Instructor, students connect in online Spanish courses

JMU News

SUMMARY: Karina Kline-Gabel's synchronous classes are designed for active learning, with lectures, small-group work and plenty of time for socialization and speaking practice.

By Jim Heffernan (’96, ‘17M)

Karina Kline-Gabel’s Spanish classes offer a rich, interactive learning environment, despite not meeting face-to-face this semester.

A Spanish lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the inaugural Faculty Diversity Liaison to the College of Arts and Letters, Kline-Gabel is teaching nearly 100 students via Zoom. While some courses at JMU have endured scheduling and format changes due to the pandemic, “the consistency of having well-designed synchronous classes online all semester has been a very positive experience for both the students and myself,” she said.

Kline-Gabel, who teaches Spanish courses online during the summer months, attributes the success of her classes to how they’re structured.

All students are expected to turn on their laptop cameras at the beginning of class and be fully engaged, she said. “I start with attendance and a ‘conectémonos’ moment where every single student lets us know how they are doing and something that can make us laugh,” she said.

Following her lecture, the students move to virtual breakout rooms to work on class assignments in groups of four. These assignments incorporate topics that support the course diversity curriculum and provide time for socialization and speaking practice.

The last three minutes of each class are reserved for students who have questions for Kline-Gabel. “I’m always pleasantly surprised that most students stay,” she said. “They appear to like being part of this informal time with me in English.”

“I really appreciate how Professor Kline-Gabel maintains the feel of an in-person classroom even though we are on Zoom,” said sophomore Madison Munson. “She calls roll, asks us questions and reviews our assignments, which breaks down the barriers online classes usually have.

“She is very encouraging to us during class time as well, and doesn’t ever make you feel bad if you slip up [on] a pronunciation or a vocab word,” Munson said.

Freshman Nicole Blackwell admits she had some concerns when JMU temporarily transitioned to online learning early in the fall semester, but Kline-Gabel’s class helped her realize that she can succeed in a virtual setting.

“I thought I would have trouble learning in general online because it didn’t go well for me in high school,” Blackwell said. “But now I actually think it’s better for me because I get chances that I wouldn’t be able to do while in person. I actually get to learn at my [own] pace and can rewatch certain lessons if I don’t understand the first time.”

Kline-Gabel’s students can schedule one-on-one meetings during her virtual office hours to discuss grades and assess their overall progress.

“Profesora is very understanding about [individual] circumstances and situations,” Blackwell said.

“Students are being very transparent this semester, and it’s a welcome change from excuses,” Kline-Gabel said. “We make a plan and often they improve, proving that a little compassion goes a long way.”

Cassidy Sadonis, a junior, has taken advantage of Kline-Gabel’s virtual office hours. He appreciates that she is always willing to help.

“She knows exactly how to help us solve our problems without becoming frustrated with us or just outright solving them for us,” he said. “Above all, she encourages us when something clicks that hadn’t previously, cheering us on.”

Kline-Gabel believes she has a much higher level of engagement in her online classes.

“I love to teach face-to-face. I look forward to going back to teaching face-to-face during the semesters,” she said. “But for this time period, I feel that this has been a unique experience. I have really found it to be a positive thing for my language students.”


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Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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