In 1995, Dale Fitch enrolled in the first online social work course offered at any university. It opened his eyes to the possibilities of e-learning, broadly defined as all forms of electronically supported learning and teaching, from using clickers in the classroom to delivering lectures via podcast.
Fitch, now an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, uses e-learning in the classroom and online undergraduate and graduate courses he teaches.
But he still wants to learn more. He and five other MU faculty participated in the TeAchnology Workshop July 8–12, sponsored by Educational Technologies at Missouri (ET@MO). There, faculty worked with ET@MO staff on a project that integrates technology software, tools and applications into their teaching.
“We help faculty teach well with technology,” said Danna Vessell, director of ET@MO. “We don’t believe in technology for technology’s sake. We want to make sure it’s helping the teaching and the learning that is going on.”
The Changing Frontier
Kim Siegenthaler, co-director of Mizzou Online, likens the ever-changing landscape of e-learning at MU to the transition from the era of the Pony Express to that of the railroad. As
e-learning becomes more expected and accepted, Mizzou Online created partnerships with academic units to develop and deliver distance programs.
In August 2012, MU invested $2.5 million in online degree programs, resulting in 16 new degree and certificate options, including two bachelor’s degrees and six master’s degrees. In early fall 2013, Mizzou Online plans to announce another $2.5-million request for proposals, hoping to add to the 86 programs and 593 courses offered.
In the past year, Mizzou Online has seen a nearly 40 percent increase in enrollment. Almost one-third of MU students take at least one online course, and that is expected to rise to half the student population within the next few years, said Gera Burton, co-director of Mizzou Online.
Much of the revenue being generated by enrollment in distance classes goes to the academic units, Burton said. “We can take that money and reinvest it in what we do and do it better,” she said. “It’s up to us where we go from here.”
More faculty are embracing e-learning. Just five years ago, ET@MO associate director David Reid said he spent a lot of time helping faculty understand Blackboard, MU’s learning management system. Now, about 90 percent of courses at MU have a Blackboard component.
During the TeAchnology Workshop, Fitch investigated how the master of social work program can move entirely online to make it more accessible to students across Missouri. The biggest problem is how to allow for the interactive component of a social work class, including role-plays and simulated client experiences, Fitch said.
Fitch explored the full capabilities of Blackboard’s online Web conferencing tool, Collaborate, to create virtual classrooms.
He already uses Collaborate in his face-to-face classes for exercises that involve, well, collaboration. For instance, students create diagrams or drawings and log into a Collaborate session. Next, Fitch projects the images onto the big screen for everyone to see. He is integrating technology in his curriculum to present the content in the most effective way possible.
“That’s the thing I like about online teaching,” Fitch said. “It really requires interaction and engagement. I’ve taught too many face-to-face classes where students show up, but they’re not engaged. It’s frustrating. In an online classroom, you have to be self-directed and motivated.
“There are so many different ways of learning: visual, auditory, tactile. The technology can — if it’s done in the right way — facilitate [the learning process].”
— Kelsey Allen
Educational Technologies at Missouri offers programs for faculty looking to delve deeper into e-learning, from funding to resources to recognition, including:
Open Help Hours
ET@MO staff are available for drop-in appointments every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. at 130 Heinkel Building.
Teaching with Technology Innovation Fund
Faculty with an idea for integrating technology into the classroom can apply for up to $1,000 to be used toward equipment or software.
Excellence in Teaching with Technology Award
Faculty, staff, graduate instructors and teaching assistants who currently use technology in the classroom are eligible for a $500 award to be applied toward educational technology expenses.
Faculty interested in taking a course online can apply for up to $5,000 for individual course development or up to $40,000 for a larger enrollment course redesign.
ET@MO also offers syllabus reviews, teaching assessments, in-office software training and curricular planning consultations. For more information, visit etatmo.missouri.edu.