The Basement Office Interviews - Michael Baron

By Dr. David Kowalski, Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness & Strategic Innovation
Psychology Instructor Michael Baron shares his experience with transitioning to online teaching and working from home.

Psychology Instructor Michael Baron shares his experience with transitioning to online teaching and working from home.

This interview series looks at how our colleagues are dealing with these extraordinary times both in and out of the classroom. To stave off future questions, they were, in fact, conducted from my basement.

Full name and title? Michael Baron and I'm a Psychology Adjunct.

How many years have you been at Montco? I am wrapping up my first year teaching at the College!

Do you feel like being a newer member of the Montco Family impacted your experience this semester? If so, how? I would say yes and no. I have the unique experience of being on the campus for the last 20 years, as my dad is a professor in the Psychology Department - plus I have taken several classes at Moncto as well. So I am familiar with the campus and the community, but this year gave me a new perspective from the other side of the lectern. Regardless, I have received tremendous support from my mentor and so any newness I have encountered has not felt overwhelming or too difficult.

What was it like teaching psychology and psychology students, at a time like this? Given my limited experience, I feel like it has presented some unique challenges, but opportunities as well. I taught online and in-person this past semester, and so I have done my best to try and recreate that in-person feel through virtual office hours and trying to respond as quickly as possible to any student questions. I feel like this has really given me a tremendous gift as a teacher; it has allowed me to get to better know my students and the challenges they overcome, while also making me wonder how I can better serve my students in a virtual platform. Certainly the material has also been really relevant, as we discuss theories of behavior from multiple perspectives!

It sounds like this experience will change how you teach going forward. Oh absolutely, though perhaps not so much in a reactionary way, as I expect to change as I become more comfortable with teaching! I think there are a lot of creative ways to engage students and help the material be more than just words on a page or ideas a theorist wrote a long time ago. I have enjoyed holding virtual office hours and have become more interested in the idea of holding virtual classroom sessions. I also think the discussion boards can be structured more like an in-person class and so I hope to try out these ideas moving forward.

What do you think are some of the biggest concerns our students have as they think about continuing their academic journey this summer, fall, and beyond? How do you think we can best address them? I would say the biggest concerns they have are just the unknown nature of the current situation. They don't know when things will go back to normal, and they don't know what it will look like. They don't know when they can work again and they don't know how they can pay for the things they need. Given that, it can be difficult to prioritize school. I think the College can best serve the students by giving them a stable place to engage and connect. I think this idea of belongingness can really go a long way to help Montco feel more like a valuable institution, rather than a means to an end for students. 

I believe you’re planning to continue your education as well, correct? How are you approaching your decisions about your academic future? My hope is to get my PhD one day, but I am not sure how that is going to look actually. My GRE scores expired and so I will need to retake the exam before I apply, but I don't know if/when testing centers will open up again. In the meantime, I know that teaching is what I eventually want to do and so I am trying to utilize this time to fine tune and develop my skills in that area - while I have the time to think about it.

Montco sports team you are most looking forward to watching in person again? I would say basketball because I went to a bunch of the games this winter, but I also am a huge soccer fan (I coach youth soccer in the area) and so I would love to get to go watch some of their games too.

Best show you have binge-watched while at home? I just finished up all the Brooklyn 99 episodes on Hulu. I actually started before the quarantine, but it has been great to keep watching remotely with my girlfriend.

Worst show you have binge-watched while at home? Haven't had enough time to find a bad one yet!

Days until you decide, “Hey, I bet I can give myself a really good haircut”? I actually bit the bullet early and buzzed my head at the beginning of April. Figure I'd give myself as much time to grow it back before it gets too crazy.

Any shout outs? A special shout out to the Psychology Club for continuing to meet each week! It has been a great thing to look forward to each Wednesday! Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two brilliant members of the Psychology Department that we unfortunately lost over the last few years. Dr. Gelman and Dr. Sturm made so many contributions to Montco during their careers, but they especially had a significant impact on me. I was fortunate to know them both for a long time before I ever got into teaching, and I am proud to be the last faculty member that either of them mentored. I am constantly motivated to honor their legacy and I am proud to continue in their footsteps.

Any inaccuracies in the above are the fault of my transcription or edits…unless the interviewee lied to me…in which case it’s totally on that individual.  

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