The reception for 2015 Webster University graduates held a special moment on Friday, May 8th as the Online Learning Center was able to facilitate a face-to-face meeting between a student and her favorite (online) teacher. Melanie Annecchini would receive her MA in Human Resources Management the next day, and when she arrived at the reception, she told OLC staff members she really hoped to meet some of her instructors and students in real time. Dr. Etido Akpan, instructor for Management courses, also happened to be at the reception and the two were able to have their first in person conversation. While we did not listen in on the conversation, the OLC did ask the two a few questions about teaching and learning online at Webster University.
OLC: Why did you want to do your degree online?
Melanie: I deal with an ongoing illness that makes it difficult to take typical college classes that require a physical presence. Online courses allowed me to work towards my degree from wherever -whether it was at home or the hospital.
OLC: Why do you teach online?
Dr. Akpan: It gives me more flexibility to address different learning styles and to prepare my coursework at any time and from anywhere in the world. For example, I was able to conduct my classes for a week from London, England without having to be physically present in the US. Although it takes more effort, online teaching saves me time and money for not having to commute. Online learning is technology-driven, and the technology continues to change and advance. I like technology, and I teach online because I want my students to fully comprehend the role of technology as the real enabler of business’ and organizational processes.
OLC: How did you approach your class on a daily basis – did you have a set pattern for accessing certain tools or parts of the course each day?
Melanie: I would access tools based on what assignments, discussions, and papers I had due that week and how they are scheduled. I also established a schedule on what days to read which books, when I would complete an assignment, splitting up sections of a paper, following up on comments, and posting comments. Once something was completed, it was checked off.
OLC: What makes your course so unique that students talk about it?
Dr. Akpan: I take a personal interest in my students’ success. I respect diverse talents and learning styles. I clearly state expectations at the beginning of the term, while building rapport and understanding how best each student learns. I make learning fun, and I always challenge my students to continuously do more than the minimum expected. I do not allow technology to replace my presence in the classroom. I call and talk to my students as well. I give timely and quality feedback, and I encourage student-professor contact; they reduce the feeling of isolation that many online learners experience. Feedback from students helps me to continuously evaluate my teaching methods and find new ones. I encourage my students to discover for themselves and to stay in touch with me even after the term has ended.
OLC: What advice would you give students who are considering getting their degree online?
Melanie: The course is online but you should still respect it just like a regular class setting. Participation is the most important thing. I recommend asking questions, commenting on others opinions using viable research, and completing all the material in order to get the most out of the course.
OLC: What advice do you give your students at the beginning of the course?
Dr. Akpan: I require them to read the syllabus in its entirety, and I encourage them to plan their time wisely. I demand respect for each learner and for diverse viewpoints in the discussion thread, even when one disagrees with others. Although students are free to complete their work at any time, they have to be disciplined to satisfactorily complete all coursework on time. I make it easy for them to contact me with questions or concerns, and I discourage them from waiting till the assignment due date to contact me. The students must plan not to fail.
OLC: What was the hardest part about doing all of your coursework remotely?
Melanie: When life gets in the way, it can sometimes be difficult. This can come in the form of work, illness, spouses, or everyday occurrences. A good rule of thumb is to set aside time everyday regardless of what gets in the way.
OLC: What is the best part of teaching online?
Dr. Akpan: Teaching online gives me a unique opportunity to mentor and impact more students all over the world. The best part is always hearing my students’ success stories and knowing that I made a positive impact in their lives. I enjoy celebrating my students’ achievements. Each term is different and unique, and I never have a boring moment. A big contributor to my success is the unwavering support from the Webster Online team and the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology.
OLC: How long did it take you to feel comfortable with the fact that you would never see your classmates? Do you feel you got to know some of them better than others throughout the program?
Melanie: I have previous experience with online classes so I was never uncomfortable with not seeing classmates. I did learn to recognize them by their writing skills, timeliness, and the amount of research used within a discussion. I always remembered the ones who truly put in the work.
OLC: You had told us that Dr. Akpan was your most memorable instructor and course. Can you elaborate why?
Melanie: Dr. Akpan’s course was memorable because it was challenging. Most graduate courses seem to overlap and it occasionally becomes boring. Dr. Akpan required me to think outside the box and use critical thinking skills. I love a good challenge.
OLC: How do you show your “presence” in an online course?
Dr. Akpan: My teaching philosophy is student-centered, and I truly believe every student can learn when provided the right tools. I use different criteria to evaluate student performance and core learning outcomes; these include the weekly threaded discussions, cases, article reviews, and writing assignments. I am fully involved in the weekly discussions. I send a welcome message at the beginning of the term, and I also post a personalized introduction. I post announcements regularly, and I also make frequent use of the course email.
At the end of the interview, Melanie mentioned that she would absolutely encourage fellow students to come to the main campus commencement. According to Melanie, “It was nice meeting fellow students and participating in the ceremony. Only a few people who earn a Masters online take advantage of the opportunity.”