Every Maymester, Professor Jung Park teaches an intimate, three-week course on small business marketing and personal branding. He shares how he translated its core components into a meaningful virtual experience.
By Jung Park, Professor of Entrepreneurship
For the past eight years, teaching ENTP 6807 – Personal Branding has been the highlight of my year. I originally designed this Maymester course to create a safe and supportive environment for my students to openly share their struggles, triumphs, and life lessons. Over the course of an intense three weeks, we have been able to genuinely connect with each other and engage in a deeper level of self-discovery. I always believed that physically sitting together in the same room enabled my students to establish a strong bond with each other. I also believed that I was most effective in engaging my students inside the classroom, where I am physically standing in front of them.
Consequently, I was quite concerned about transitioning to the online format this summer in response to COVID-19. While I have facilitated meetings and participated in webinars before, I have never taught via Zoom. I simply did not know how I would leverage Zoom’s features and capabilities to replicate the same depth of engagement and collaboration. I spoke with a fellow faculty member, Dr. David Chandler, and he encouraged me to focus on my strengths and trust that what made me an effective instructor in person will translate online. His advice was reassuring and empowering.
So, I started researching how to create an effective learning environment through Zoom; how to setup the lighting, audio, visuals, media, activities, discussions, etc. I planned out how I could replicate the same safe and supportive atmosphere for my students to openly share their thoughts and life journeys.
One of the most important adaptations I had to make was in how I would establish a personal and authentic connection with each and every student. I decided to begin every class session by asking each of my 16 students how they were doing and how was their day. These simple questions were meaningful and timely, as there were so many external factors—on a global, national, and local scale—that were affecting my students’ mental and emotional health.
It took a few sessions for the students to get comfortable with the idea that we would start off with such personal check-ins and reflections. However, I felt it was important for my students to share what they were carrying into the space. By openly sharing what was on their minds, they were able to unburden themselves and focus on the task at hand.
As I got to know my students better, I intentionally grouped them into breakout room activities based on their points of difference and parity. Through these exercises, they got to learn about each other and acknowledge their diversity and shared commonalities. These group activities also replicated the intimate, in-person conversations that typically happened before, after, and halfway through class during the break. My students maximized these opportunities to get to know each other and connect on a deeper level.
The “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom was also an effective tool to encourage and manage questions during our discussions. I noticed that introverted students seemed to feel more comfortable participating online, possibly because they were in their own environment and there were more ways to do so via Zoom and Canvas. To help engage these quieter voices, I carefully read through my students’ work submitted on Canvas and referenced prominent examples later in class. This increased our engagement and led to more meaningful, relevant, and involved discussions.
Just as I did in the classroom, I invited multiple guest speakers to join us throughout the two weeks to provide unique and different perspectives on the course topics. They shared honest reflections on their real-life experiences, which were well-received by my students and provided a nice break to our long class sessions.
During our last session together, so many of my initial concerns about the transition were allayed. Students shared their final presentations on their struggles, accomplishments, fears, aspirations, and plans for their personal brands moving forward.
They collectively supported each other with positive and supportive feedback via chat during the presentations. They demonstrated authentic peer support and mentoring. They confirmed their shared experiences while appreciating each other’s unique perspectives. I had not yet turned on Zoom’s “Save Chat” feature, so I manually took screenshots of the outpouring of support that my students shared with each other. I will be sure to turn that feature on next time.
Overall, my fears and hesitations about teaching via Zoom have been properly put to rest. While I believe nothing will ever replace authentic, in-person interaction, today’s online tools can help us replicate the valuable components of educational engagement during these unprecedented times. I want to continue to work and improve on how I can genuinely connect with my students, learn about their unique perspectives, meet their individual needs, and provide a safe space for them to share and connect with each other… regardless of whether it is online or in the classroom. I am grateful for my students’ vulnerability and bravery throughout this intensive Maymester course.
To my students, thank you for being engaged, intentional, and, most importantly, yourself.