Faculty Highlight: Cathy Mestre Enhances Online Learning

By Claudia Zequeira

Thursday, April 30, 2020 

As a veteran instructor, Cathy Mestre, professor, paralegal studies, has seen her share of change and witnessed many of the College’s growing pains. But nothing prepared her for a pandemic in the 21st century.

Like most of us, shortly after Spring Break 2020, Cathy was told she had to switch her face–to-face classes to an online format in a matter of days. That meant six out of the eight class sections she was teaching.

“At first, I was very resistant and upset about the change,” she said. “I don’t consider myself to be the most tech-savvy person.”

Regardless, Cathy, who has been with the College for 27 years, rose to the occasion. And she did it quickly.

In the very early days of Zoom, and after running into trouble accessing it, she sent an email directly to Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Plinske, who graciously provided her with an account so that she could log on. And when Kaltura, the video platform used in many online courses at Valencia, failed to work, she immediately reached out to faculty developers/instructional designers for help.

But beyond her use of technology — and her willingness to ask for assistance when necessary — it was her love of students, her intuition about how classes should be conducted and her strong background in pedagogy that played a decisive role in her ability to deliver engaging, robust classes.

“I took very different https://youtu.be/RvSza7jMs-gapproaches for each course to tailor classes to meet student success,” she said. Her guiding light, said Cathy, was the idea that the quality of education she would provide should be just as rich as what she provided in her face-to-face courses.

In the more foundational courses she teaches, Cathy decided to create a private YouTube channel and upload her lectures. This allowed students to learn new material at their convenience.

For more advanced courses, such as Advanced Real Property, she tried a different method. “We were at the most important part of that class [when we went on Spring Break]” she said. “I knew posting lectures would not work.”

So, she set up Zoom sessions in real time to help her students learn and succeed. There, students were able to look at problems and share screens in order to learn the intricacies surrounding settlement sheets and closing disclosures, the math behind real estate transactions.

In her legal writing course, which requires students to conduct legal research in a brick-and-mortar library, Cathy quickly shifted her approach and had her students access Westlaw, an online database used to conduct legal research. In addition, she set up Zoom sessions so that students could show their writing and receive live feedback from fellow students, a seminar-style approach she used in her face-to-face classes.

When asked how her students feel about their redesigned courses, Cathy, said she thought they were appreciated.

“I think the proof is in the attendance,” she said, adding that she is enjoying an 85% attendance rate in her converted online courses, a rate similar to that of courses taught prior to coronavirus disrupting life as we know it.

But she was quick to credit Valencia’s flexibility, support and teamwork approach with her own success.

“We have amazing instructional designers,” she said. “If I have a question, they get back to me within seconds. I’m incredibly grateful. They have allowed me to be very creative.”

She also praised Carin Gordon, dean, business, information technology and public services, and her department for supporting her along the way.

Cathy also wished to give kudos to Ashley Cabrera, multimedia designer, distance learning, for going above and beyond the call of duty, including working weekends and responding to her requests for assistance immediately.

“I felt whenever I was struggling, there was always someone there who would get back to me,” she said. “That’s what encouraged me to do things beyond what I was originally comfortable with. I hope the College expands this model, because it works.”

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at  The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.

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