Championing DELTA: A Faculty Perspective
DELTA turned 15 this year and while the organization has grown and changed over the years, supporting faculty has always been the goal. Professor Michael Kanters, Ph.D., first encountered DELTA in its inception, through a call for grant proposals designed to convert classes into an online format.
Kanters, who had grown frustrated with teaching in the traditional face-to-face environment, was looking for another way. He applied for and received a DELTA grant, which changed his teaching style completely.
"This was exactly what I needed at that stage of my career. I have not been back in the classroom for more than 10 years," said Kanters, who now exclusively teaches online in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) in the College of Natural Resources.
With the original funding from DELTA, Kanters was able to hire a staff member to develop a course website and create their own learning management platform. DELTA also assisted him by recording his lectures.
Eager to produce videos on his own for use in the online platform, the self-proclaimed "Mac guy" used some of the DELTA funding to purchase an Apple laptop and the software needed to make it happen.
"It worked really well," said Kanters. "We put the recorded lectures on the website. We built in some assignments. A discussion forum option came later, but that was my first foray into delivering online material," he recalled.
There were some rough patches at first for both Kanters and his students while adjusting to the new delivery method. He diligently searched for new technologies to benefit online learning and to make the transition from a traditional classroom easier.
During those first years, Kanters attended DELTA workshops and used its help desk for troubleshooting. He became quite the advocate for distance education, and he worked to recruit other faculty to teaching online.
Leading the Online Effort
Kanters and his fellow faculty knew there was a need in their industry—parks, recreation, sport and tourism—for an advanced degree aimed at working professionals who did not have time to come to campus. They were enrolling three to five students in the Professional Master’s of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) program each year and needed to make the program sustainable.
Having taught online for several years, Kanters led the effort to revamp the program into an online model. He incorporated some best practices to convert the master’s program to fully online and DELTA provided the funding and instructional design expertise. DELTA program development funding supported an extensive market analysis that generated overwhelmingly positive results.
"Every time I interact with different people at DELTA on various projects and initiatives, I come away excited." — Dr. Michael Kanters
The online program, which may be completed in less than two years, includes a cohort model to facilitate team building paired with a prescribed sequence of accelerated courses.
"We have been graduating more than 80 percent of the students who enter the program. Our enrollment has gone from three to five to consistently 30 students per year, which is our maximum," said Kanters.
Armed with funding and support from DELTA, it didn’t take Kanters long to spread his enthusiasm for online teaching among the PRTM faculty. Initiating the move to distance education required a lot of time and planning on Kanters' part. His goal was to make the process as easy as possible for his colleagues.
Among the first faculty to use Moodle, Kanters set up the Moodle site using a course template designed by DELTA. “I wanted the course structure to look the same as students were going from one course to another,” he said. It also made new course development easier by allowing faculty to focus more on course content and learning objectives than course delivery and layout.
"I had a photographer friend who taught me how he captured video and produced it," said Kanters. He used two cameras, separate audio and incorporated PowerPoint slides and pictures into the final videos, which allowed for different angles and variety in the 15- to 20-minute lectures.
At first faculty had a hard time adjusting, but after Kanters described how much time was actually spent teaching in face-to-face classes, they were more willing to try. He also encouraged faculty to move from behind the podium, to go outside, interview professionals and generally think outside the box to relay the key attributes of the class material.
Kanters made it happen and is reaping the rewards. Online students are very comfortable in the virtual environment.
"We are constantly listening to our students and looking for ways to improve delivery. Having the funds to hire a full-time instructional technologist, Erin Adair, has made all the difference for us," said Kanters. Adair now records and produces the videos, and provides technical support to faculty and students, which takes a lot off Kanters’ plate.
In addition to the online lectures, students are required to attend a weekly interactive Collaborate session. Adair attends the sessions to manage tech issues while teacher assistants monitor chat channels as well as provide a summary of everything that happened.
"Competent, engaged faculty are the only way this program is a success. It is critical to me that we continue to provide support to the faculty," added Kanters.
Kanters has continued to explore ways to make the online programs successful and sustainable. He has seen DELTA morph from online course development into doing other things that would be more supportive of delivery, looking at ways to enhance the technology so it improves the experience for the student and for the faculty.
DELTA takes on new initiatives and explores new ways of doing things and testing them. According to Kanters, when PRTM hires new faculty, they are provided a list of DELTA workshops and are strongly encouraged to attend. Faculty assigned to teach in the online program then work side-by-side with Kanters and Adair to develop and deliver their classes.
"I think the key part here is the people at DELTA. I truly have enjoyed over the years working with everyone here. It is an exciting, innovative, people-centered operation. Every time I interact with different people at DELTA on various projects and initiatives, I come away excited. They are big thinkers. They are creative-minded. It has been really exciting," said Kanters.