High Five!

Maymester Institute: An Engaging Experience

“Participating in the Maymester Institute changed my perception of online classes, that I really need to make my online class more engaging and that the technology is really there for us to make an online course feel like a classroom setting.”

Kimiko Tanaka shares her experience after participating in the Spring 2012 Institute for Maymester Online Course Development  

What online course are you teaching? 
I am teaching a demography course in my department and it’s completely online. It’s an introductory class in population studies, SOC352 Birth. Death, Sex: Exploring Demography and it is for Sociology and Anthropology majors.

How did you learn about the Maymester Institute? 
Sociology faculty have participated in the program and they recommended it to me. This is my first year at JMU and one of my senior faculty suggested that I should definitely take advantage of this program because you can learn so many things about it and you...the things you learn help to continually improve your online classes. Matt Ezzell in Sociology uses what he learned in the program and he gets such wonderful feedback from students.

How did you come to teach this course online? 
I was a graduate student at Michigan State and graduate students were encouraged to teach online classes in the summer.  I used to teach the Demography Population class online there, but it was really not interactive at all.  The students just went in and did the textbook and did the workbook, so there was not much engagement with each other or the instructor. There was not much communication between students and I never saw a student or had an email conversation with a student if they didn’t have a question.  But I thought it would be interesting to recreate the materials and teach it here.

So you took your online course at Michigan State and brought it to JMU?
At first I thought it would be easy. I could just transport it. But participating in the Maymester Institute changed my perception of online classes, that I really need to make my online class more engaging and that the technology is really there for us to make an online course feel like a classroom setting. 

How do you find it is different here at JMU than at Michigan State? 
Here, the emphasis is on making the class experience more engaging. All the class materials in the CIT’s Maymester Institute showed us how to do this.  I can do an Elluminate session, or I can talk to them on Skype, or some of the lecture I could do on Captivate. Some of the lectures I can ask them to record myself with a PowerPoint.  So it has really changed my mind. By using this new knowledge about online classes, I can make my online class totally different – make it engaging and at the same time make it easier for students to talk with me.  I realized that when I was teaching at Michigan State, I didn’t make it easy for them to communicate with me at all. So this time I am creating more activities like a discussion board for an Elluminate session to make sure that they are going to talk with me and to encourage them to talk with me.  I think that participating in the Maymester Institute has really helped me learn about those techniques and one of the important things that Shenghua told me about was how to get feedback regularly from the students through Blackboard.  So I can really use what I’ve learned to improve future summer online classes.

You had a mentor throughout the program.  How did you find that experience? 
It was really interesting.  I thought I would get someone from a similar field as mine, but my mentor was from the Language department.  I felt like I really needed to talk a lot in the first stage about how my class would look compared to how his class would look because our teaching style would be quite different. His goal is for students to speak Spanish fluently. With mine, it’s more of a discussion.  So I thought there might be more of a mismatch, but the more we talked, we thought we could learn more because we have totally different teaching styles.  I shared about how I do the discussion and how I develop the term paper, and he told more about how he uses Elluminate to make it more engaging for students. So it’s really interesting, the mentor really helped me learn so many new things, not only about online teaching, but all teaching in general. 

Because the institute helped me so much, I am also interested in being a mentor and my mentor agreed.  He learned a lot from me too so it’s a good way of exchanging information beyond just the technology, beyond different fields.

How was the Center for Instructional Technology supportive throughout the process?
They were very supportive.  When I emailed Shenghua, she responded to my emails so quickly. She doesn’t just reply back in the email with words, she always gives me a link to say ‘this is a good way to show it to you’ or ‘this is a good link to share with your students’.  Also, Blackboard support is really wonderful here.  I can just go there or email them and I get quick responses.

Were your expectations met after taking the Maymester Institute? 
Yes.  I think so. I thought I would just be learning about practical ways of teaching online but what I learned was really at the academic level.  I was asked to read journal articles and watch the presentations by those people who are engaging in online technology and online teaching so I really learned at the academic level.  It will be really interesting for me to make a study and compare the online class setting and teaching setting with my experience to say ‘how does technology make a difference in my teaching’?

Thank you so much for sharing your experience in the Maymester Institute!
   - Craig Baugher & Bobbi Simonsen