October 14, 2014

Professor Works to Increase Virtual Teaching Initiatives

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By MATTHEW MARON

Prof. Sheryl Kimes, hotel administration — the University’s fourth annual Menschel Fellow — said she is seeking to increase virtual teaching initiatives and online collaboration opportunities for students at Cornell.

Kimes, who was named as the 2014-15 Menschel Scholar by Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence at the beginning of the semester, said each fellow works on a specific project to enhance undergraduate education at Cornell.

For her project, Kimes said she plans to create programs that will implement virtual collaboration and virtual teaching at the University.

“Cornell has a big push for internalization,” she said. “You may do a semester abroad but some students cannot [because] they do not have the money or have the time to go abroad. What I want to do is [figure out] how you can create something where students can have a virtual international experience.”

Through virtual lectures over video conferencing software from professors in other countries or from students collaborating with non-profits in less developed countries, Kimes said she feels that  Cornellians have much to gain by utilizing virtual teaching and collaboration technology.

“All of you are going to end up working in some sort of a virtual team in your future,” she said. “Whether [it is] working with people around the country, or … working with people around the world, it’s very important to learn how to do that.”

Kimes — who said students should be introduced to virtual interaction — also said she anticipates that most students will end up working in virtual environments in the next 10 to 15 years.

Kimes said she hopes that all Cornell professors will be able to integrate virtual collaboration into their classrooms.

“I want to come up with a replicable approach to [virtual teaching and collaboration] so that anyone on campus can do something like this,” she said. “How do you go about selecting another school to work with, what type of technology do you use [and] how do you get [pilot programs] going?,” she said.

In addition to publicly-available software such as Skype, Kimes said she plans to use technology such as Cisco’s WebEx and service called Zoom to help students collaborate with each other.

Over her teaching career, Kimes said she had the opportunity to work internationally. In 2008, she taught a course in Singapore as part of a joint master’s degree program with Nanyang Technological University.

“I was in Singapore so I taught [the course] from there and I had students here [in Ithaca],” she said. “The students here had no professor in the room besides me on the screen.”

Though she was thousands of miles away in Singapore, Kimes said she was still able to virtually interact with her students in Ithaca.

When asked if she thought virtual teaching could detract from the teaching experience, Kimes said she has found an increased amount of participation in virtual classrooms than in regular classes.

“The level of participation was much higher in terms of the quality,” she said.

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