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One Instructor’s Virtual Classroom

Feature Story
Posted on Apr, 09 2012

Julie Sandland has been teaching online English and writing courses for NDSU Distance and Continuing Education for the past five years. While many instructors may be hesitant to jump into teaching online, Sandland was one of the first in her department to jump on board and truly enjoys the unique atmosphere the online classroom gives her as much as the traditional classes she teaches on campus. She said the key to her success and advice for those thinking about teaching online is to realize that each course you teach will be different based on course participants and course content, and what works for some may not work for others – from a student or instructor perspective. The students are the most important thing to take into consideration and assessing how they can learn, retain, and apply the course content the best.

Most of the classes Sandland has taught were composition classes that she also teaches in the traditional on campus classroom. One rule she set for herself was that just because the course was online, there would be no skimping on course content or assignments. All of her students complete the same amount of reading, assignments, projects, and exams as her on campus students do. Though the students have the freedom to complete their readings and go through course lecture material on their own time, Sandland said that weekly due dates are still set in place so that students do not fall behind. The students still take advantage of the ability to self-pace their work as she noticed most of the time stamps when students submit their work seem to be between 3 and 4 a.m.

Fully embracing and utilizing technology in an online classroom is helpful, but is not always required. Though some online courses are enhanced through the use of robust video or audio lectures, Sandland has found in her classes the students enjoy lecture material written out for them that they can expand on their textbook material from and apply to assignments. She has also found that just because students are taking an online course does not mean that they are tech-savvy. To help her students she refers them to Distance and Continuing Education’s technology resources and students seem to catch on quickly. Despite this finding, technology has been helpful for Sandland in the aspect that she wanted to still create a sense of community that is found in the traditional classroom. To do so, she created a Facebook page for her class where students could post questions, get to know each other, and interact about course content. At the beginning of each semester she also has each student create a bio for themselves that includes a picture. Through Blackboard, the students have access to an anonymous discussion board where they can post general questions that all other students can view that she can respond to. This has been particularly helpful because when lecturing in the traditional classroom instructors can be receptive to students’ nonverbal communication to gauge understanding, but online that is more difficult. This way when one student asks a question, all students can have the benefit of seeing the instructor’s response.

Sandland also utilizes the technology available to send out midterm course evaluations to see how the students are responding to the way the course is set up and if there are any adjustments they would like to see made to make the course even better. Sandland also holds virtual office hours every week to make this interaction with students as interactive and make communication as synchronous as possible. Sandland mentioned how she has noticed the students’ lives are changing and more and more students have non-traditional situations that make online learning the best option for them whether they are working full time, completing internships across the country, seeking the best university for a specific program they are pursuing and do not want to move geographically, or are caring for a family. Online and distance-learning can help many access education opportunities that they may not have had the option of before and online instructors will be the bridge that helps these students achieve their goals.

If you are interested in offering a course through NDSU Distance and Continuing Education or have any questions about learning to use any of these teaching technologies in your own course, give us a call at 701-231-7015 or visit our teaching tips area of our web site at http://www.ndsu.edu/dce/faculty_resources/. Instructors can also use our new technology learning tool Atomic Learning accessible at http://www.ndsu.edu/dce/student_resources/atomic_learning1 to learn these technologies.