Online Learning Teacher –
Interview with Judy Kristan

Judy Kristan, acting dean of academic affairs for DeVry University Online, was kind enough to share her insights on distance learning, as well as some advice for current and prospective students.

What prompted you to start teaching online?
I had been teaching in the classroom for DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management, but had to take some time off. At the time, I was working for Deloitte & Touche and didn’t have much time to do classroom teaching. Someone at Keller Graduate School suggested that I check out teaching Keller online courses. I determined that this was the direction that education was taking so I decided that I should learn about it so that I could continue to teach in the future.

Has distance learning changed your approach to teaching?
I think that online teaching has made me even more aware of the needs of the students. In the classroom, you can see and hear the student each week. You make decisions about the type of learner they are based on those encounters. When you teach online, you can’t see or hear the students, you just read their responses in the Threaded Discussion or in their submitted homework. I work much harder in the discussions to make sure that they have an understanding of the information. I also focus on reaching the different types of learning styles. In the classroom, you assume that students are listening, watching and taking notes. In an online course, I try to present the information in many different forms – reading, seeing, doing. I also make sure that the students can see that I am in the course almost every day of the week.

What do you see as the greatest benefit of online learning and getting one’s college degree online?
Of course the biggest benefit is the fact that online learning is available 24/7 to the students. Many of them are working adults with a family. They are also faced with working long hours at their jobs and a class in the evening does not work into their schedules very well. This is also a great platform for those students that never participate in the live classroom. When given the anonymity of an online course, they respond very well to discussions and other graded components in the course.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in creating an online course for a distance learning curriculum?
The greatest challenge in creating an online course is visualizing what the students’ needs are. If you imagine that they are sitting at home by themselves and, while you respond as quickly as possible to their questions, it is not like the classroom where you get instant feedback. They also are not able to get face-to-face time with their fellow students. We work hard to create an environment where those challenges are minimized and that the students feel more part of a community and that they have more access to someone who can help them out.

What surprised you about teaching online?
The biggest surprise to me was the level of conversation that you can get into with the threaded discussion topics each week. It is amazing how responsive students can be if you place some thought-provoking questions to them. It also surprised me the amount of work that it takes to do a good job of teaching online. The students could be in the classroom online at any time and they want you to get them feedback almost in real time.

What are your secrets of success for conducting an effective online course?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest keys to success is making sure to be in the online courses as much as possible, asking challenging questions, striving to meet all the different learning styles and getting feedback to the students as soon as possible. Also, it certainly helps to keep some motivating language in the course especially when you are giving the students comments on their homework.

How do you see online teaching evolving?
Online teaching must continue to include more ways to “touch” the students. There are students who feel isolated when taking online courses and we are always looking for tools to use to engage them. We are also seeing that students want just the important information that they will need and they want it quickly. Online courses must continue to evolve to meet those requirements and yet maintain the rigor that is required for educational purposes.

What advice would you give to students pursing their college degree online?
Online courses are very convenient to students with jobs and families. Students fail to realize that online courses, in most cases, take much more of their time than classroom courses. They must allow the necessary time to complete the reading and assignments. As mentioned above, many students feel that they can take more than one course at a time because they want to complete their degree very quickly. This approach may work as long as everything in their life stays the same, but we see many students who run into problems quickly if something in their life changes. Not every student is successful as an online student. There are students who do much better with the weekly class sessions where they can see the instructor and other students.

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