Faculty are plugged in for online, blended learning

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Teachers have been doing their homework over the summer.

A series of trainings to help Grand Canyon University ground faculty execute a strategic plan for using different methods of teaching took on added significance because of the fall term's remote start and subsequent blended learning models.

Dr. Daniel Kaufmann is helping GCU faculty prepare for blended learning.

Ten on-demand workshops from the Faculty Resource Center are available to faculty, and the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching (CIRT) also has added numerous other resources and trainings.

Without question, GCU is fighting off the curveballs from the pandemic with its online education expertise. Last spring, traditional faculty shifted online in an emergency. Now, they've had the summer to prepare for classes, which begin online Sept. 8.

“It is very important for teachers to develop a comfort level for this style of teaching – that everything they know how to do already from years of experience still works, it just works in a different way," said Dr. Daniel Kaufmann, Online Full-time Faculty. "We have to be open to the challenge of finding different solutions.” 

Kaufmann, along with College of Humanities and Social Sciences instructor Makisha Gunty, produced one of the on-demand workshops, “Innovations in Remote and Blended Classrooms.”

Makisha Gunty

“We know the content,” he said, “but the question is, really: How do we get that knowledge and that love of our topic area to our students, who will continue to grow with it in their own assignments and readings?”

Gunty added, "While the changes in environment can provide challenges, it’s our hope through the use of these tools that educators can still provide a classroom experience rich with effective pedagogies."

Faculty should determine what part of class to do synchronously (“live” at the same time) or asynchronously, then pick methods and applications for each.

Kaufmann’s solutions partly arise from his background as a game streamer outside his role in education and as a mental health professional who in recent years needed to shift his clients in Florida, where he then was licensed, to a telemedicine format.

“Everything I was doing was all about, 'How do I take my skills I have in a room with people and use that ability without losing the experience?” he said.

Kaufmann said he was asked to put together a training on his methods of “teaching online in a way that feels like a classroom.”

For example, the workshop showcases the use of Microsoft Whiteboard. Instructors still can lecture while writing on the board as students watch live, like a classroom experience, or they can record it in an embedded video to be watched separately. They might expand on a textbook chapter on Freud and use the class time to discuss it.

The applications available today are numerous.

“The key is believing that what you are doing is not different. The execution is different," Kaufmann said. "Everything you did in classroom, the technology is there to do it in front of your computer while the students are in front of theirs. You can share a video and watch it together, you can share quiz questions and do trivia contests. You can have group activities and break the class into small groups.” 

An example is the use of Zoom. In the classroom, he likes to break students into groups and roam the room to listen in and spark discussion. That can happen online with Zoom’s functions for breakout rooms, which he can pop in on to listen and comment.

Makisha Gunty, lower left, shows how to download on YouTube.

Trivia contests can create fun competition on the subject by using Kahoot!, while YouTube is a familiar app to many students that can be the vehicle for videos on subject matter. Even communication with students is helped with apps such as Bitmoji to depict sentiments from the author in fun and uplifting ways.

“It gives the students more kinds of opportunities than sitting in front of a computer, which is what they are doing, but the goal is to make them feel like they are at school,” he said.

GCU is a leader in online education, so its resources on the subject are vast.

Monte McKay, Executive Director of Faculty Operations Training and Development, said the workshops were pulled together to help faculty with impending blended learning models. They include everything from creating a sense of community to technical resources available to faculty to implementing blended learning models with LoudCloud, the learning management system.

CIRT publishes two journals about online learning, Journal of Educators Online and Journal of Instructional Research, and has numerous resources on best practices, pedagogy and “flipped classrooms.”

The latter has been a buzzword in education in recent years. Lectures are prerecorded and students view it outside of a class time, which is then used for activities and group work.

“As we enter the fall semester with the pandemic lingering over us, faculty have the opportunity to be a bit more strategic as they develop flexible teaching plans that capitalize on best practices in online and blended learning,” said Dr. Jean Mandernach, Executive Director of CIRT.

The workshops will help faculty keep from feeling overwhelmed by the new class norm.

“There are the things teachers might say, ‘I can't do this anymore.’” Kaufmann said. “Yes, you can. Let’s go make it happen.”

It may have benefits well past the pandemic.

“With us relying on technology, when we go back to learning in the same room together, we might find that there are really brilliant and creative ways to make the classroom more rich, more interactive,” he said. “Just as I’m saying the skills we have in the classroom won’t evaporate, it stands to reason the skills we are developing now won’t evaporate once we are blessed with the opportunity to return to the classroom.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


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