Unforeseen expectations for an academic year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

By Fan XU (xu.3849@osu.edu) and Chenxi Liu (liu.8184@osu.edu)

Fan Xu and Chenxi Liu are Ohio State’s Ph.D. students in the Learning Technologies program. In the paragraphs below, they describe their unexpected feelings about the first year of their Ph.D. program as international students and their different expectations for the upcoming academic year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re the lucky ones but not everyone is so lucky during the pandemic,” says Fan Xu

When the coronavirus outbreak got started, I was enjoying the spring break of my first year of doctoral studies in Learning Technologies at The Ohio State University. My boyfriend and I decided to stay at home spending the three-day break rather than setting out a short trip. Obviously, it was a terrible idea but I had assumed I would be able to go for a better trip at the end of the semester.

All classes were moved online when we went back from the break. My school made a very quick and wise reaction, which I realized much later as the number of confirmed cases increased crazily. The first few weeks of quarantine was not that bad because I had no time to feel bad. Time was spent to get used to establish a new normal: to prepare myself for classes via the camera on my laptop; and to set a Skype account to communicate with my advisor, Dr. Correia, and colleagues for my research assistant job. Many personal issues such as taking the driver’s license exam, going to doctor’s appointments, etc. had to be canceled or suspended.

As the situation in the U.S. had no sign of getting better while the anti-epidemic actions in China made some improvements, many of my friends who are also international students chose to go back to their families in their home countries. This was the time that I began to feel overwhelming loneliness. Working from home became harder than I expected. I struggled with pulling myself together from anxious and unmotivated emotions again and again. The only thing that stopped me from flying back to my family was the danger of contamination with COVID-19 in a crowded airport and narrow airplane.

However, in the long run, that was a wise decision. At the beginning of July, the return to U.S. higher education institutions has been thrown into question for countless international students after a directive by the Trump administration that students whose classes were moving entirely online for the fall would be stripped of their visas and required to leave the United States. Those who were still in the U.S., including myself, would face the possibility that they might be sent to their home countries if they did not have face-to-face or hybrid courses, which were not offered by most schools for safety reasons. This situation made me feel disappointed about this country like never before and it was my first time having the feeling that I may not be able to finish my education here. It seemed that the only thing we could do was wait for the university’s response. This time of waiting made me understand what “leading lives of quiet desperation” in Thoreau’s words means.

Luckily, as a result of the efforts made by many universities, the Trump administration rescinded this policy. We witnessed Ohio State fighting against the outrageous policy for its students, in particular for the international students. Every week we received emails from the Department of Educational Studies and the College of Education and Human Ecology with COVID-19 updates, reminders of important issues, and support for students regarding both distance learning options and student life. Besides the mental and moral support, the emergency funding provided by Ohio State assisted us with unexpected expenses as a result of COVID-19. More importantly, my advisor has kept in close contact with me through virtual meetings or emails and our research groupmates often sent messages to check on each other. As we, international students, are far away from our home, families, and friends, the kindness and care from people around us during the quarantine was crucial to tide us over.

Chenxi and Fan at the Learning & Experience Design research group kick-off meeting of the Autumn 2020 semester.

“We’ll move forward firmly and hope we can inspire more international students like us,” says Chenxi Liu

Although this global pandemic brought some challenges for the first summer of my doctoral journey in the U.S., with the support from my advisor, professors, and school staff, I was lucky enough to keep things going and see how Learning Technologies can contribute to today’s education.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Correia, we examined four popular video conferencing systems for e-learning as part of Fan and my summer research assistantship. With the purposes of education in mind, we provided guidance on selecting video conferencing systems and made recommendations for systems improvement. The rewarding experience of conducting a research project in a short period of time and with an awesome team is something that is going to stay with me for a long time. During the summer and to strengthen my understanding of the K-12 online teaching landscape in the U.S., I took a K-12 online teaching course taught by Dr. Tracey Stuckey-Mickell and addressed current problems related to online teaching and learning. Moreover, I was notified that our proposals were accepted by the 2020 Association for Educational Communications and Technology Virtual Conference. I am honored to be able to make contributes to online education, especially during the pandemic, in which many schools are transforming face-to-face classes into online and virtual classes.

