An Oral interview with St. Mary's University History Professor Dr. Gerald Poyo


Title (Dublin Core)

An Oral interview with St. Mary's University History Professor Dr. Gerald Poyo
Gerald E. Poyo Oral History, 2020/11/17

Description (Dublin Core)

Dr. Poyo talks about the process of converting his classes online. Teaching these past two semesters has changed his opinion about online classes. Through the help of St. Mary's University and the History Department, he was been to tackle the difficult job.

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Type (Dublin Core)

oral history

Controlled Vocabulary (Dublin Core)

Curator's Tags (Omeka Classic)

Contributor's Tags (a true folksonomy) (Friend of a Friend)

Date Submitted (Dublin Core)


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Interviewer (Bibliographic Ontology)

Bianca-Rhae Jacquez

Interviewee (Bibliographic Ontology)

Gerald E. Poyo

Location (Omeka Classic)

San Antonio
United States

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Transcription (Omeka Classic)

Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 00:03
Can you please introduce yourself?
Dr. Poyo 00:06
My name is Professor Gerald Poyo, and Professor of Latin American and US Latino history.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 00:18
How long have you been teaching at St. Mary's and how long have you been teaching in general?
Dr. Poyo 00:24
I've been at St. Mary's, since since the fall of 1992. And before that, I taught for about a
year and a half, almost two years at Florida International University in Miami. And before
that, I worked as a research researcher and a museum curator at the Institute of Texan
Cultures, downtown San Antonio. And, and along the way, when I was a museum curator, I
taught I taught a course, every, every semester at San Antonio College, and either sent on
your college downtown or UTSA.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 01:22
Um, have you always taught Latin American history? You have you dabbled in different
fields of study?
Dr. Poyo 01:30
Well, Latin American history is the area that I specialized in. And in the early years,
teaching at San Antonio College in UTSA, I taught almost exclusively US history, because
they didn't teach Latin American history. And, and then, when I at Florida International
University, I taught human history, and I taught Latin American history. And then when I
came to St. Mary's, I started teaching us Latino history, and Mexican American history, in
addition to Latin American history, and, and US history.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 02:16
I did not know that. That's why it's always like, you're just be dedicated to one field of
study as professors.
Dr. Poyo 02:22
Well, you have to you have to, you get your field of specialization, but especially if you go
to small universities, like St. Mary's, because the fact because the departments are small,
then you have to try to teach, you have to expand your teaching. Unlike if you go to like a
major university, like UT Austin are something you teach, you teach your specialty, and
that's all you teach. So it's kind of nice to be at a smaller place where you can expand
your, your teaching experience.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 02:57
So how would you describe your class structure pre pandemic?
Dr. Poyo 03:03
structure? What do you mean by structure?
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 03:08
Was it very interactive in person? Have you ever done like, a lot of online courses before?
Dr. Poyo 03:17
No, I have never taught online courses. And I had promised myself that I would never
teach online courses. Because Because I believe so much and being in the classroom, and
be students. And I think that there's something to be said for face to face. Teaching. So
my, in my classroom, I do I have I began in my earlier years, I spent a lot of time doing
lecturing, because that's the way that's what you did. That's the way that that professors
taught mostly was, at least history professors was, was through lectures. And over time, I
started doing less lecture and more discussion, group conversation. And now today, I don't
really do much lecture anymore. I do mostly I try to lead the classroom conversation into
a particular direction and add lecture material as I go. But it's my assumption always that
if the students come to class with their assignments, there's no reason to lecture, but
rather, rather to take but to rather take a deeper look at the material that the students
have already read.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 04:45
Um, in March 2020, we were announced that we were going to get an extra week of
Spring Boot spring break, to allow us to transition to online classes. How did you react to
that announcement?
Dr. Poyo 05:00
Well, I reacted, as we all did. It was it wasn't a, they were asking us to do it, they were
telling us to do it. So despite my trepidations, I decided that I would, this would be a good
time to take advantage and to learn a lot of stuff about technology that I had never really
taken the time to learn. My idea about about technology was you learn it when you
absolutely have to use it. And since my job was mostly teaching, and I did a lot, and then
writing, researching and writing, I didn't really need a lot of, of the emerging technologies
