AATK: Always at the Keyboard

A Journey Into Cyberspace

Melissa (Moose) Alperin

Student 1: 4 scenario let’s use blogs JLMK

Student 2: BME ICAM

Student 3: I2

Student 2: We need 2 write it up WAWA

Student 3: Let’s finish 2MOR 

Student 1: K  TTYL

The conversation above could have been from my distance-based summer course, Technology Tools for Public Health, in which students explore a myriad of technology tools for collaboration, communication, instruction, productivity, and social networking. Students are presented with public health scenarios and, working in small groups, must identify a technology solution for each scenario. The twist is that they must use Twitter, VoiceThread, and Wikis as their primary modes of communication when discussing the scenarios. 

Five years ago, that conversation would have looked a little different: 

Student 1: For this scenario, let’s use blogs. Just let me know what you think.

Student 2: Based on my experience, I couldn’t agree more.

Student 3: Me too.

Student 2: We need to write this up. Where are we at with this? 

Student 3: Let’s finish tomorrow. 

Student 1: Okay. Talk to you later. 

When my journey as a distance-learning faculty member began in 2001, I had been teaching for nine years in continuing education and the traditional MPH program at Rollins. That year, I began teaching for the Career MPH program, Rollins’s distance-based MPH for working professionals, and found myself in unfamiliar territory. 

I quickly realized that the qualities of strong face-to-face courses are equally important in an online course. It was essential to ensure I had well-written learning objectives, strategies that allowed me to assess student achievement, appropriate scope and sequencing of the material, and clearly delineated student expectations. 

I also discovered that the distance environment and Career MPH working professional population offered additional considerations and opportunities. For instance, I have found it imperative to incorporate adult learning principles and opportunities for students to add their personal experiences and apply their new skills in immediate and practical ways. 

I teach in an asynchronous (not real-time) environment, which allows students to reflect on their thoughts before responding to questions, fostering rich discussions. Students also may review the material repeatedly, which helps reinforce key points—and they do their coursework at any time, day or night. 

Teaching in this environment also has challenges. The first is the length of time required to develop and implement an online course. There are also pedagogical challenges: how to include interactivity and group work, and how to address different learning styles. An additional challenge is deciding when and how to incorporate the ever-proliferating new technologies. 

It has now been 12 years (and 24 courses) since I first entered the online environment. While I once wondered what I was getting myself into, I now embrace the unknowns as opportunities to strengthen my own skills as an educator.