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Spelman Professor Finds Success With New Remote Learning Thanks to STS Trainer

March 2020

Spelman Professor Soraya MerketaBy her own admission, French language professor Soraya M. Mekerta, Ph.D., is probably the least computer savvy person on Spelman’s campus. So imagine her surprise to learn that, because of the campus closure due to the Coronavirus, she would be teaching the rest of the semester online.

“The first thing to overcome was the lack of confidence, the trauma of the very idea of having to do something fancy and complicated and elaborate with computers,” she said. “The anxiety -- it would be like having huge rocks falling on me and leaving me in a state of complete physical exhaustion.”

Dr. Mekerta considers herself a very structured person – an assessment her students no doubt agree with. “I lay out what to expect in great detail, and the syllabus is really a recipe for success. The whole idea of teaching with the computer and with technology glitches it was just...”

She says after receiving two hours and 20 minutes of training from “probably the best trainer in the world” Spelman technology instructor Brian Williamson, she had the confidence she needed to teach the 100 or so students in her four classes. She teaches an African diaspora course, intermediate French, and a cinema class focused on revolutionary strategies and violent resistance.

Williamson taught Dr. Mekerta how to use ZOOM video conferencing and gave her a refresher on MOODLE, an online learning platform.

“[Last Monday] was my first day teaching online and it went magnificently,” she said in an email. “I felt like a pro.  I was so happy to see my students. Indeed, I could see and hear my students and they in turn could see and hear me.”

The students seemed relieved to reunite with one another in the online space, said Dr. Mekerta. She spent the first few minutes of class checking on their health and well-being. “Students were relieved….They had sighs of relief that there we were together like before.”

Like students throughout the country, Spelman students returned from spring break to learn they had to pack and leave campus in a matter of days.

“They had been uprooted, they had to pack, they had to leave, they had to arrange for transportation,” said Dr. Mekerta. “They had emails to read from professors and from their friends. They had been uprooted in a matter of days. They had a high level of anxiety.”

“[Students] told me they found me to be very caring. One had her younger sister online with her and the younger sister said, ‘Oh, your teacher really cares'." 

“Students wanted to know what was going to happen regarding grading. They were concerned about the fact that we had fallen behind. I involved them in the decision on how we were going to tweak our syllabus. We tweaked the grading percentages a little bit and we talked about new due dates.”

A veteran professor, Dr. Mekerta is now excited and confident about teaching the last six weeks of the semester online.

“Mr. Williamson understood my fears,” she said.

“He listened attentively, he reassured me, and he understood my learning style. He remained undisturbed by the fact that I was very slow. I took copious notes, and I asked him endless questions. Even when he had to repeat himself, he was as poised and as calm as the first time he introduced whatever the item was that I had him explain again and repeat.”



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