for what I what I do. But once once we had to go online, then everything changed. And we
had to take had to take a new attitude and move forward.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 06:04
How did you feel emotionally about it? Were you scared, nervous?
Dr. Poyo 06:10
I wasn't nervous, I was scared I was. I was a bit concerned as to how quickly I could, I could
learn all the things that I needed to learn. But really, when things closed down in March,
I'm the only thing that I really had to learn at that point was how to how to use Zoom. And
so we took the existing class that was already already had in place. And rather than going
to the classroom, I just did it on zoom. So I thought, well, this is not too hard. So after
fumbling, fumbling around a bit and learning how to do zoom, then I worked through the
rest of the semester. And it was, it went well. But that was just the first taste, because after
the semester ended, then we were informed that we all had to be certified. To teach online
university has a university has a certification program for any professor who wanted to
teach online. And, and frankly, that was one of the things that that sort of persuaded me
that not to go online, because then I'd have to spend the whole summer going through
this very, was turned out to be quite a quite a rigorous course. And I never really wanted to
spend my summers doing that I wanted to spend my summers doing research and writing.
So I had never really moved in the direction. But now in that direction. But now I had no
choice. We all had to be certified and we all had to be prepared to go into the fall
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 08:12
What changes? You and he said you had more discussion and conversation
conversational type in person classes is that the structure? You're still trying to keep now
that you're online?
Dr. Poyo 08:25
Yep. Yeah, pretty much. In fact, one of the things that Well, let me just let me just go back
to the main thing that changed in my course, was that online, at least through the
certification program, we were required to set up the entire syllabus with the entire course,
already completed. That is, in my experience, I don't have a syllabus, buddy, but exactly
what you know, exactly each week exactly what, for example, if I had a quiz or a test, or
some other activity, I wouldn't necessarily that wouldn't necessarily be on my syllabus
would that I handed out at the beginning of the semester, in terms of the actual questions,
for example, that I might ask. And then the other part is that we were encouraged very
strongly to learn how to do the discussion forum. And the discussion forum was really the
same thing that I did in class. And I mean, that's the way I used to think about it. But
actually, as I, as it turned out, the discussion forum is really an additional complement to
the classroom discussion. And I found that very, very useful. So that so that the way the
class is structured now, students are assigned a reading. They come in, on this semester,
for example, on a Tuesday, they then we talk about the readings students, and they have
students that will gain get a participation grade, based on the participation of that day on
the readings. And the way that that is set up on on canvas that you can just add that
grade, you know, as soon as the class is over, you can just add the grade, right. Then,
during the week, Tuesday to Thursday, I have the discussion forum. And the students then
have to read. In the second text that we have, which is a documents test, the students
have to read that documents text. And then they have to post answers to particular
particular prompts that I asked about those documents. So that by Thursday, when they
come into class, then we're ready to discuss the documents and broaden the documents,
right. And then on the basis of the, on the basis of the of the readings from the first text,
and the and the documents in the second text. By the end of the week, then the students
will write a a week, a weekly paper in which they summarize and reflect on the theme for
the week. And so what this course with this online course made me do was to was to
structure the course much more clearly for students arm since since we were in this sort of
strange situation where sometimes the internet works, sometimes it didn't, it all had to be
available there for them. And so I thought it I thought it was a good a really good learning
experience for me, I learned how to do all of the, the technology stuff on canvas, all the
discussion boards and all these other things. Video, record, etc. And, and to and to be
much more much more reflective about what I want each student to students to do each
week. So it gave it made me think the course ahead much more thoroughly than than I
had traditionally done in the classroom teaching. So I found that really quite enlightening
quite. And it's something of course, that that I'll probably continue to do whether I'm in the
classroom or not.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 13:03
Time could be an issue, not showing up at the right time. For my instance, I'm in Mountain
Time Zone and San Antonio is central time. So for me, it was really hard to adjust to that
time zone. Because my classes were reflecting a different time. So in my head, I was like,
