Welcome Back: Be Sure to Raise Your (Virtual) Hand

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‘Things Are Definitely Different…’

“Things are definitely different than they used to be” Eric Aaberg, a Naveen Jindal School of Management junior marketing major, emailed at the end of the first week of fall semester, “but UTD has come back stronger than ever.”

Eric Aaberg

Full disclosure: Aaberg is a cheerleader. A member of the UT Dallas cheerleading squad, he also is a peer advisor, student director of Esports, president of Comet Life, a student organization he created to help students connect, and a member of the JSOM Social Team. In that capacity, he hosted an Aug. 12 Jindal School Instagram (#jsom) takeover you can watch here.

Notice Aaberg’s exuberance? It fairly trampolines out of him and off the screen. And it reverberates in that email, where he went on to observe: “Sure, many things didn’t go as planned for 2020, but that just means we’ve been able to adapt as a university, as a community, as a Comet, to these unprecedented times.”

Monica Powell

A self-proclaimed huge fan “of the resilience of our faculty and of our terrific students,” Dr. Monica Powell, JSOM’s senior associate dean and dean of graduate programs, thinks Aaberg and later Instagram takeover host Sofia Martinez-Murillo are off to an excellent start in the 2020 academic year.

Martinez-Murillo, also a marketing junior, quickly learned the first week of classes that she literally has to get up to bounce back.

“One of the hurdles I’ve encountered is staying focused during virtual class,” Martinez-Murillo, recounted in an email. “Studying in the same environment all day can be difficult, as I don’t have to move from one classroom to another; therefore, I stay sitting down at the same desk for hours.”

Sofia Martinez-Murillo

On the upside, Martinez-Murillo, who is taking all her courses online, wrote that she had started building in breaks to rest from academics but otherwise be active. “Ten to 20 minutes of movement can make a huge difference!” she said.

And she noticed that “I have more time to balance schoolwork and physical health. Since some of my classes have opened up some assignments several weeks before the due date, I am able to work on them ahead of time and get more leisure time for exercise and personal hobbies.”

Also a JSOM Social Team member, Martinez-Murillo’s other first-week accomplishments included hosting that Instagram takeover Aug. 19. There she talked up her Marketing Content Creation course and the Professional Program in Marketing, encouraged newcomers to check out the Freshman Mentor Program —where she volunteers — and presided over a live session during which she painted while fielding questions.

The Five Modalities

Monica Powell admires Martinez-Murillo’s ability to adapt. “Adapt” is another keyword for Powell these days, and for her, a large part of adapting means getting students and faculty alike to embrace the five “instruction modalities” UT Dallas and JSOM offer this fall.

Think of the modalities as five different ways students can take courses. The ways range from traditional in-person on-campus classes — albeit with masks and social distancing rules in place — to prerecorded online classes that can be watch anytime, anywhere.

Here is a rundown of all five:


Students as well as faculty can mix their modalities. Eric Aaberg is in the Blended/Hybrid mode for two of his courses as well as Remote/Virtual for the rest.

The “Blended/Hybrid Module is definitely my favorite so far,” he wrote, “as I still get a part of that traditional learning environment I’ve been used to for the past two years.”

Howard Dover

Dr. Howard Dover, a clinical professor of marketing and director of the Center for Professional Sales, is a man in the middle at Modality 3, the instructor always in the classroom.

“It’s a unique challenge to engage students in class and students online,” Dover said. “The students who are attending class in person are very pleased to have the option to be on campus again and to be in a classroom. It’s fun to see them excited to learn and to engage again this semester. I am adjusting with each delivery to find the right engagement model for this unique concept of HyFlex.”

Liping Ma

Like Dover, Dr. Liping Ma, clinical assistant professor of finance and managerial economics and director of the Finance Trading Lab, is teaching a HyFlex course. But she also is teaching a Remote/Virtual course and a Fully Online course.

In all three modes, she said, “I would like to bring my enthusiasm, positive attitude and compassion to the classroom.”

Hubert  Zydorek

In these times, she said, “Life is just like the journey of learning in a quantitative finance class. You overcome fear and develop new skills by many thousands of trials and errors, practicing and experiencing.”

Summarizing, Hubert Zydorek, director of the BS in Global Business and MS in International Management Studies programs, said, “This semester is all about the blended approach to learning, flexibility for students and engagement.”

‘Raise Your Virtual Hand’

A cheerleader for engagement, Monica Powell worries that while the instruction modalities provide a good mix of options, some students may “hide out” in them, failing to connect and make the most of their college opportunities. Her advice: “Don’t let the learning modalities determine your level of engagement.”

Speaking in a “Welcome Back” video, Powell said, “I hope this fall you won’t let COVID-19 define your success or your effort. That you won’t hide behind asynchronous learning, that you’ll step out and be seen by your faculty and your classmates. You’ll turn on your camera. You’ll raise your virtual hand. You’ll show enthusiasm. You’ll lead.”

At the end of the semester, Powell added, “I hope you’ll tell all of us … how you learned what you’re really made of, and how you gave more and gained everything.”

Kris Imherr

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