Learnpower Interview with Online Education Expert - Kaye Shelton
How did you get started in online education?
In 1990, I was a computer systems manager at my children’s elementary school. At the same time, I was working with 2 professors from 2 different universities on textbook editing, curriculum design and exams. Through them, I decided I wanted to be a professor in higher education. I developed a love for research and I went back to school to finish my undergraduate degree. The school I was attending saw my resume’ and asked me to come work for them. When I was hired, the provost told me I would be starting the online program. That was in 1997, which was early on for a smaller school to embrace that kind of change. The President was very wise, and he could see that the landscape was changing. And while it was a traditional based liberal arts college, they also had and adult program and graduate programs. The students started to make requests about online classes. I actually started my masters in online teaching. I was able to do all of my research for my degree as I was developing the online program for my job. All of the reading I had to do was directly related to what I was doing at my job. That was in 1998. We started with one class of 11 students, and when I left in 2011, there were over 55 majors and degrees fully online. About 40% of university enrollment was online.
If you were to start creating an online course tomorrow what would be your first step?
I would sit down with the planning worksheet that I developed and work backwards from my student outcomes. It takes a conscious effort in developing course materials, and you’ve got to provide resources, and make sure you are making your objectives. So you have to start with that planning process and kind of map it out. It literally becomes a map for how you are going to develop your content. It may not always be what I pictured from the beginning, but at least I have a road map to start from.
Is their an industry standard when it comes to how much lecture content you should have vs. how many activities, outside resources, discussion forums etc.?
You have to take that on a case by case basis. Every class is different, every discipline is different. It’s all about student outcomes, learning outcomes and your goals for teaching. You provide a lecture that will cover the content. It’s all going to be about what you are trying to teach. There is a “rule” about how much a person can digest reading any kind of web content. So you want to give them options. It’s good to have them listen to audio, watch video, or download a lecture so they can take it with them.
Would you say that breaking the content up into smaller pieces would be the way to go?
It’s the only way to go!! It’s called content chunking. It’s an instructional design term we use to break the content up into digestible chunks. Honestly, we should be doing that in all classes, not just online. Again, because it is all about student outcomes. I always recommend the faculty break things up because it can be easier to download and also keeps the students from becoming overwhelmed. Even the written content should be broken up into smaller pieces.
How big of a role do discussion forums play in online education?
It will be different for every class. Discussion boards can be used for a multitude of things: students can create their own quizzes; it can be used for role-play or situational discussions. It can also be a place where they can just hang out and chat, not necessarily about the course itself. We call it a sandbox, where they can “play”.
What do you think the average response time should be for instructors when they are responding to students?
I try to make it within 24 hours, but never more that 48 hours. I don’t want a student waiting on me before they move forward with something, so I try to be cognizant of that. Faculty that are logging on once a week are not doing a good job. They need to be more hands on. The place where I used to work had a policy that the faculty should respond within 48 hours and most graded assignments should be returned within a week.
How do you think retention in an online class compares to retention in a traditional learning environment?
I feel that there are a lot of factors that can affect retention: you must have quality course content; content that engages the students, and faculty that engages the students. If you have a faculty that are not logging on, not posting messages and announcements, and not taking part in discussions etc., it can affect retention. Having a weekly web conference is a good way to keep the students engaged, and faculty as well. Another thing that helps retention is small class size. And lastly, good/bad instructors can make/break an online class.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for an instructor of an online course?
Initially, it is making the shift pedagogically, becoming more of a facilitator instead of the one who is imparting all of the knowledge and controlling the classroom. Then, you are faced with managing your time. It is very easy to become overwhelmed by all of the requests from students. It helps to establish a routine to help you stay on top of things. Another issue is learning how to manage the students as well. They can be a bit more aggressive in an online format, so that can also present a challenge for some people.
Can you share with us some online resources that you can recommend?
Sloan Consortium. They offer access to workshops and conferences. They have been committed to online education since the late 1990’s. I have used YouTube. Another really good one is WISCONLINE.ORG. They have incredible learning objects that you can link to. They are interactive. If you just take the time, as an instructor, you can find rich, engaging resources for any topic you are teaching. I also have used Studymate. You can take a word document, and put it into Studymate and it can create learning activities such as crossword puzzles, word searches etc…
Can you give any advice to someone who is looking to put their courses online?
Allow yourself plenty of time and don't be scared. Don’t try to do it at the last minute, because it takes time. Keep a journal as you are teaching the class for the first time. Take notes because you are going to need to make changes the next time you teach it. Online courses should always be improving and getting better. Give yourself permission to experiment and if it doesn’t work, try something else. And lastly, do not let a course be static. There are always things in a course that can be improved. Don’t keep teaching a course the same way each time.