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E-Learning and Instructional Support.

Kresge Library, Room 430
100 Library Drive
Rochester , MI 48309-4479
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Office and Virtual Help: (248) 805-1625

Online teaching becomes a necessity

Fri Jun 19, 2020 at 10:42 AM

Jana Nidiffer, associate professor of education in educational leadership, thought online classes were just a way for universities to increase student enrollment and inflate revenue. While she wasn’t against teaching one, she was concerned about losing a key component of her classes--the connection with the students. However, after chairing the dissertation of Shaun Moore, director of e-Learning and Instructional Support, Nidiffer came around to the idea. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, being able to teach students from a remote location is a necessity. 

“My wife is blind and her health started to fail precipitously,” said Nidiffer. While her wife would spend the winters in Florida while Nidiffer remained in Michigan to teach, additional health issues crept up and she wouldn’t be able to live alone anymore, requiring Nidiffer to be a present caregiver. 

“I wasn’t sure how I could keep teaching and care for her. I was trying to balance all of these things in my life,” said Nidiffer. When the opportunity to teach a hybrid class came along, Nidiffer decided to volunteer. 

“Our department wanted to have more hybrid classes and more online classes. I said I would shift to do one of my winter courses as a hybrid. There are a couple of face-to-face meetings and the rest are online,” said Nidiffer. 

That doesn’t mean she wasn’t nervous about her new venture, but she said e-LIS was able to get her through it. 

“I’ve been a Mac user since 1982 and I enjoy it, but the deeper you go into something, you get to a point where you don’t understand. I find myself at the Genius Bar way too often. I was really concerned about doing this. I was afraid of being in Florida, working with students and getting to a point of incompetency and not being able to do anything about it,” said Nidiffer. “Teaching is really important to me and I didn’t want to screw it up.”

Working with Moore and Dan Arnold, manager of Support Service in e-LIS, Nidiffer said she built her course and her confidence. Weekly, Nidiffer would have a virtual meeting with Moore and Arnold to address any issues and work out any problems. 

“They were very patient and I felt like I had my own little Genius Bar if something went wrong,” said Nidiffer. 

Once Nidiffer got comfortable with the process, she checked in with Moore and Arnold less, but still valued their input and information. Moore and Arbold volunteered to do a mid-term and end-of-term evaluation on her behalf to help Nidiffer identify limitations and address student concerns. 

And she didn’t lose the connection with her students. Through the few face-to-face meetings and the online discussions, Nidiffer said she felt like she got to know her students and the experience was more rewarding than she thought. 

Armed with her first-semester of experience, she spent the summer getting organized for her next hybrid class and learning about other online elements that she could use to make sure courses engaging and useful for her students. She also discussed online learning with one of her nephews, who earned an MBA online at another institution. She said she learned from the outside perspective as well. 

“For me, what really mattered was having the back-up of e-LIS but also maintaining high-quality teaching,” said Nidiffer. She said she’s heard students insinuate that online classes were boring and impersonal. “If I had an online student that described my course that way, I would be really disappointed. I would be really upset if that’s how students feel about my teaching.”

Nidiffer said Moore and Arnold helped her to develop really good habits as an online teacher, including strong communication with the students. Nidiffer is now into her third year of teaching online and hybrid courses and is trying different tools with the students to truly learn on their time. 

“I had students start giving class presentations as narrated PowerPoints. They don’t have to sit through nine presentations in a row, they can do it in their time. The students loved that,” said Nidiffer. 

Being that Nidiffer wasn’t native to this type of teaching environment, she doesn’t assume that her students, often graduate students, as used to this form of learning.

“I think in some ways, I become sympathetic to the student to whom this is not intuitive,” said Nidiffer. She said she can help students with questions or problems without having to take up class time. She also creates visual directions with screenshots and other resources to help her students as they navigate an online course. “I feel like the students are getting the support they need to do what I’ve asked them to do. If they didn’t know how to narrate a PowerPoint slide, I’ve provided those directions, so they do now.”

Nidiffer said she felt increasingly confident in her online teaching skills that she’s been able to transfer some of the mechanisms to her other classes so they are increasingly hybrid. She said that if she can do it, any instructor who cares about their teaching and wants to take it online could do it too. 

“I didn’t think of myself as savvy. I was unwilling to think students like this form of learning until Shaun’s dissertation,” said Nidiffer. “Now, I feel good about my online teaching and I know the Moodle people will be there for me.”