Although this summer, I’ve encountered some uncertainties and challenges when planning for the coming fall semester due to repeated changes of the SEVP guidance issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with the support of our advisor, professors, colleagues, department, college, and university, we were ready to face the upcoming fall semester of 2020.

In summary

Because the pandemic is not over yet, Fan and Chenxi believe that many students choose to take online classes in the upcoming semester just like them. As international doctoral students, these are their thoughts on successfully completing their studies and conducting research in a time of the pandemic.

  • Due to their special status, international students should pay close attention to any changes to policies that impact them and follow the information released by the Office of International Students and Scholars and other university-related offices.
  • When you need help, don’t be afraid to ask questions and set up online meetings with your advisor, professors, and peers. They are your support system and are there to help you.
  • When designing a research project, consider the possibility of switching from in-person study to remote study.
  • Use your time to learn technology tools that can be used to support remote data collection & analysis as well as research conceptualization.
  • Relax, maintain regular exercise, and keep in contact with your friends and family.

Fan Xu and Chenxi at the 2020 Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology Student Research Forum (February 2020).

The New Meaning of Ph.D.

By Erin Clarke-Dorrell (dorrell.11@osu.edu)

The last time we posted on this blog, COVID-19 was starting to make its presence more widely known across the globe. We sure did not anticipate still focusing on this topic and the continued impact so many months later. So, you may wonder what it is like being a doctoral student amid a global pandemic. Honestly, the pandemic has not really changed how the members of the LED Research Group continue in our Ph.D. program. Predictably and probably due to the field, our learning technologies courses transitioned fairly smoothly to entirely online learning. Additionally, there is a level of autonomy that governs the work we do as graduate students, leaving little difficulties there. However, it is always nice knowing that we can reach out to fellow research group members and advisor for needed support.

Nevertheless, moving towards the autumn 2020 semester leaves so much uncertainty. That is the reason behind the following tips for being a good doctoral student during a pandemic.

  • Try and set up a dedicated work/study space
  • Ensure everyone in your household knows when you have classes or meetings via Zoom
  • Better yet, play around with the virtual background feature on Zoom
  • Always mute yourself unless you are speaking during virtual classes/meetings
  • Reach out to those in your cohort to keep a sense of community
  • Ask questions about anything you are uncertain
  • Be flexible and know EVENTUALLY this too shall pass

zoom meeting during the pandemic

Given the global pandemic of 2020, upon completion of our programs, I believe that instead of receiving a diploma with a Ph.D. as an acronym for Doctor of Philosophy, it should be Pandemic Henceforth Dedication. We never planned for this to happen, but we have moved forward, embraced all the Zoom meetings, and look towards hope in the future. Learning technologies has been given the opportunity to shine, and we want to make sure that continues to happen.

Making it Through the First Year: An Appreciative Take of the Research Group

By Erin Clarke (clarke.333@osu.edu)

If you are reading this, you may be interested in starting a Ph.D. or how what it is like to be in a research group. Well, I will begin by telling you that being a first-year doctoral student is no joke. It is stressful and draining on many levels, but I can confidently say that being in the Learning & Experience Design Research Group has helped. The LED Research Group offered me the support (both academic and emotional) I needed to get through my first year. When I was accepted into the Learning Technologies Program in the College of Education and Human Ecology (EHE) here at OSU, my advisor told me I would be joining her research group. Honestly, I was intimidated and had no idea what to expect. I falsely assumed that I would have to give up my personal research interests to participate. However, I have learned that a good research group allows each member to contribute their own perspectives to the group’s work.

As a first-year doctoral student, I had very little confidence in my work and not any substantial research to my name. That is okay!! It is thanks to the members of the LED Research Group that I plucked up the courage to create and present my first ever research poster for the EHE Research Forum.

Erin presenting at EHE Research Forum on February 14, 2019.

My advice to anyone joining a research group is to listen and take advantage of the opportunities extended to you through your participation in the group. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a member of the Educational Studies Diversity Committee (EDGE), be working collaboratively on a manuscript for journal submission or soon be traveling to Las Vegas to present at the Association for Educational Communications & Technology conference so early in my doctoral studies. I am so excited that my work with the group this past year culminates this week at the OSU 2019 Innovate conference. It has been one heck of a year, but looking back, I can say it was worth all the hard work, and I look forward to two more years.

