Jeff Dykes is a science instructor teaching online biology and chemistry at Grays Harbor College and Wenatchee Valley College, in Washington State, and at Charter Oak State College. He has published numerous articles and won a Quality Matters (QM) award for his online chemistry course.
How did you first get into teaching online courses?
In 2000, I had a sense that teaching would be moving toward online classes and I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity to be at the forefront of teaching online. I contacted WashingtonOnline and entered their instructor course for online teaching. I then sent out resumes and began teaching at several colleges, and developing courses and curriculum.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered since you began teaching online?
In the beginning, I had very slow Internet connections and grading tests was a nightmare. Just closing out one test and opening another took a long time. Then multiply that by the number of students in a class – that translated into a great block of time each week just to grade tests. Also, there’s little drag-and-drop technology in the learning platform. I would rather see it like a computer desktop, where you can drag and drop files, wherever needed.
What are some of the challenges of connecting with your students online? And how have you solved them?
When I was in college I took a couple of independent study courses that were an early version of the online courses. The problem was it was totally up to me when I would do the work, and that causes a lot of trouble. Now, in my online classes, I try to follow the structure of an in-class course. I split the course material into weekly sections that have firm assignments and due dates.
To connect with students I have done the typical discussion forum. However, recently, I have asked students to search the Internet for videos that addresses a certain topic. Students include the video in their posts and summarize the highlights. This not only gets students interested in the post but also helps reinforce the current topic.
What are you currently using for course content?
My online biology course is from Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative. My online chemistry uses an open source chemistry book, and other links to content. The rest of my online courses use paper textbooks.
What are some good examples of peer-reviewed online resources for science instructors?
MIT and UCLA Berkeley are two sources of excellent online resources. They provide video lectures for anyone to view. These institutions have a history of quality and respect. Khan Academy has begun to release peer-reviewed material, which is an excellent resource for instructors to direct students to for tutorial help.
Have you served as a mentor to other faculty teaching online?
I’m a member of the Distance Learning Committee at Charter Oak State College, and review courses and offer tips on improving the class. I’ve done presentations to faculty groups, and joined online learning groups. At times, I get calls from other faculty to troubleshoot an online learning platform.
Do you have any suggestions or tips to help instructors teach more effectively and connect with students in an online/hybrid environment?
- Show up every day to an online class; at least 5 or 6 times a week. This is an active process. I make an effort to post an announcement or answer student posts in the discussion forum, so that they know I am present each day.
- Deal with student’s technical and personal issues, as if they were your own family. I treat students with respect and give them a break where needed.
What would you say to instructors, who care about improving student outcomes, but are reluctant to change?
Start with a small change. Then evaluate the outcome. Continue to make these small changes, and before long, you have an improved class and student outcomes.
How would you like to see online learning evolve? What improvements would you like to see?
I’d like to see better recording software and interfaces. I use Tegrity to record PowerPoint lectures; it’s good, but has problems. I would love to see better and more efficient grading features, such as those found in the Canvas Discussion Forum.
For example, when I want to grade a discussion forum or a lab report I can go to my Canvas grade book and select the first student I wish to grade. The student’s report is brought up (with the ability to annotate or write comments). I review their work and I enter the points earned. I can add an additional grading note and then click on the student next in line and repeat the process. I really like the ability to have the student document linked to the grading all in one screen.