Delhi to Guangzhou: Online Teaching as a Liberation Technology

One of my most memorable experiences in 2019 was teaching an online lecture to a group of high school students in Guangzhou, China from a coffee shop in Delhi, India on my mobile phone.

At ViaX, we had decided to demonstrate our service with a short lecture and Q&A. The catch was that at the time of the lecture, I had just finished a meeting in Delhi. I had no choice but to give the lecture from a random coffee shop, using the Zoom app on my phone.

I was initially quite worried. This was my first contact with this group, and the very purpose of the lecture was to impress this group of enthusiastic overachievers in one of China’s most competitive high schools. Was I all set for an embarrassing failure?

Not to worry. The lecture went without much difficulty. The LTE network held up and I was able to show the graphics I needed to illustrate my thesis on US-China relations. The students were able to ask their questions without any particular problems.

This experience demonstrates the power of online teaching in a modern world. In the past, faculty and students were, for practical reasons, bound to a specific physical campus. A compelling, interactive learning experience simply was not possible unless we all gathered in the same place.

While in-person interaction is still important, modern communication technology can go a long way toward liberating us from the shackles of geography. My Delhi-to-Guangzhou experience taught me the power of virtual interaction. Thanks to ever-growing bandwidth, I can now schedule my travel much more freely than in the past. There is no reason why I would have to stay put in Washington, DC, just to teach a regular lecture.

In the future, I expect academic institutions to become far savvier and more flexible when it comes to the use of physical space. Human interactions are essential to deliver significant learning experiences to students, so we continue to meet our students regularly and support their academic efforts in person. But we are no longer constrained by rigid weekly schedules. We can choose between virtual and place-based lessons depending on the merits of the case. That is an incredible opportunity.


About the Author

Johannes Urpelainen is the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Professor and Director of Energy, Resources and Environment at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Washington DC, USA). He is the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP). He serves as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education, a a Beijing-based learning and education company.


Johannes Urpelainen works as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education. The views presented in this blog are the author’s alone.