LED in 2018: Year in Review

Sign reading Hello There 2018

The LED Research Group celebrated its first year anniversary in August 2018.  Following Reeves & Oh (2017)*, we were founded with the intention of bridging the contexts of theory and practice, and showing how they could mutually inform each other.

For a young research group, we had a number of remarkable accomplishments.


Correia, A.P., North, C.A., Korkmaz, C., Simmerman, V.E. & Bruce Wallace, K.A. (2018). No prior experience necessary: Reflecting on the learning experiences offered by student-created online discussions. In T. Bastiaens, J. Van Braak, M. Brown, L. Cantoni, M. Castro, R. Christensen, G. Davidson-Shivers, K. DePryck, M. Ebner, M. Fominykh, C. Fulford, S. Hatzipanagos, G. Knezek, K. Kreijns, G. Marks, E. Sointu, E. Korsgaard Sorensen, J. Viteli, J. Voogt, P. Weber, E. Weippl & O. Zawacki-Richter (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2018 (pp. 2205-2218). Waynesville, NC: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Correia, A.P., Koehler, N., Thompson, A. & Phye, G. (2018). The application of PhET simulation to teach gas behavior on the submicroscopic level: secondary school students’ perceptions. Research in Science & Technological Education. doi10.1080/02635143.2018.1487834

Leach, A., North, C.A., Gintert, N., Correia, A.P., & Archambault, L. A Portrait of a Modern Online Graduate Student. In M. Simonson (ed) 41th Annual Proceedings of theAssociation for Educational Communications and Technology. Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communication and Technology (AECT).

Presentations and Talks

Other Accomplishments

  • Ana-Paula Correia was awarded OSU’s Office of International Affairs Academic Enrichment Grant.
  • Ana-Paula Correia was chosen as OSU’s director for Center on Education and Training for Employment.
  • Cara North was sworn in as President-Elect of the Central Ohio ATD.
  • Cara North was elected as AECT’s Communications Officer on the Board of the Research and Theory Division.
  • Cara North was a featured speaker in the Training Magazine Network The Masters Series.
  • Erin Clarke was awarded the Dean’s Distinguished Graduate Enrichment Fellowship.
  • Vicki Simmerman and Karen Bruce Wallace graduated with their Master of Learning Technology.

With such a great first year, we are excited about what 2019 will bring. We plan to expand LED’s presence both nationally and internationally, add more members to the research group, publish more of our research, and shape learning design and experience theory and practice.


* Reeves, T. C., & Oh, E. (2017). The goals and methods of educational technology research over a quarter century (1989–2014). Educational Technology Research and Development, 65(2), 325–339.

LED group member in the final stretch …

Vicki Simmerman is in her final stretch to complete the Master of Learning Technologies (MLT). Taking four graduate-level classes in one semester was an adventure,  but it was accomplished by reducing student work hours and working while traveling. Three  conference presentations were also on the plate for Vicki during the Spring of 2018 (all with our LED team members).

Now, after an additional summer course in website design, Vicki is ready to devote her attention to working on the MLT Practicum, which will be an evaluative study of the OHI/O Hackathon in October 2018.  Hackathons are 24-hour intense collaborative events that offer a way to learn hands-on.  Tired but usually happy participants have the opportunity to meet real-world sponsors,  eat great food and share ideas and challenges in a cooperative setting,  all within a 24-hour period. Several surveys were developed and would be distributed to the participants. Vicki will be coding the responses to include in my an evaluative report to hand in to the leaders of the OHI/O Hackathon. This will be followed by a presentation of the main results to this leaders.

Vicki is expected to graduate in December 2018 after two years of intensive graduate-level work.  She is feeling energized and inspired. She is taking inspiration as usual from the LED group members. For example, Karen Bruce Wallace recently finished her MLT (after her PhDin English). Vicki is looking forward to this academic adventure  – lots to do with help from her LED research group.

  North and Simmerman presenting at Innovate 2018 with the rest of the LED members (not pictured)