Faculty members create rich learning communities online

Kelly Parkes, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, knew that cloning herself would be tricky at best.

Parkes, who teaches graduate-level music education classes and supervises student teachers in the field, needed to move her Behavioral Aspects of Music class, a requirement for the music teacher certification her students seek, to an online course.

She found an answer at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning (IDDL), where the design and development team helped her transform the traditional classroom course into an online offering for the 2008 summer session. By going online, Parkes was able to increase enrollment almost 40 percent.

   

Kelly Parkes, an assistant professor of teaching, has been offering a music course online since 2008. Kelly Parkes, an assistant professor of teaching, has been offering a music course online since 2008.

“I went in knowing that I wanted to maintain the sense of a learner community,” Parkes said of planning the online version of her course. “As a teacher, I asked myself how I am to know what they know, with the absence of body language as cues.”

IDDL staff members work with faculty to customize a course based on its learning goals and faculty members’ desire for interaction with students. For example, Parkes partnered with IDDL to create a video for her students on how to navigate Scholar, the university’s learning and collaboration management system. The video helped her students better understand the online course environment, she said.

Parks continues to offer one online session of the music course each summer and said she receives positive feedback from her students. She has positive feedback about the experience, too. “I enjoyed learning a new course format, and it also increased my own skill set in working with a platform such as Scholar.”

An engaged learning community

IDDL, a unit within the Division of Undergraduate Education, was established in 1999 to provide leadership, coordination, and support to the university’s distance-learning activities, also called eLearning.

   

Quinton Nottingham, associate professor in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, says his online courses help students with jobs stay on track to graduate in four years. Quinton Nottingham, associate professor in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, says his online courses help students with jobs stay on track to graduate in four years.

All of Virginia Tech’s academic departments are engaged in developing or delivering distance- and distributed-learning courses. Online courses are important to the university’s land-grant mission to expand educational access to people across Virginia and beyond.

During the 2010-11 year, the university offered nearly 800 undergraduate and graduate classes online. Those classes had about 18,000 undergraduate and 6,500 graduate students enrolled.

Parkes, as well as Quinton Nottingham, associate professor in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, represent 120 faculty members who participate in training to design, develop, and deliver distance courses through efforts such as IDDL’s certificate program.

“Our two-tiered certificate program provides new faculty members with learning tools for success in the virtual environment and gives our seasoned online faculty a chance to expand in their online pedagogical practice,” said Peter Macedo, director of IDDL.

Nottingham said teaching online was a good learning experience for both him and his students. He said teaching Quantitative Methods I for the first time online was a special privilege for him and his Pamplin colleagues. “We were able to provide the access to classes that will allow students to stay on track to graduate in four years while still being able to hold down a summer job, if necessary.”

Both Quantitative Methods I and II will be offered online in summer 2012.

   

Faculty members involved in IDDL's eLearning community host brown bag lunches to share ideas. Faculty members involved in IDDL's eLearning community host brown bag lunches to share ideas.

A growing element of IDDL’s professional development portfolio is a thriving eLearning faculty community from 15 academic departments. A monthly brown bag lunch series is one activity that helps to enrich the community. “The brown bag lunches are great for sharing experiences and best practices for and between faculty that teach online and faculty members that are active in eLearning,” Nottingham said.

 “For learning to occur, there must be application,” said Aaron Bond, coordinator of eLearning faculty development and support services. “And as such, IDDL is using the faculty communities of practice model to extend the content learned in the workshops.”

The faculty community includes smaller, discipline-specific groups, such as the College of Science and the Department of English, with the latter receiving grant funding through Virginia Tech’s Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research.

Multimedia: Building an online faculty community

Professors work together online

    Department of English professors, from left, Cheryl Ruggiero, Sue Hagedorn, and Karen Swenson

Department of English professors, from left, Cheryl Ruggiero, Sue Hagedorn, and Karen Swenson are collaboratively teaching an online Intro To Speculative Fiction course that looks at science fiction and fantasy.

Science fiction and fantasy course expands teaching and learning frontiers (PDF | 441KB)

Online doesn't mean distant

    Doug Pfeiffer

As program director of the online Masters of Agricultural and Life Sciences program, Doug Pfeiffer observes the work of his students in a variety of settings, including Haiti, where he traveled in fall 2010.

Agriculture in the Central Plateau of Haiti (PDF | 1MB)

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