What to but it's actually one is that an issue that you saw with a lot of students this
Dr. Poyo 13:39
Um, no, I didn't find that at all, I think I can't think of a student really that was outside the
time zone. I had one student who was in Honduras, or who isn't under us. And I don't know
if the time is exactly the same there or not. But it wasn't a problem for her she saw that
know that the time issue really was not a was not a problem for me to I guess the most
disconcerting part is, was the issue of not being able to see the students faces. It was very,
it took me a long time to get used to the idea that I would just be talking to these little
black boxes except for except for a couple students or two or three to ready to students
who regularly turned down their videos. And the rest of them although I encourage them
to didn't so I only had I only had two students who would turn on their videos. And I don't
know exactly why. But I do know that sometimes students would not really be there
behind that little black box. And so I always had to be We had to be sure to be calling on
everybody to be sure that they were actually there. And we got into a bit of a, with a
couple students a bit of a cat and mouse game where it wasn't clear to me that they were
there, or if they were there. Or they said they were away, they'd stepped away for a
minute. Anyway, it was a little disconcerting to have to worry about that and to be
thinking about that. The other part that was sometimes problematic is the student. The
student mics often didn't work. But sometimes it got the I got the impression that if they
didn't know the answers to the questions, I asked him in class, they would say, their mics
not working. And so, you know, that also was a bit problematic, sometimes trying to figure
out, you know, especially if they're getting a participation grade for the classroom
participation. And so how do I evaluate their participation? When they're not? Either either
able to talk to me? Or maybe they use that as an excuse when they don't really have the
answer. So those kinds of things, they're, they're not really, they're not really terrible. And
they weren't really traumatic, but they were things that I had to sort of deal with, which
you wouldn't have to and then in a regular classroom.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 16:49
Did you have any technology issues with connecting to your classes.
Dr. Poyo 16:55
I didn't have any I had, I didn't really have any, any problems at all. I know, I had students
who had problems who couldn't get on or they got kicked out. Or, or it was unstable. But I
think all in all, all in all, it was pretty good. Not, not there weren't that many problems.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 17:26
Um, what advantages Do you see online learning having on your career, and your ability
to teach in the future? Now that you've had this long experience and all these years,
especially since you're certified now? How do you think that event is an advantage to your
Dr. Poyo 17:48
Well, I think the main effect, the main thing is that I'll be able to support the department.
If it decides that it needs more online courses, or, for example, the graduate program is
right now during this this year, a totally online future.
Dr. Poyo 18:15
I don't know if it will be totally online, but but online will certainly continue to be an
important piece of it. So that allows me to support the department in that sense and, and
teach those courses. So that's I think that's a great benefit for the department. And great
better for for me, because that I can continue to teach and the graduate program also
provides the possibility of expanding our undergraduate online courses, we have never,
we've never had an online underlie very many online courses we, in the past taught Dr.
Van Hoy, for example, would teach some online courses in the summer so she was the
vanguard of our, of our online of our online teaching. And she was the only one that did it.
Your some years ago. But now we can expand that and we could teach classes during the
regular year, if we need to, or want to. So I think I think that's the main benefit for me. The
other the other benefit might be that I'm learning how I've learned also how to do
meetings meetings online. And, and department has been doing a lot of presentations
online. And, and in the future, we'll probably be doing some webinars. And so those are
those are all things that I've learned how to do. And once once we go back to regular
time, regular things, I don't know if we'll continue to use this technology in this way. But if
we need to, we certainly know how to do it.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 20:21
If you were offered right now to go back onto campus, would you go back? Do you think
it's something that you view as an important part of your classroom now like going on to
campus? Or do you think it's as a as of right now?
Dr. Poyo 20:48
I had the opportunity to go back to campus, but for the spring, but I chose not to. I just
turned 70. I am I am, I'm in that I'm in that high risk category. So it doesn't make any sense
for me, I don't think to go back into the classroom, even though there seemed to be doing
a very good job.It seems to me that I would rather just wait till my till I get my vaccine.
