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Faculty Spotlight: Pedro Tonhozi de Oliveira

Entrepreneurial instructor brings innovation to the classroom

Between his research and course load, Entrepreneurship Instructor Pedro Tonhozi de Oliveira strives to challenge and innovate his online and classroom instruction with simple, yet effective, educational technologies.

pedro1 When and how did you first get involved with online teaching at UMKC?  In 2014, while in my first job as a TA here at UMKC, my advisor (Dr. Cory Beard) was doing a simple, but efficient and attractive, recording of his classes. For that, he was using a webcam on the top of those long LED desk lamps that you can get at any office store. He recorded his handwriting as he explained the complex equations of wireless communication system. This scheme was something that surprised me in a sense that I could be using it to my future students. Fast forward, I learned about the ins and outs of Blackboard and how to deliver compelling content to students. Later in 2016, I had the opportunity to teach on my own, I decided to apply all I learned into a flipped classroom style. We used videos, quizzes, group assignments, wiki, peer-and-self-review. It has been a unique and fun experience.

What is your field of research or area of study? What’s the most exciting thing happening today in your area of study or the most exciting project you’re currently working on? I’m at the finishing line of my interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at UMKC in Telecommunications & Computer Networking and Entrepreneurship & Innovation.  My particular area of research is crowds and effects. I believe the thing that attracts me the most in my field is the innovative environment.  Think about how advanced mobile phones are today. Just ten years ago, this was something that no one would believe would become a $1 trillion market. On projects I’ve been working on, I have two particularly interesting ones. The first, using human behavior in predicting and allocating capacity for 5G wireless networks. The translation for non-technical people would be something like we have a location. You connect your mobile phone at UMKC and a different one at the Plaza, both with capacity for 1000 users. Late afternoon, people leave work and school to go home or to shopping. Why should the capacity stay at 1000 at UMKC if we could transfer it to the Plaza (where the art fair is happening) and serve more people there?  The second, crowdfunding (a crowd of people investing a small amount in a project in exchange for financial or non-financial return) is my focus in entrepreneurship. We found strong support that early-stage investment is necessary. Yet, late-stage investment is as important as the early-stage when you are expecting to receive funds.

pedro5 What do you feel are the qualities that make for a good online instructor? First is passion. An instructor has to be passionate about the craft. I know that not everyone will do great online the same way they are in an on-site classroom. There is a lot of hunches you have to have to deal with situations that you will face in both environments. Second is patience; that is also a good one. Things happen at a different pace in an online environment. Some students respond right away.  Others wait until the minute before the deadline. Yes, I know onsite is the same, but you might not have the end of the class in an online setting the same way you have in person.

Do you have a philosophy of teaching? If so, what is it? Be strict and push your students to their limit. Use common sense to balance it out. I found a lot of students discovering new skills and achieving goals that even they thought they could not do.

What do you like most about teaching online? What do you find most challenging? Getting students engaged has always been a challenge. And I guess this is not only for online courses. Communicating and creating a clear channel between you and your students is the best way to get them working. Seeing the outcomes met is the best part. How they interact, how they support each other and make new connections, in my opinion, is the best.

What principles, techniques, or tools do you use to engage students? First, I start my class with a course introduction video. I ask my students to give me a 30-seconds pitch about why they believe they will become a great entrepreneur. I get to know their motivation for enrolling in the course. Second, communication. Set your expectations clear day one. Create a folder with all deadlines and activities listed by the date when it is due. Students can see what’s coming up. Finally, if you bring a speaker for the class, in person or using Skype or FaceTime, I recommend you record and make it available for your students. Ask students to relate something the speaker said with something that supports or contradicts class material.

Who has inspired you in your life and why? I know this is sketchy, but one of my great inspirations comes from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement. If you have not watched it, it is worth it, and you can find on YouTube. He said that he took classes in many different departments. These experiences helped him later at Apple. I always find the most compelling solutions to our problems is research from other departments. This idea motivated me to pursue a career in Telecommunications and Entrepreneurship. I believe I was the first in UMKC to go down this path, and I find it enlightening.

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What’s your best advice to new online instructors? Rule #1. Invest in a decent microphone. Your students will be okay with a mediocre video quality if your audio is clear. But they will hate you if the audio is bad, and your video is HD or even 4k. Also, there is an app called Ummo helps you to get rid of the annoying filling words (e.g. like, actually, I mean, sort of, kind of, and of course uh/um).