Faculty Spotlight: Karin Allard, MS

Karin Allard has been teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Granite State College for 13 years. She works as a guidance counselor at the E.P. Barka Elementary School in Derry, NH, as well as being a licensed substance abuse counselor in the State of NH. She’s worked with substance abuse and mental health issues in a variety of residential treatment settings, private practice, schools, and outpatient settings since 1985. Karin is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. in Education program at Walden University. She lives with her husband of 25 years, her kids (ages 17 and 16), and her two dogs, and enjoys the beach and a good book.

Taking the Online Plunge

Karin enjoys exploring technologies, trying new and creative ways to reach students.  This past fall term she taught her first hybrid course at GSC. By the winter term she took the jump into an entirely online course and this is what she has to say about it.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching online is that there are so many different ways to present material. Take the concept of Triangulation, a family dynamic. First, I can provide students a link to a website by one of the premier theorists in the area of Family Systems, who explains the theoretical aspects underlying triangulation. Then I can post ongoing current research in the area of triangulation. I can use questionnaires in Moodle to encourage students to reflect on personal experiences with triangulation in their own family systems.  I can post PowerPoint presentations on the topic.  I can use Jing to create videos of my computer screen to demonstrate examples of triangulation. Students then apply what they’ve learned to case studies, or characters in film, and discuss examples of triangulation they’ve identified by interacting in the Forums.

Just like with face to face teaching, there’s a whole host of differentiated strategies to reach students, to spark their interest, to keep them motivated, to dig deeper and reflect on their learning. The trick is, I think, to be willing to experiment, to take a course and keep it fresh. Provide information, make it entertaining, keep it meaningful, and allow for reflection.

The courses I teach are full of rich discussion and have a “human significance” to them. A big part of the learning for students enrolled in the courses I teach is achieved through conducting  their own personal assessment of biases, beliefs, and perceptions related to not only the course material, but to life experiences in general. We get there by “give and take” in a very personal sense.  So the challenge has been to create a like experience online that provides an equally rich personal assessment. Moodle allows the creation of questionnaires that I will be using next term to jump start discussions. It will still provide an opportunity for people to express themselves, and see what others have to say about their personal experiences, and perhaps include people in the discussion who may have been too reticent to discuss their experiences live and in person.

Bumps along the Way

But as with any new strategy, there are often bumps along the way. For Karin it was her own misconception about what it means to teach online.

My initial mistake was in the understanding of the pedagogy of online teaching and learning. When I first thought about online teaching, I’m embarrassed to say, I was thinking about the online shell as a “holding tank of information”. I thought students would simply log in, and know, intuitively, how to locate the information they needed to complete assignments. After all, the information was there in a logical and sequential format. Then, I figured students would use that information efficiently to “learn”. When I thought about this concept and compared it to my teaching in the more traditional, face to face setting, I realized that would be akin to my placing all of the material for the course  on a table in a face-to-face class and notifying students on the first day, “Here’s your course! Email me if you have any questions!”

Advice for Other Faculty Thinking About Teaching Online

Don’t be afraid to try new things. The learning curve regarding the technical “how-to’s” of Moodle for me was steep. Very steep. But the time I took to learn the ins and outs of online instruction (technical and instructional) will make each and every course in the future that much better. Just like when I first found myself in the classroom.

Getting Instructional Support Along the Way

Peter Conklin was one of my first mentors at GSC. His kind and easy-going approach to student interactions taught me a great deal about adult learners and needs beyond the curriculum. Recently, Chuck Bagley and John Cook have helped me with organizational strategies and instructional ideas as I entered the realm of online instruction. I’m an avid reader of Robert MarzanoRuth Charney, and Madeline Hunter in terms of practicing effective instruction. Their work has given me an understanding of effective instruction, assessment, and how to establish an environment for effective collaborative learning.

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