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President, Provost roundtable address issues with online classrooms

News Editor

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 00:12


Stephen Green | The Houstonian

The discussion between faculty and administrators turned into a debate about the importance of online learning at Sam Houston State University in the final President and Provost Roundtable Discussion on Tuesday.

President Dana Gibson and Provost for Academic Affairs Jaimie Hebert led the discussion, which was a follow-up to a previous roundtable on innovation in October.

Several faculty members expressed concerns over losing face-to-face interactions with students and translating a lecture course into a successful online course.

Dana Nicolay, professor in the dance department, said that engagement with the computer can have a negative impact on education.

 “I’m concerned about the art of teaching and the human contact that goes on. I know with some our graduate students, the engagement with the computer screen helps them get through it [the course] fast, but there’s a good deal of the educational process that doesn’t happen.”

However, Gibson countered, noting that online education is not meant for the typical undergraduate student.

 “Online education in its basic format is not targeted to 18 to 22 year olds,” Gibson said. “It’s to working professionals and to graduate students who are working. So we have to encourage and advise our students to take the appropriate course to make them successful….It’s not one size fits all.”

Other faculty members seemed uneasy about how to translate a lecture course into a successful online course.

“It’s difficult to teach online because we have a good course, and we upload a 75 minute lecture and upload all files [for the course], but no student will listen to that,” Edward Blackburne, Chair and Professor of Economics, said. “It’s difficult for us because we haven’t been formally trained in it…What we need to do is collapse [courses] into smaller modules.”

Daphne Johnson, Chair of Curriculum and Instruction, agreed and noted the importance of breaking up a course into smaller modules and assessing it slowly as professors teach them.

However, Bun lady offered a solution to these different challenges by combining online and face to face education in what she called a “hybrid” course.

“This semester I’ve done a mix of course,” Jennifer Didier, assistant professor of health and kinesiology, said. “I give them options. I require them to come to class on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, it’s strict lecture so they can watch the lecture online or come see me.”

“It’s gone very well so far so that is another option,” she said.

However, Gibson noted it was important to continue to assess these programs to maintain success.

A Page Glave, assistant professor of health and kinesiology, suggested semester-based feedback from students.

“We found in the graduate program is that hybrid works great for them,” she said. “But they also want the option to come to campus regularly instead of cramming in labs in one day. We’ve been taking it on a semester basis to see what fits best for students’ schedules.”

The time associated with teaching online courses was another matter of concern for some other faculty members, especially for tenure track professors who have to balance teaching with research and publishing.

Hebert agreed, suggesting a possible reworking the tenure process to provide for a more innovative environment at SHSU.

“Our new faculty is energetic but we put a mechanism in place with the tenure process that squashes the creative process,” Hebert said. “I’m not saying we do away with tenure, but we need to think of ways in academics to incentivize innovation in the tenure process.”

Hebert then moved the discussion forward and opened the floor for other areas for innovation.

“There’s a lot we can innovate as far as retention, processing and systems go,” said Scot Mertz, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, said. “To be innovative is a risk. With budget dollars as tight as they are, sometimes we’re not willing to risk budget for innovation.”

Mertz suggested a funding option to provide for innovative ideas.

Hebert noted the importance of this and said the university has a new budget process to incorporate new initiatives in the budget.

While the discussion moved away from the original topics outlined, Gibson said the discussions were important to move the university forward. She said the university is working on a new website for faculty and administrators to openly exchange ideas for the university.

“It takes these discussions to see where we are and where we are going,” Gibson said.

Faculty members in attendance felt the discussions were the first steps to take action in moving the university forward.

“It’s important for them to have them take time out of their schedules to talk with us,” she said. “We’re lucky here at SHSU to have that from administrators.”


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