MDS Spotlight: In-person to Online: Learning MDS Remotely

Read how our MDS students have adjusted to learning MDS online.

In an ideal world, our MDS students would be learning in-person amongst their cohort but the COVID-19 outbreak has forced post-secondary institutions like UBC to move classes online.

We spoke to a few of our MDS students from the Class of 2020 on how they’ve adjusted to learning data science online.

Q: How have you been adjusting to learning online?

Jonathan MDS Computational Linguistics
Jonathan T.K. Chan (L) and Jonathan's remote workspace (R)

Monique Wong -  MDS Vancouver: The online environment has been just as interactive as it has been in person and it has been just as easy to get help on course content.

Christian Hluchy – MDS Okanagan: Overall, I feel it’s been a good transition.  The lectures are set up so that students can still ask questions, and interestingly there’s more questions being asked than when the classes were in person. 

Jonathan T.K. Chan – MDS Computational Linguistics: It has definitely been more challenging than I expected. It has been hard to go from spending nearly all of our waking hours with the same group of people, to spending all of it alone. Many of my daily habits were formed in response to the MDS course schedule, and almost all of them have completely gone out the window now that we have new challenges in balancing productivity and mental/physical health.

Christian Hluchy
Christian Hluchy (L) and Christian's remote workspace (R)

Q: What have you liked about learning online?

Anas Muhammad - MDS Vancouver: I love that I can cook my morning breakfast sandwiches while the live lectures are going on in the background. Aside from that, it’s really inspiring to see how far technology has come, I wouldn’t have imagined any of this to be possible back when I used to be in pre-school.

Hluchy: Since all the lectures are recorded, I love the flexibility.  My preference is to watch everything live so I can interact and ask questions, but if I’m busy with my kids I can still watch the material at my convenience.

Danyi Huang – MDS Computational Linguistics: One of my favourite part of learning online is that I can adjust the speed of the recording classes and repeat whenever I want to understand the material.

Anas Muhammad (L) and Anas' remote workspace (R)

Q: What have been some of your challenges in learning online?

Muhammad: It’s incredibly difficult not having face-to-face interactions in terms of learning and socializing with peers. We truly became like family and I really hope to see everyone again someday or at least get a chance to say goodbye properly.

Hluchy: The challenge with online is being disciplined to keep up with the content. Since things are recorded, it’s easy to put off watching lectures. 

Huang: If I have any questions about the course material, I am used to asking the professors or classmates after class. They would answer my questions quickly.

Q: How have you’ve been able to overcome these challenges?

Muhammad: My friends and I try to have video calls and play online games together but it’s just not the same as how we used to meet at someone’s place and hangout.

Hluchy: To keep on top of things, I worked with my family to carve out daily windows where I could work distraction free. 

Huang: I proactively reached out to the professors and teaching assistants whenever I was struggling. They showed great patience and explained the issue in detailed whenever I contacted them on Slack.

Monique Wong (L) and Monique's remote workspace (R)

Q: How have the MDS teaching staff helped you adjust/adapt to learning in this new environment?

Wong: The MDS community, instructors and students, have done a tremendous job working together to identify the best way to deliver course content while being cognizant of the challenges everyone is facing.

Muhammad: In addition to the teaching staff, the career support staff have arranged numerous virtual networking events to ensure our professional growth is not hindered.

Chan: I really appreciate how the instructors and TAs have put in so much additional time for answering Slack messages/calls since our classes moved online.

Q: What tips would you give on how to effectively study when learning online?

Muhammad: Give yourself a break. Do not overwhelm yourself and do as much as work as you can comfortably do, your mental and physical health comes first. 

Danyi Huang MDS Computational Linguistics
Danyi Huang

Wong: Take advantage of the flexibility that online learning provides in ways that work best for you. Some people thrive from working through assignments together, others learn and can focus better working alone. Find out what that is for you and curate your environment so that you can perform and learn at your best.

Hluchy: As much as possible, watch lectures live and engage by asking questions. Don’t let lectures build up then watch them all in one day. Since classes build on one another, give yourself time to reflect and ponder what you’ve learned before jumping to the next class.

Huang: Leave your electronic devices in another room except for the necessary ones like your laptop during class times. I turn off my cell phone and put it away. This helps me avoid messages or notifications that distract me during class. 

Chan: Setting ‘work hours’ is really important when your workspace is also your living space. Setting a particular time to start and stop working for the day allows for much-needed disconnect from the digital workspace.

This article has been edited for clarity and length.


Vanessa Ho is the Marketing Coordinator for the MDS program. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Regina