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Take 5 with Catheryn Cheal

Friday, February 11, 2011
Take 5 with Catheryn Cheal
By Katie Land, news editor

Composed of a diverse array of faculty, staff and administrators, the Oakland University community is unique, creative, and dedicated. As part of a continuing effort to explore the various roles and lives of our Golden Grizzlies, the News @ OU website presents a new interview series. We invite you to share these stories and “Take 5” with OU.

“Take 5 with Catheryn Cheal”

Catheryn Cheal, Ph.D., is the assistant vice president for e-Learning and Instructional Support. She works to create and develop online courses and programs, establish new technology and improve software programs and web pages through Moodle. Originally an art history instructor, Catheryn began to work in e-Learning to teach faculty about the positive aspects of online learning. Since joining the Oakland community in 2004, Catheryn has overseen an incredible increase in online courses and programs, from roughly 13 online courses to OU’s current 140 a semester.

1) What are some common misconceptions about your field?

I believe there are two main misconceptions about our work. This first is that online courses are “easier,” and the second is that certain subjects don’t translate into online courses. Students need to be self-motivated and they often end up with much more writing and reading in online courses, so they definitely aren't easier.

Through programs like Moodle, with forums and discussion options, and Elluminate, with video conference capabilities, you really can do almost anything online that you can do in a classroom. In my experience, online courses can actually increase interaction between faculty and students by opening up a more intimate dialogue than what happens face-to-face. I've found that faculty who try out online teaching for themselves, usually enjoy the process and quickly become comfortable with how the students are learning.

2) What is the busiest time of year in your department?

Definitely the beginning of every semester. We are trying to get people in the right courses, keep Moodle running smoothly, and educate and train faculty that are new to the process. About 50 percent of our faculty are using Moodle currently, and we are continually working to increase that number.

3) What is your favorite Michigan season?

Oh, I like them all. I grew up here, but lived in Southern California for 20 years, and that seemed like only one season. What is really wonderful about Michigan are the trees and the water. I think it is the most beautiful state in the country, no matter the season.

4) Do you have any pets?

Certainly! We have three cats (Sugar Nose, Pumpkin Head and Tiger Eye), a golden retriever named Chloe, and we keep five chickens in a coop. My son is a veterinarian, so we are definitely animal people. I believe that pets bring life and good humor to a house. I grew up going to my grandpa’s farm, and I really like that kind of life. I may overly romanticize it, but the chickens are my homage to Michigan farm life.

5) What are some of the special challenges you encounter?

As I work in an ever-changing medium, it is a constant challenge to update and transform processes into an online format that were designed manually for face-to-face interactions. It is complicated to update the processes and the inner workings of a university. Technology's nature is to change, while institutions are designed to be stable.

We are constantly making changes to many processes, such as online admissions, advising, course evaluations, assessment, research and teaching. Each has its own challenges. One example is the Moodle gradebook. If you have 100 faculty, there will be 100 different ways to calculate their many course grades through the semester. Moodle can handle most of these ways, but my staff meet with each separately to set up their gradebook.

To read other "Take 5" interviews, view the website at