Faculty Spotlight: Liz Gauffreau, M.A.

Liz Gauffreau is a full time lecturer and the Director of Individualized Learning at Granite State College.  In addition to being a full-time faculty member in the program, Liz oversees the administration of the College’s Prior Learning Assessment program, an Individualized Studies major, and contract learning. She has over twenty years of experience in non-traditional higher education programs, first at Saint Leo University and, for the past eleven years, at Granite State College. For more details see Liz’s biography.

Liz has been teaching since 1984 and teaching online since 2006.  She claims she decided to teach online from curiosity and shame: “Before I decided to try teaching online, I shot my mouth off a lot about the inferior nature of online courses, without knowing what they were about. (You can’t have an epiphany in an online course, says I!) It finally got to the point where I felt duty-bound to find out how online courses work if I was going to advise students to take them. I was also really curious.”

Since Liz began teaching online her teaching has changed. Now, with the click of a mouse, she  can respond to a student’s question or concern with supplemental resources and information in the middle of a discussion, course message, or assignment feedback. Having the Internet and the library at her fingertips allows her to open doors for students. What’s particularly exciting to her is when a student is exploring a concept  that he or she feels very strongly about but isn’t able to articulate. She says, “I can jump on the Internet and bring back the student’s personal interest area articulated as an area of academic inquiry, which validates the student’s own thinking and opens doors to brand-new ideas, conversations, and resources.  I find it very humbling to know that without the Internet, I couldn’t do what I do in the courses I teach. “

“I think the electronic medium allows for a more natural give-and-take between student and instructor, particularly with writing assignments.  I like to think of this give-and-take as a partnership. I’m the partner with more academic experience, but the student is the one who holds the key to completing the assignment successfully.”
Liz shared some observations about online learners.  She feels that students in her online classes are able to achieve a higher standard than students in a traditional classroom environment because the online environment is immersive, rather than compartmentalized, as a once-a-week class would be–and students are getting more feedback on their work than in a classroom-based course, as well as continual reinforcement of the guiding principles of the course. Online students also seem more open to revising assignments that have gone off track or need more work: “I think the electronic medium allows for a more natural give-and-take between student and instructor, particularly with writing assignments.  I like to think of this give-and-take as a partnership. I’m the partner with more academic experience, but the student is the one who holds the key to completing the assignment successfully.”

Because Liz is experienced teaching online she feels comfortable offering tips for others.  There are four student expectations that she establishes at the beginning of a course: high standards, respect and support for classmates, her availability offline, and the availability of GSC Tech Support and the College librarian. She establishes high standards by framing the course standards in terms of how these standards can benfit each individual student. She establishes respect and support for classmates by focusing on in-depth discussions during the first week and modeling the respect and support that she expects them to show each other. In addition to posting her telephone number in the course, when she responds to someone having difficulty, she always offers to speak with him or her by phone or in person.

To establish her online presence she posts course announcements on a regular basis (at least once a week, often more) and she participates in the discussion forums.

She points out some important things about online discussions too.

The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) website, designed by Liz, assists with evaluating a student’s training, competency portfolios and shows our GSC students how to receive college credit for work and life experience.

She says, “Early on, I decided I was not going to have discussions for discussions’ sake. It is incumbent upon me to develop meaningful discussions that are directly relevant to the course objectives, and if a discussion doesn’t add any value to a particular module, then I don’t have one.”

“On the other hand,students can be more thoughtful with their responses online.” 

She has noticed differences between discussions in the face-to-face classroom vs. the online classroom: “I don’t think there is quite the level of group synergy from asynchronous discussion that comes from classroom discussion. On the other hand, students can be more thoughtful with their responses online.  Once, a student new to online courses told me that she was surprised by how useful she found the online discussions because she could go back and reread them when she had questions or got stuck.”

 Liz is always thinking about ways to improve her courses: “I want to incorporate ePortfolio into my courses as a way to encourage students to integrate their learning in the course with learning they already have and to facilitate transfer and application of learning from one course to the next. I’m also thinking about rich media as a way of illustrating particularly difficult abstract concepts.” When asked what has been helpful to her in developing online courses, she cites the Teaching and Learning Online training course, the GSC Faculty Resource Center, the Ed Tech staff, and all of her GSC colleagues. She notes, “every time I have a conversation with someone about my courses, I come away with another useful nugget.”  Even though Liz successfully teaches online, she tells us that, “I believe that I’ve only scratched the surface of the potential of the electronic medium to facilitate learning, and I am looking forward to finding out more.”

To contact Liz send an email to: liz.gauffreau@granite.edu.

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