When Associate Teaching Professor Michelle Bartlett heard about the DELTA Faculty Fellows grant program, she decided to apply. This was her chance to take a moment to pause, reflect and converse with others about her online teaching strategies.
As a student of online learning in her graduate programs and an instructor of online learning, Bartlett has been thinking about online teaching strategies for a long time. She began teaching at NC State as an adjunct instructor and eventually became a full-time faculty member in 2015. She also directed the first fully online Master of Education in Training and Development program. In 2017 and 2018, Bartlett was awarded DELTA grants, one to develop a new online course and a second DELTA grant to completely align the M.Ed. in Training and Development to be competency-based.
Through her Faculty Fellows experience, Bartlett was able to collaborate with DELTA staff about her research and service work and how this can help other instructors. It was “a time for me to just pause and really reflect on what I’ve learned along the way,” she says. This experience led to her working with other faculty through various methods, including workshops, panel discussions and special events such as DELTA-Con.
Bartlett enjoys using technology to create community and connection. She strives to have her students connect with their peers, instructor and content. She notes, “…it’s really easy to add all these bells and whistles in the class but if they don’t help with something, then they’re just kind of extras; it can be frustrating for students to create another login or another account.” She also considers how each faculty member has different objectives for students to learn, and technology is not one-size-fits-all.
Because the students in Bartlett’s program plan to become instructional designers or trainers, student success and feedback is a priority for her. Some tools can make a significant difference in the overall course experience. FlipGrid, for example, has led students to say, “I got to know my peers better in one FlipGrid than in all the past courses I had with them.” Bartlett says that by starting the course with “this sense of community and putting personalities, tone of voice and body language to words and names on the screen, it really helped students navigate critical thinking and difficult conversations in an online format much better; they’ll put down their guard more and they’ll have those deeper conversations.”
Bartlett has learned to cope with certain challenges that come along with online teaching. She is always transparent with students, and constantly asks for feedback when she integrates a new technology. She also does not attempt too much innovation at once. She notes the need to be flexible; when an assignment does not work, it is OK to remove it, adjust it and use it later in the semester, or perhaps change the way students are approaching it (they could be in groups of three instead of two, for example). She also recognizes that innovation can easily be stifled in an environment where faculty career decisions such as promotion and contract renewals may be largely based on student evaluations.
In the future, Bartlett envisions online learning taking more of a hybrid approach. She also notes the way teaching online during COVID-19 allowed even non- and late adopters to see how certain parts of technology could enhance their particular courses. She notes, “Even those of us who were already bringing guest experts into our courses realized that we could bring these people in without funding travel costs…and without them having to clear three days on their calendar.” Bartlett also notes how faculty will continue to question the meaning of “rigor” and be flexible with students, themselves and peers.
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