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Video conferencing helps alumnus complete Ed.D during pandemic

Fri Oct 9, 2020 at 01:45 PM

Jeremy Mitchell wasn’t going to let anything stop him from completing his Doctor of Education degree from the School of Education and Human Service last spring. So when Oakland University shut down just days before he was scheduled to present his capstone research, he turned to technology to make it all happen. Mitchell turned to WebEx to bring all the necessary parties together so he could successfully defend his dissertation.

After graduating from Oakland University’s education specialist graduate program in 2018, Mitchell began working toward his Ph.D almost immediately, but wasn’t sure the program was the best one for him. He learned about the doctoral education program vicariously through his former classmates and he decided to move over to the program, which he said was the right fit. 

“Our group met in Clarkston weekly on Tuesday evening, and once a month on Saturdays. It was a nice way for working professionals to earn an advanced degree. It was really flexible,” said Mitchell. As an elementary school principal, his next step professionally was in central office administration and he needed to return to school to prepare himself for that role. “A lot of the professors are not only professors, they are sitting administrators and retired administrators with practical experience to share.”

It took Mitchell approximately one year to complete his research and dissertation. He was prepared to defend it to the committee, and then COVID-19 began to disrupt campus life. 

“The date was set before all of that happened. I wanted to be mentally free from it,” said Mitchell. With a spring break trip looming, he wanted to be able to enjoy it with his family and not think about his research or dissertation. That’s when he decided that if the group couldn’t be together physically, they could still meet up through WebEx, something he had used with his mentor throughout the program.  

Mitchell worked with Oakland University Professor Julia Smith on his dissertation work. While they would frequently meet at the Big Boy in Hartland to go over his data and analysis, they also used WebEx to meet up virtually. 

“Dr. Smith used WebEx with her class. She would also record it for those who were busy and unable to attend and they could watch it later. Joining the video conference, for me, was no different than if I had to do it face-to-face,” said Mitchell. As his school district, Grand Blanc Community Schools, closed because of COVID-19, he saw students and teachers embrace this form of learning as well. 

Leading Students and Educators in Remote Learning

Mitchell has seen teachers and students make the shift to remote learning and he thinks this type of learning will continue to grow in K-12 education as well as higher education. 

“This model of learning is the idea that we can come together face-to-face and in the time we can come together we can have discussions and hands-on activities. In the other time, we study independently,” said Mitchell. He said this gives teachers the opportunity to teach mini introductory lessons and concepts to students, and then they can come together, do an activity and assess how it went. 

Mitchell said this type of learning allows the educators to bring in the parents as well. They can learn about numeracy and math and Common Core concepts that they don’t currently understand through the videos with their children. He said, for the students, it becomes less about memorization and more about learning to become a creative problem solver. 

That doesn’t come without a learning curve for some of the teachers who are adapting to technology and a new way of educating. 

“If we want teachers to coach their students and provide psychological support, we have to coach them too,” said Mitchell. He said when teachers are frustrated, he reminds them that they are all in it together. “We are going to eat the elephant one bite at a time. As a teacher, they would never let their students quit or give up. We need to encourage the teachers the same way.”

Mitchell said that some families have challenges that make remote learning more difficult, but he has been going to homes and meeting with families to connect them with hot spots or tutors or any help they may need. 

Within the school setting, Mitchell said there are threats to a student’s safety from shooters or bullies, but within the remote learning model, those dangers are taken out of the equation. 

Mitchell said before he became principal, he was a high school teacher and he taught an online course in 2011. He has been a hybrid student, an online student and knows it isn’t for everyone, but without the ability to learn online, and present his dissertation online, he wouldn’t have earned his advanced degrees. 

“I consider myself someone who likes to learn and grow all the time as a lifelong learner. It’s kind of like going to the gym. You can go to the gym with a trainer or a coach. There is accountability, which is important. And at Oakland, not only do you get really close attention from the professors, but the cohorts of students get really close as well. Those connections really, really last,” said Mitchell.