My reflections about humanizing

As I reflect on the value of humanizing online learning, I consider what I have learned through my own experiences as a student, as well as a faculty member and faculty development specialist. As a student, I struggled in many traditional learning environments. I had difficulty following along in lecture settings, often feeling disconnected and wondering why I wasn't grasping concepts like my peers seemed to be in a classroom. I also recall a distinct improvement in my engagement level and my comprehension when I was in visually-oriented learning environments. In college, it now comes as no surprise that I majored in Art and then continued on to complete my Master's in art history.

Art history classes are visual lectures. They made more sense to me. But I also have fond recollections of particular professors who went beyond showing a slide (yes, I mean "color slide," as in Kodachrome!) of an architectural site. I remember one professor who showed slides of her travels to ancient sites that included her children. She would say they were included in the images for a sense of scale. As I look back, I find it compelling that her slides are those I remember most and she was one of my favorite professors. She was more human to me than my other professors. That made an impact on my learning.

When I started teaching online in higher education, in 2003 or 2004, my classes were text-based. This was problematic to me, as I was teaching Art Appreciation and would soon begin teaching Art History online. But my LMS was constrictive and I couldn't figure out how to transcend the text-based environment and make images central to my students learning. Then I found VoiceThread in 2007. My experiments with VoiceThread led to improved student learning and community. My students could hear and see me and I was able to hear and see them -- all in an asynchronous setting, preserving the convenience and flexibility of the discussion board.

I learned that trying new tools empowered me to connect differently with my students and also learning activities that were unique from the experiences students had in an LMS. But I also learned that faculty can be reluctant to integrating new tools for a variety of reasons -- privacy, workload, confusing students with multiple log-ins. I continue to play and experiment in my teaching.

Today, my professional role has shifted and I am supporting online faculty and doing so remotely. I also co-teach Digital Citizenship in a blended modality — we meet once per week, I teach remotely (“on the wall”) and my colleague is in the classroom with our students. My research explores how technology is impacting the faculty role and examines how new technologies like eBooks may provide more effective and sustainable models for faculty support/development.

I'm grateful to be an educator today and I learn so much from all the educators who share with me everyday. I believe sharing is the fuel that drives innovation in education today.