And then, then I'd be happy to go back to the classroom. In fact, I'll insist on it.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 21:34
I think you should wait your safe. If it becomes before everyone else.
Dr. Poyo 21:42
That's what I think too. There's no point there's no point in getting sick if you have if you
have an alternative.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 21:50
So now, how do you feel now about online? You did say You promised yourself inthe past
that you weren't going to online? How do you feel by now like, would you say want to do
online teaching only now or maybe you expand your online team, to others different
avenues may help other universities in their online teaching?
Dr. Poyo 22:20
Well, my whole my whole view of online teaching has, has changed dramatically, really.
And and I think, you see, when, when online teaching first developed, it was very low tech.
And there was no zooming things like that. It was it was just you just put your course online.
And you email back and forth or chat back and forth Somehow, I don't know, I don't know
exactly how it was done. And it just seemed like it was a it was no real contact, you know,
real time contact with students. So I guess I developed my attitude about online teaching
from from that, from that time. And it wasn't until spring that when I actually had to do it, I
saw how much the technology had advanced. Zoom, I'd heard about zoom, but I've never
used zoom, before last March. And I was really surprised at what a wonderful tool it is and
how and how, how you can how you can engage on zoom as easily as you can engage in
the classroom. And then the discussion, the discussion board, which of course, we've
always had on on canvas. I hadn't ever used too much because frankly, I never wanted to
take the time to learn how, how to do it effectively. Anyway, I would prefer to do the adult
one if I can do discussions in class, why would I want to do discussions online. But but
doing it having this experience I've learned that those two things can be very
complimentary. You can do both and and have different objectives in the classroom from
from the objectives online, in the forum. Right. So so so by getting really deeply involved in
it, I could see more clearly the different options. And with the technology, what the
technology the way it is. It really it really makes it interactive and makes it so that you can
you can engage you can you can do a lot of things that I never know you could do. So I'm
happy to continue teaching online but certainly not exclusively. I don't want to I don't want
to. I don't want St Mary's to turn into a University of Phoenix.
Dr. Poyo 25:03
I know that's where you that's where you are right? Oh, you're in El Paso. I thought you
were a phoenix person
Dr. Poyo 25:14
Oh, yes, that's right. So we don't want to turn into a school that's exclusively online,
obviously. But but for, for creating, for having for being able to attract more students, for
example, in the graduate program, we have a couple students now, who are ones in Utah.
And I don't know where the other one is, but but they're only taking those courses that
only enrolled in our program this semester, just because they could do it online. Now, I
don't know if that's the I don't know if once the virus has gone, they'll come back, they'll
come here or whether they'll want to finish the whole program online. I don't know about
that. Yeah. So. So yeah. So like, I've appreciated learning all this. And I'll continue to use it
as long as it's useful for me and for the department. And but I do not want to replace my
in class teaching with that.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 26:16
So what is one thing you would like people to understand about a professor's point of
view during a pandemic? Online Teaching is something that a lot of people have not
thought about, especially what the teachers/educators are going through? We've mostly
been focusing on the students perspective, the administration struggles, how do you want
people to understand from your perspective, what has happened, and what's going on?
Dr. Poyo 26:48
I think the probably the, the thing that people may not understand is how much extra
effort and work it took to take to transform an entire faculty in a matter of, really five
months. From a faculty that's primarily classroom focus. And to transfer that into an
entire faculty that can teach online. I think that's been a really big commitment by the
faculty. And, and in the face, in the face also of the uncertainty of, of keeping jobs, a lot of
faculty that, that lost their jobs are not our full time faculty, but our adjunct faculty. And in
the uncertainty of what's going to happen, what happened to our benefits or benefits
have been cut. And whether we'll ever get that back or not. Who knows. And our salaries
have been cut. And I think we all understand why. And I don't think anybody would, not
many people oppose the idea. Because it had to be done. But it but there was a lot of a
lot of stuff was going on, affecting our lives. And I think that our faculty at St. Mary's
stepped up in a big way, and have done a great job. But you know, we just just did what
we had to do, and I'm not sure how many people out there in the world really know much
about that. Lots of times, that lots of times people say oh, a university professor, he
