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SECS uses online teaching experience to teach summer camps

Fri Aug 20, 2021 at 12:22 PM

Oakland University’ School of Engineering and Computer Science hosts outreach programs each summer to introduce high school and pre-college students to OU’s programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). In planning for the 2021 programs, Assistant Director of Outreach Bianca Bryant planned for in-person activities. However, an about-face this spring left the department planning for engaging high school and middle school students in an online environment.

Bryant said after months of planning how to socially distance students and planning for masks in the classrooms, the team was told on April 1 that all summer programs would need to go to a virtual format. For Bryant and the outreach team, there was no doubt that summer camps would continue, no matter what the format. 

OU’s SECS offers outreach programs, both on and off campus, throughout the year. The faculty meet with students in high school, middle and elementary schools for projects and demonstrations and to bring STEM activities into their lives. Bryant said the summer months offer an opportunity to bring kids on campus with four camps offered each week and 25 students in each camp. 

The first challenge to moving the camps online: Supplies. 

“It’s hard to teach STEM without materials,” said Bryant. “We sent actual kits to each house for the participants. In each kit, we made sure the supplies were labeled and easy to identify.” 

The second challenge: Format.

“We gave an option for parents to select half-day or full-day camps,” said Bryant. “The half-day program was 9 a.m. to noon with breaks. This was at a lower cost than the full day camp. The full day was 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an hour lunch break and multiple breaks each hour. There was also outside time, when we would encourage the students to get outside and test whatever they were working on and then report back.”

The activities were developmentally appropriate practices like slime, microphones, sound and audio engineering. 

“Parents were aware that being on Zoom is hard. There were more half-day kids than full-day, but we anticipated that would happen,” said Bryant. 

What she didn’t anticipate was that online camps could attract a broader audience and parents would have the chance to get more involved. 

Bryant said many of the campers typically come from the Rochester area, but this year, they were able to attract students from as far away as Grand Rapids and Lansing because the students could attend from anywhere. 

The third challenge: Preparing the faculty and instructors

To help the faculty and instructors working with the students, Bryant made sure they had all the necessary tools. 

“We did a full training with them, including training with the Diversity Office, Counseling Center and we went over a few different Zoom tutorials and tactics. Chris Kobus (Director of Outreach, Recruitment and Retention and associate professor in the mechanical engineering department) gave tips of the trade as well. In some cases, we had to learn by fire. At the end of the day, you’re going to learn it once you get to try it.” said Bryant. 

While the faculty had experience teaching online and had conducted virtual field trips for students throughout the year, there were some extra considerations. Bryant said in working with kids under 18, there were special Zoom links and legalities that had to be considered as well as virtual classroom structure. 

“There are two instructors for every single class and the Camp Invention had three instructors. That way, if a student needed any extra assistance, we were able to give help step-by-step,” said Bryant. 

While the situation wasn’t what Bryant initially planned for, she said the outcome was better than she could have dreamed. 

“Students get a lot when they are able to come to campus. It’s a really cool experience when they can be on campus and in a lab. However, when we did the Camp Invention online, we saw families being able to participate together. They were getting interaction with OU in their homes,” said Bryant. 

It’s hard to predict what will happen next summer, but Bryant said a virtual option is in the works. 

“Without the virtual option this summer, many students maybe wouldn’t have considered an Oakland University camp. I’d love to have in-person camps next year with a virtual option,” said Bryant. 

For more information on SECS’ summer camps and year-round school programs, visit the Outreach website.