Virus prompts US teacher to instruct Chinese students online


MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) — Who would have thought the new coronavirus would bring out the importance of Northern Michigan University's Educational Access Network?

NMU-EAN is a personal broadband connection that allows people in rural areas to receive internet service.

One of those people is Jeanne Baumann, an NMU alumna who lives in Powell Township.

Her daughter, Amanda Baumann, a 1988 graduate of Marquette Senior High School, majored in French and women's studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, before spending time in the Peace Corps. Since then, she's worked in Tianjin, China; Thailand; Guadalajara, Mexico; and New Delhi, India.

She now is a fifth-grade teacher at Nanjing International School in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China.

Well, maybe not technically, at least not at this moment.

As the scope of the new coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, became known as an emerging threat around the time of the Chinese New Year holiday, Amanda Baumann took the precaution of flying home to Marquette, arriving on Jan. 29. She then imposed a period of self-quarantine at her brother's home.

However, her Chinese students still needed to learn.

"The opening date is still kind of in question," Amanda Baumann told The Mining Journal (Marquette). "What we have done is start online instruction."

Since Amanda Baumann is staying at her mother's home in Powell Township, which is in the shadow of Sugarloaf and Hogback mountains, there were special considerations since the area isn't exactly urbane.

So, Jeanne Baumann has relied on NMU-EAN for internet service, and that has allowed her daughter to provide lessons to her 19 Chinese students.

"It is robust and very affordable," Jeanne Baumann said of the Educational Access Network.

She likened it to the Rural Electrification Administration, created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration in 1935, to bring electricity to rural areas.

"This is like having real big-city internet," Amanda Baumann said. "I can work in video. I can record my voice. Pages load, which is good."

She uses the classroom app Seesaw, and the lessons have slides in the same vein as PowerPoint.

"The kids can read what the slides say, and then they can also respond on the slides, which is very cool," Amanda Baumann said.

Of course, it's not the same as in-person education. However, she said her students are doing OK.

In essence, it's adapting to an unusual situation.

"We don't do a lot of traditional grading on each piece of work at our school anyway," Amanda Baumann said. "What we do is look for student learning outcomes. If they met the outcome, great."

Still, for now she's keeping track of who's turning in assignments, and who needs a reminder note via email.

Challenges include students having slow internet connection speeds.

"Some kids are working, but if there's a video, I need to find another way to give them that same information," Amanda Baumann said. "Sometimes kids will send in a lesson, and the answers are not showing as much understanding as really we're hoping for, so it's my job to reply back to them and say, 'OK, have you thought about this and this? You're going to need to finish up with this question here.'"

This involves a lot of dialogue.

"When I'm designing what the lessons are, it's really made me focus on how I can communicate the very best, because the better I am at putting across an idea in the first place and making directions about what to do very, very clear, the less likely it is that the students will kind of do something that I'm going to need to then correct, or then direct further," she said.

Amanda Baumann lives in an apartment in China but doesn't know when she'll be able to return to it, or her school, even though there have been no new coronavirus cases in that area lately.

But the online education continues.

"It's a lot of work, but it's also kind of a creative challenge to think about, 'How can I actually get this idea across?' when we're not all here," she said.