teaches you teaches two courses a day. And then he goes home, right.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 28:53
I've seen you in office. I know how much work you put into it.
Dr. Poyo 28:59
That's all of us. We all work hard. Just as just as just as you all do.
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 29:07
What do you think the university did well in preparing you guys for the online classes?
Dr. Poyo 29:12
Do we think that St. Mary's did well?
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 29:15
Yes. In preparing you for the online classes? What type of support did they offer you?
Dr. Poyo 29:21
Well, St. Mary's, um, turns out that St. Mary's has one heck of an Academic Technology
Department. They're always they're always there but and you and it's like everything else.
If you have a canvas problem, you know, you call them up and you say I've had this
canvas problem, or whatever it is. But this was a whole new level of demands on them.
And they, I mean, they were working day and day and into the night to to support First of
all, to teach us all of this. And secondly, to support whatever technology problems that we
had in terms of how to how to solve technology problems that we had in order to be able
to be the online. So I think there was a lot of investment, additional upgrading the
technologies, and I don't know exactly everything they did. But they did it. And they did it
quickly. And they did it quite efficiently. So what we did, as faculty members, we couldn't
have done without that, that really commitment and investment by the Academic
Technology, I suppose not. I mean, for us are, we dealt with academic technology, but
obviously, the entire Technology Group at the university,
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 31:05
I know have talked a little bit about their new methods you've added to your course, like
the discussion board, are there any other ones that you look for, you want to try out in
your next semester, in the spring semester, any new technology things like, I know, for
example, Dr. Wieck does flipgrids as another way of discussion board through videos,
during different avenues you want to take that you have, I guess, shared with other
professors in your in the department.
Dr. Poyo 31:37
Um, well, I learned how to do the video videotaping so that I can do lectures if I need to.
But I never really used that because I decided not to do lectures in the classroom. In the
zoom meetings, as I mentioned, I decided that I would put a lot of pressure on the
students to and and one of the reasons I could do this is because it was a relatively small
class 15 students, so that the students were expected to come in having read the
assignment, and then the class time would be, would be direct conversation with the
students, which included in and involves calling on students and calling on all the students
throughout throughout the, throughout the class time. And so if it's a bigger class, you
know, if you got 25 students or something that's a lot harder to do. And maybe, maybe
you need to lecture. But with the smaller classes, you can, you can have the conversation
with the students. And if they're not getting something, then you can sort of go into a mini
lecture, if you will, or a series of mini lectures during the during the course class time, to
clarify to go deeper, to do things at student to get into areas that the students asked
about or didn't quite understand very well. So I found that interactive approach a lot more
satisfying. I think for students, I think the students liked it more. And, and for me, it
allowed, it allowed me to be more flexible. And to be able to think in real time about
which which direction I wanted to take the material. If I have a lecture already pre pre
recorded, then it's it's it's not as dynamic, right? So so I didn't really use that video, I don't
know, if I will, in the future depends on maybe the size of the classes. In the past I have
already used in the past. with Canvas, I've used lots of films. I didn't haven't used I didn't
use films this year, because so far because I find that the canopy, the canopy site, which
we use for films has been cut so badly so badly that we hardly get any films anymore. So
that the films that I'll use, I use I can't really access them anymore because the university
is cutting back because of the financial crisis. So the financial so each film that you watch
on canopy University has to pay for each time that it's, it's, it's viewed. And so and, and I
would have many, you know, mics now on my classes, but many of my classes I use a lot
of films. And so then what, what happens is, Oh, I can't afford them anymore. Then they
are cutting back. So this semester rather than fighting to see where I could find these
films. I just decided not to use them and Until I can figure out how to get to them. The stuff
that Dr. wick does is all beyond me right now. It's all way beyond what I I know about or
can do. So I'm hoping to learn more and more from her as I am already on in the public
history program, learning how to use omeka, for example. And, and so I'm more intrigued
by the technology than it was before thinks that it's always best to have a random order.
The History Department has worked together very well on all of this. So I think we've been
Bianca-Rhae Jacquez 35:51
Thank you Dr. Poyo

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