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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Gen Ed instructor enjoys unique world of Online classes

January 13, 2015
online gen ed instructor Melissa Brewer
Online classes work for Gen Ed instructor Melissa Brewer, as well as students trying to balance their education with busy lives.

Melissa Brewer made the switch from ground campus General Education instructor in Visalia to an Online spot for the same reason many students choose the Online education experience: the ability to work from home.

Five years ago, when her son Dylan was born, Melissa knew that life with husband, Philip, and 3-year-old Seth was going to become even more hectic. But she was determined not to sacrifice her passion for teaching and those she might help in order to avoid the difficulty of juggling those worlds.

“My heart is in teaching,” says Melissa, who has a BA degree in Social Science. “That’s where I’m supposed to be, and it’s the first career that I felt that I was home.”

SJVC’s Online division was growing dramatically and when a part-time position came up, Melissa jumped at it. There was just one little problem: “I had never participated in an online course before and I was very unsure of how effective I would be as an instructor,” says Melissa. She need not have worried.

The advantages of online learning for both teacher and students were immediate and a bit surprising.

The most obvious benefit is that participants have greater control over their time. “Like me, my students can’t always make it to a campus; and it works better for their families, too,” says Melissa. “They too are working at 1:00 o’clock in the morning and studying late in the evenings.”

Melissa and her students had the creative experience of learning how to make it all work, together.

“We all got to know what it’s like to answer an e-mail when your kids are fighting, or when you’re trying to make dinner,” she says. “I was able to coach them on finding a way to do that, and not let life get in the way of their education.”

There is also a huge benefit in the diversity – especially age – that online courses invite. “Young people just out of high school and those maybe starting a second career, or even retired from a previous career, are in this together,” says Melissa. “Seeing the communication and collaboration between those two generations is very exciting. They form fabulous partnerships that if in a face-to-face experience in a ‘ground’ class, might not spark up as easily.”

Melissa especially likes the fact that, as a Social Science/General Education instructor, she gets to work with students from a variety of programs. “I get to meet all our students; it doesn’t matter what their discipline is,” she says. It is a full cross-section of the Online student population that now includes many ground campus students, as well.

It is not uncommon for Melissa to be in line at some store in Visalia when someone comes up to her with a “Hey, Mrs. Brewer!” Online students always see a photo of their instructors, but their photos are not always provided. “It’s always a neat surprise to get to meet a student like that because, although some of my students are right here in Visalia or the Central Valley, many are on the East coast, New York or maybe on a military base in Japan,” says Melissa.

No matter where her students live, Melissa has the same two hopes for what each of them gets from her class. “I want them to have a greater understanding of human behavior in their world,” says Melissa. “The second thing I want for them is this. They’ve taken on this subject that they thought was really out of their scope of practice, and I want them to know that they can go out into the world and share what they have learned with great confidence.”

“Melissa’s ability to relate to students and provide them with a quality education, while engaging them in an Online environment, is a great skill that she holds,” says Patrick Krebs, Online Division Manager. “Listening to her lectures, one can clearly hear the passion that she has for the subject matter she teaches.”

Melissa wants her students to have a little faith, wherever they find it and find their confidence through their education.

“I’m always surprised when a student says they can’t do it,” says Melissa. “They’re at zero level confidence, but still trust me to guide them through their process to see them successful in the end. That never gets old to me.”