USC Rossier Hosts Student Panel Webinar

USC Rossier recently held a live student panel webinar featuring two recent graduates of the program: Peggy Khoury and Robert Mijares. The panel was organized to allow graduates to share their experiences in the program and answer questions from the audience. Panelist Peggy Khoury is a 2014 Master of Arts in Teaching – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages graduate who lives in Santa Clarita, California and works as an ESL instructor at the College of the Canyons. Robert Mijares is a 2014 Master of Arts in Teaching graduate and works as a math and science teacher at Busan Foreign School in Haeundae, Busan, South Korea.

Below you’ll find a transcript of the panel discussion, including many of the questions posed to the panelists and their responses.


What made you decide to go for a Master of Arts in Teaching?

Robert: I wanted to get a master’s because I had my background in engineering and I really wanted to be prepared to go into the classroom and be able to integrate industry and my knowledge of that background into math and science.

What made you choose USC Rossier?

Peggy: I had taken some online classes via Blackboard, and it wasn’t live online — you weren’t talking to people. In this program, we [the students] are in a “room” together interacting with each other and talking face to face, and that was a big benefit of the program.

Robert: Instead of seeing the backs of other students’ heads, you’re face-to-face and directly interacting.

Are there other things that make the online program stand out to you or make the program different?

Peggy: I had the best experience since the first time I spoke to my Admissions Counselor. The support that the program brought was incredible. My counselor held my hand the whole way. My student support advisor was wonderful. If I ever had a problem, she would help me.

Robert: The curriculum itself is really in-depth and insightful. Even though I’m not a TESOL student, I received a lot of support when deciding to teach students who don’t necessarily speak English. The program enables you to be prepared to go into the classroom.

What were your interactions like with faculty and peers?

Peggy: There is a lot of interaction with the other students. In the TESOL program, we had a lot of group projects. I also found that I had a lot of the same students in the same classes. If we worked well together, we’d be partners/study buddies in the other classes. The professors are really supportive. They’re really there for you. They respond within 24–48 hours when you have questions.

Robert: The professors were great. They usually gave us their phone number or personal email so we’d be able to talk. When it comes to students, I have lifelong friends. We had the ability to set up an Adobe Connect [room] to talk to other students and just meet. If you’re lucky, you can possibly meet with other students in person if you’re near each other, which makes it even better. The classes are really small, so you’re able to get to know each other easily.

What was it like, as an online student, going into the classroom to do observations?

Robert: I was doing the single-subject math credential, and I got paired up with a professor who also has experience in math. Not only did I have my guiding teacher, who I worked under, but I also had a mentor/advisor from USC Rossier who helped me through the process and reviewed my work. For feedback, we posted our recorded classes online to get feedback from the professor. Since they have experience, they were able to tell us what things we have to specifically work on.

Peggy: I was already teaching, so I was able to find another teacher in the school that I was able to observe. I really enjoyed it because I was able to watch a master teacher. I knew a lot of my peers didn’t have teaching experience, so it was a nice thing that the school was able to accommodate them.

What skills come in handy when trying to be successful in the online classroom vs. the typical on-campus classroom?

Robert: One of the things I remember is that there was a lot of reading in the program. In order to be successful, you have to be organized with your work. You’ll have to re-learn how to read critical texts, and you’ll have to learn how to intelligently screen texts and effectively approach your work.

Peggy: It is a lot of work — it is a master’s program. You really have to watch your time; time management is imperative.

What has been your experience with missing things that happen on campus or acceptance of an online degree by employers?

Peggy: No one will know that you did an online program — it’s not on your diploma. You should go to graduation. It is a great experience. The only thing I missed was knowing the USC fight song.

Robert: It hasn’t been an issue at all. I think it is important to make the distinction. If someone asks whether the program was online or not say, “Yes, it was, and this is why it was great.” Don’t be afraid of an online program.

Throughout your time at USC, what is the biggest thing you can take away from the program?

Robert: One of the biggest things was how broad my education is. You’re able to reach many different people and different classes. It’s also not just about the classroom; it’s about how you communicate with people and share information. And for me, it’s about how you interact with other students, your community, teachers and administrators.

How did the flexibility of the schedule and the accessibility of the platform help you as a student?

Peggy: I was working during the program, and I was really concerned about the times of my classes — at times I had 5:00 a.m. classes. I loved them, however, and I got to meet students from Asia. After my class, I was able to go to work and apply what I learned to my classroom.

Robert: I was also working full time, so I decided to do the program part time. I also had to take a leave of absence — as recommended by my student support advisor — because I was moving to a different part of California. Since I was also working as an engineer, I had to take night classes. I had to learn time management since I had a big goal at the end. I never had a problem with the schedule.

How was your experience balancing the work/school life?

Peggy: It is a master’s program so it is a lot of work. You may have to put life on hold for a year. It really is a lot of work. I did manage to finish with a 4.0, but it is hard since it is compacted into one year. My biggest suggestion is never fall behind. Start reading as soon as you get your syllabus.

How easy is it to get resources?

Peggy: The online library for USC is incredible — you have access to items at USC and thousands of other libraries as well.

Were there any unexpected benefits of the online classroom?

Robert: Being able to work with students from different locations. One of the benefits of that is getting perspectives that you wouldn’t normally get. It also forces you to become very handy with technology — you’re preparing yourself to deal with technology that you should be using in the classroom.

Peggy: I loved it because you’re in an international setting and you hear from students in all different countries, especially in the TESOL program.

Are there any other benefits or resources that USC Rossier provided that made a difference?

Peggy: They offer career services. They’ll help with your resume, interviewing, etc. They also have a great alumni network where you can connect with other students in your area.

Robert: The people resources that you get — the students and the professors. You’re able to get a broader perspective by interacting with people [who are] not only [overseas] but also on the east coast or in the Midwest. Since I was in math, I was able to connect with other math graduates and share resources.

How do the exams work with an online program?

Peggy: In the TESOL program, there were no midterms or finals. However, there were a lot of papers we had to write, which had to be written in APA.

Robert: We had papers and no exams. We were able to go through the papers with our professors.

Were you able to talk to professors?

Robert: I was given personal phone numbers and emails. Office hours are a great thing to use — you can get questions answered and speak one-on-one with your professor.

Peggy: My professors went out of their way to be available to speak with me even if it was outside of their office hours.

How did the observations work?

Peggy: It’s different if you’re already teaching. You had to observe and write things that you observed while sitting in. In one class, I had to answer questions and in another I had to observe a student.

Robert: I was working as an engineer at the time, so when I did my observations they fully ramp it up. At first you’re just in a classroom writing down what you see and other times you’re given prompts and possibly observing a student. Other times you may be checking test scores and observing students based on that. You also may introduce a lesson just to get your feet wet before student teaching. They don’t just throw you in there; you go through different stages.

Do you feel that the online program has prepared you to be a successful in-classroom teacher?

Peggy: Yes. It forced me to observe other teachers. I was teaching already and I thought I was okay, but when watching other teachers, you learn a lot from them. Because we are such a close group now, I continue to grow as a teacher.

Robert: One of the best things about the program is that it’s based on research and data about how to best teach classes. A lot of times you’ll come across teachers who say, “Oh, I do this and it works, but I don’t know why.” After graduation you’re able to link things you come across to theories that you learned in the program.