Bo Sosnicki teaches general biology, Anatomy & Physiology, Microsoft Office applications and environmental science – all exclusively online – at community colleges and universities across the US. He has served as a faculty mentor for new online instructors and is a consultant to The Saylor Foundation.
How did you first get into online teaching?
Around 2002, I was an adjunct at a few community colleges in Virginia, and was asked if I would like to design and offer online general biology courses. Since I had a background in course and lab design, as well as a strong technology background, I accepted. I then began to teach and design biology courses at a number of schools, including Carteret Community College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Southeastern Community College, Coastal Carolina Community College, among others.
What are the biggest changes you’ve encountered since you began teaching online?
Finding new and innovative ways to communicate with students, faculty and administrators. With the advent of many tools, including e-mail, instant messengers, cell phones, discussion boards, chat rooms and live meeting areas, we can be in touch with each other constantly. I have not used social media, but many faculty and colleges have gone that route as well.
The other big change has been the online curriculum. When we first started designing online classes, we basically put our typed lectures and Power Points into the course and let students go at them. Over the years we have added a lot more diverse, creative, and interactive capabilities.
What’s been your migration process from textbooks to courseware?
This is still evolving. It’s a work in progress. I do think courseware is much easier since the structure is already there and we can modify it. I can spend more time interacting with students.
I have seen so many students in the on-campus classrooms, as well as the online environment, make little use of the paper or e-books. While teaching on campus, I asked a student why, after a month into the term, his textbook was still shrink- wrapped. He said he would get more money for it at the end of the term if it stayed that way.
What are the biggest differences between textbooks and courseware?
Interactivity and the ability to keep the content up-to-date. Web-based courseware like Acrobatiq’s makes the learning more interactive. And now assessments are possible, as well as the ability to track what students are doing.
Changes in content do not happen a lot, but in the sciences, they can be drastic at times. If you keep a text for 2-3 years, new studies in climate change or progress in alternative energy sources are significant. Having up-to-date material without having to purchase the next version of the text would be great.
After teaching biology online for 12+ years, what have you learned about getting creative with the curriculum and content?
Students all learn differently, so having many avenues to reach them is important. Going through one unit like mitosis, I like pairing written lecture material with short movies and activities, where students have to manipulate the chromosomes to show each stage. And then take quick assessments along the way. I like to do this in my on-campus courses as well.
With mitosis and cell reproduction, bringing in the topic of cancer, which affects all of us, helps students see what they are learning means something. I use articles like The Median Isn’t the Message by scientist Stephen Jay Gould to discuss issues that they may have had in their lives.
During your career, you’ve served as an online mentor. How do you help instructors teach more effectively online?
As a frontline defense, I fielded questions regarding teaching online, content, etc. We also set up areas where departmental online faculty could share materials and experiences with each other.
I always stress communication with students. Attention spans of the current generation can be short. Or the technology just makes it seem that way. You do have to construct your class using a diverse set of activities. You need to make modifications for cultural changes in our society, and give information in smaller bites, and allow students to stop and come back.
What would you say to instructors, who care about improving student outcomes, but are reluctant to change what they’ve always done?
Some faculty will never change. However, educational models are constantly changing and we need to do what is best for students and give them the tools to learn better.
How would you like to see online learning evolve? What improvements would you like to see?
I’d like to see the integration of different tools at a reasonable price. Up to this point, no LMS or courseware has made a complete package that integrates all of the possible tools, such as resident e-mail, chat, science labs, videos and virtual lectures. Also, the ability to pick and choose content and tools, and not pay for the entire set if it’s not needed.