinist in the orchestra, who has had her own YouTube channel since she was in eighth grade.

As educators try to cope with the disruption caused by the pandemic, they have come to rely on their in-house experts, the long-standing victims of popular-culture persecution: the AV nerds.

“They are absolutely unsung heroes,” said Benny Caswell, a longtime adviser to an AV club (motto: “We Make Geeks”) at a boys’ school in Australia and a regional manager for the audiovisual industry association AVIXA, which gives college scholarships to students with AV skills.

“Their almost innate ability to grasp the concepts of technology is something older generations just don’t have,” he said.

Take Jonathan Boring. A senior at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California, he leads the AV team for his church’s youth group, which has connected locked-down congregants remotely for weekend services and sermons — adding polished panoramic introductions and even an animation to precede the story of Joshua.

“If you don’t have the sound guy, no one in the congregation can hear you,” said Boring, who has been getting paid for editing videos since he was 13. And with so many people turning online, he said, “There’s a high demand” for people with knowledge like his.

Technology “is all we have right now,” Tung said. “These types of online skills are much more respected. Now it’s definitely more — quote-unquote — ‘cool’ ” to have them.

And after this, said Boring, “We won’t be called nerds anymore.” 

— JON MARCUS


Students from the University of Rochester medical school were encouraged to submit videos of their experience at the institution. Olivia Lynch, a third-year medical student, shot a ‘Bachelor’ scenario, now posted as a recruiting tool on the school’s social media pages. Credit: University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Recruiting via video

With campus visits canceled to halt the spread of the coronavirus, colleges and universities need alternative ways to encourage admitted students to enroll. One strategy: Enlist current students to film videos giving a glimpse into campus life.

That’s why Olivia Lynch, a third-year medical student at the University of Rochester, was doing an impression of Chris Harrison one recent evening. Harrison is the host of “The Bachelor,” and on winter Mondays, Lynch and a few friends pile onto her sofa to watch the reality show. Having peers who care about life beyond medicine was one reason Lynch chose the University of Rochester. 

“It’s a lot of really down-to-earth people who want to be doctors because they know how to talk to people, not because they’re really good at chemistry,” she said. “I mean, they probably are also really good at chemistry. But there’s a lot of humanism in the curriculum and in the people who go here.”

In Lynch’s video, her friends knock on her apartment door and nervously introduce themselves, like contestants on the show. Then they flip the script, announcing that everyone watching — admitted students — gets one of the show’s coveted roses. 

The University of Rochester plans to compile a montage of student videos and email them to current students. Other schools are taking similar approaches. Texas Christian University has asked students to put together videos on life in Waco. And at Tulane, students are sending in videos describing what they love and miss about the university.

— CAROLINE PRESTON


Yoni Lotan performs as his captain character for a remote birthday party produced by Camp, in his apartment in Brooklyn on March 26, 2020. Credit: Pete D'Amato

Dress-up for tiny screens

Before social distancing became the norm, a weeknight for comedian Yoni Lotan might have included a late-night improv show or character showcase at a bar in Brooklyn. Now, every night he dresses up as a sea captain to sit at home in front of his laptop, hosting children’s birthday parties.

Like Lotan, some clowns and magicians are offering their services, sometimes for free, to kids celebrating birthdays remotely. A Brooklyn-based company called Crazy Science Show that once performed in schools has launched $10-per-family birthday parties with scientific demonstrations that teach basic concepts like pressure.

Camp, a children’s toy store, transformed in-store events it once hosted into online parties to stay connected with its customers. Birthday celebrations like those Lotan hosts are free, though Camp is now also booking paid corporate parties and private birthdays.

During one party, Lotan shouted out the names of 11 birthday boys and girls and threw in a topical reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Knowing whether a joke landed is hard when your audience is on mute.) He then introduced “Counselor” Nora Gustuson, who sang and told stories, before returning to close the show.

Lotan had to make do with what he had at home to develop his “Captain Yoni” character. Fortunately, he has a closet stuffed with clothing and props from comedy shows and videos.

“It’s the equivalent of being a doomsday prepper with their cans” of food, he said. “My 1,000 costumes, finally.”

— PETE D’AMATO


The Study Abroad Association is beginning to develop virtual study-abroad options for partner colleges and universities, including 360-degree videos that will let students drop into cities around the globe, as simulated here. Credit: Study Abroad Association

Study abroad, virtually

The coronavirus pandemic has brought study-abroad programs to a screeching halt on college campuses across the country, but it might usher in a new era in higher education.

Support for virtual study abroad has been growing in recent years as a way to expose more students to international experiences without the cost — and sometimes risk — of actual travel. Only about 11 percent of students in associate or bachelor’s degree programs study abroad at some point, according to the latest data from the Institute of International Education.

Many higher education leaders think that’s not enough, and they are exploring ways to bring international exposure into their domestic programs. Christian Alyea and Leonardo Gubinelli, co-founders and directors of the Study Abroad Association, are making lemonade out of coronavirus lemons and moving swiftly to develop virtual study-abroad options for partner colleges and universities.

“With crisis comes innovation and also opportunity,” Alyea said.

Already, they are pairing professionals abroad with professors in the U.S. to lead sessions about Mayan hieroglyphics, Italian cooking and city tours. Soon, they’ll start facilitating classroom exchanges, in which professors from two countries co-develop a curriculum and have their students work together throughout the semester. They also plan to develop 360-degree videos that will let students drop into cities around the globe.

Richard Johnson, a professor at Harper College, near Chicago, plans to incorporate videos from Rome in a fall humanities class.

“These experiences are going to set the new normal in education,” Gubinelli said.  

— TARA GARCÍA MATHEWSON

This story about the coronavirus crisis was produced by The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox. 

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *