Faculty Spotlight: Rita Allison Kondrath, Ph.D.

ritaKondrath1Dr. Rita A. Kondrath completed her M.A. and Ph.D. at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her research examines women’s experiences of war throughout the Modernist period, and considers the traumatic aftermath of war as a catalyst for the cultural remaking of female identity. She has designed and taught an array of courses in writing and literature, and has presented her scholarship at conferences throughout the United States and in Canada.  Her recent scholarship focuses on the intersections of pedagogy, narrative, recovery and community.

Dr. Kondrath has been teaching in the classroom setting for nearly ten years and is in her second term teaching online at Granite State College.  She currently teaches, “The Writing Process” at GSC, and is developing “Introduction to Cultural Theory,” to be offered in the future.

Decision to Teach Online ~ Influences Along the Way

Rita remarks, “In the past, I trained in online learning platforms and learned to integrate them into my face to face courses, which I found to be very useful. Since online courses are increasingly part of course offerings in higher education, I welcomed the opportunity to teach exclusively online.  I have also found that teaching online allows a much more even work/life balance than teaching face-to-face courses at a brick and mortar campus. As the mother of a young child, this is very important to me.” Although Rita is quite new to online teaching, she tells us that she has learned a great deal in a short amount of time.  She noted that last term she found her students responded very well to short audio recordings and video presentations that she had posted.

“I wanted them to have the ability to hear my voice, and have the benefit of verbal explanation of some concepts and ideas. When I realized how strongly these approaches resonated with students, I began to orient myself to rich media. I have found it to be incredibly useful thus far, and I feel as though I’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg!” 

Courses she currently teaches focus on academic writing, research, and documentation, and she has used rich media presentations as a way of demonstrating how to effectively integrate secondary source material into one’s work, and how to properly document those sources.  She explains, “To my mind, the whole concept of plagiarism becomes much less threatening to a student when he or she can fully appreciate what it means to use someone else’s ideas in support of his or her own; and that one of the principal aims of academic research and writing is to position one’s voice as the most prominent throughout the paper.

Dr. Kondrath uses Jing and Camtasia to build rich media presentations to describe this process to students, while she illustrates it on screen.  And she explains, “Admittedly, documentation is not the most scintillating of subject matters, so rich media is also a great way to engage students in aspects of the curriculum that can be somewhat tedious. In my view, this approach is much more effective than posting a handout for students to review, for example.”

She feels the opportunity to dialogue with other faculty and instructional designers is especially important. Since she teaches exclusively online and therefore does not work on a traditional brick and mortar campus, she said she is very grateful for the opportunity to talk through ideas and challenges, and receive someone else’s insight and recommendations. She analyses this input, and uses it to make decisions about how to present course material.

New Innovations ~ Blackboard Collaborate

Dr. Kondrath stated her next step will be to start using Blackboard Collaborate to conduct real-time seminars with her students so they can ask for clarification from her and communicate with one another throughout her presentations.  She hopes to conduct at least one of these seminars this term. “I am confident that this technology will also prove tremendously valuable in teaching a variety of topics, particularly with respect to some of the subtleties of strong writing, which are best introduced verbally and visually.”

Online Environment vs Face to Face 

Dr. Kondrath’s perspective on teaching online versus face to face is that it uniquely enables her to gauge to what extent each of her students are engaging with the course material.  She noted that in a F2F class, there might be several students who rarely contribute to class discussion, yet submit rather compelling work.  She remarks, “the online environment invites them to take a more active part in the class, which enhances their learning, and in some cases, confidence in their ability to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. In some cases, my students post quite lengthy responses to my prompts, and this is fantastic. The forums invite and allow them to work through their ideas in a manner altogether different than a face to face class discussion. Students do not feel “put on the spot,” so there is more active and regular participation, and everyone has the chance to proofread, unlike in a verbal discussion.

She also likes that Moodle affords her the ability to vary the structure of forums. And it allows her to engage her students in different ways, and to tailor the forum to suit the material being discussed. She remarked that she particularly likes the way that the “Q&A” works, because it challenges students to think independently.

“While critics might suggest that communication between instructors and students is compromised in an online environment, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Teaching online actually surpasses the quality of my interaction with my students. For example, when they peer review one another’s essays, I have the opportunity to read and respond to their reviews. Doing so shows both the reviewer of the paper and the student who wrote it, which aspects of the review are most relevant. In my F2F courses, I rarely had the time to respond individually to every review. I really enjoy dialoguing with students as a class, individually, and in small groups.”

Setting Student Expectations

Dr. Kondrath shared some tips for setting expectations:

  • Describe student expectations for all forums and activities clearly in the syllabus.
  • Communicate specific instructions the at the opening of each discussion or activity.
  • If a student falls short of the expectations, reiterate the expectations within the forum itself, so that the entire class benefits.

Creating an Online Presence

Dr. Kondrath maintains a regular presence in the discussion forums, and prepares a variety of audio recordings and rich media presentations in her courses.  She also uses the “Announcements” forum to keep students abreast of upcoming assignments and the like.  She noted that sometimes she posts a short audio messages in “Announcements”, alongside her text.   She noted that she responds to every student on his or her first post and strives to facilitate ongoing discussions by inviting that student and the class to expand and complicate their original ideas.

Her advice is to, “Plan, plan, plan. Try to map out as much as you can in advance. You can always make changes and adjustments as you go.  Make your expectations explicitly clear. Convey them in more than one place: in the course syllabus, within each respective module, and even again within activities and assignments. Create an “Announcements” forum and use it regularly, and keep busy students abreast of what’s coming next.”

Challenges

Dr. Kondrath understands that creating an online presence, and having students interpret that presence in the manner in which she intends, can be a challenge.  She reflects, “When I initially began teaching online, my impulse was to transition my F2F course content and pedagogy into an online format. Through training at GSC, and especially personal experience, I have learned that teaching online is an entirely separate endeavor than teaching F2F. It’s almost like speaking two dialects of the same language: I have the same learning goals and outcomes as I do in my F2F courses, but my approaches are entirely different. I have learned to structure assignments and evaluation sheets slightly differently, because I convey expectations to students in an altogether distinct fashion than in F2F courses, and I engage with them differently as well. Teaching online requires one to continually evaluate one’s teaching practices, remaining ever-conscious of the student experience. It’s an excellent exercise because it lends vibrancy to my pedagogy.”

Possibilities

When asked if she had any role models or mentors who have influenced the way she teaches Dr. Kondrath remarked, “One of my graduate professors had a very disarming approach to engaging with complex material. She facilitated discussion in a way that invited students to explore and complicate their ideas. In moderating discussions, she modeled how to weigh several, often conflicting possibilities for interpreting a text, and how to articulate them. Though I worked with her long before online courses were popular, her approach to learning strongly informs my pedagogy. The way that she interacted with her students influences the way that I interact with mine.  I approach every course as an opportunity to learn from my students, and I always do.”

To contact Rita you may send an email to: rakondrath@go.granite.edu