From Classroom Lecture to Live Online

Michelle Samplin-Salgado, an Adjunct Professor in Public Health and Professional Degree programs at Tufts, participated in the 2016-2017 Instructional Technology Exploration Program (ITEP). She brought her lecture-style course online with WebEx and Trunk.

Can you provide us some background on your course and how it fits into its program of study?

HCOM508: Design and Technology for Public Health is a 7-week course that is required for graduate students in the Health Communication track at the Medical School’s Department of Public Health. The purpose of the course is to familiarize budding health communications professionals with the software, terms and concepts to help them effectively communicate with designers, developers, videographers, printers, photographers, and other creative professionals. Each creative discipline has its own language, and during this course students gain the skills and confidence to communicate with creatives, clients, contractors, and colleagues. Some of my students move on to be creatives themselves!

Can you tell us about your motivations for moving some class activities outside of WebEx?

After having only taught the course for one semester, I moved from Boston to Miami Beach. I am fortunate to be able to continue to teach the course, though now only the first and the last classes are IRL (in real life) and the remaining 5 weeks are taught remotely. I had used WebEx for meetings and short webinars, but this would be my first time teaching almost an entire course online. Four semesters later, the class was going well, but I knew I could do better. And I wanted to do better. For one thing, the online portion was three hours. That’s a long time to be sitting in front of the computer and despite frequent breaks and exercises, I wanted to explore other options for the online portion. We also teach software skills, such as Photoshop and InDesign, and several students struggled to follow along in the online synchronous lab sessions.

How do you think the student experience differed between your class this semester compared to last semester? What changes were most effective?

Thanks to ITEP (and specifically to Amanda and David) I made a ton of changes. Instead of a 3-hour synchronous class, I now teach 1.5 hours “live” and added lots of online, asynchronous opportunities, including discussion boards, documentary videos, guest speakers, and online quizzes. I started using WebEx Training Center, which allows students to go into a virtual break out room and work in small groups. I also fully embraced Trunk this semester, using it for the discussion boards, quizzes and to create Weekly Overview pages, Q & A pages, and messages to the students. In previous years I had used everything from Slack, to Box, to Google Docs, Dropbox, and more. Having everything in one place (that place being Trunk) helped me streamline things and made it easier for students to track and complete the different online activities.

How does teaching asynchronously compare to teaching synchronously?

Initially, I was completely opposed to the idea of asynchronous teaching, thinking I would feel disconnected from the students. In the end, it actually allowed me to stay connected to the students throughout the week, and more importantly, through the discussion boards and breakout groups, the students were able to connect with each other in a way that they hadn’t been able to when it was 3-hour synchronous, lecture style format.

What, if any, changes or refinements do you plan for the next time you teach this course?

I struggled with managing the different online components and as a result the deadlines and deliverables were a bit fragmented. For example, drafts and quizzes were due Monday, final assignments were due Tuesday, discussion forums were due Thursday and Sundays. It was a lot to keep track of for both the students and me. Next semester I plan to streamline the different activities and combine deadlines. I received positive feedback about the breakout groups, so I plan to spend more time with that in the Fall.

I learned and grew so much this semester, thanks to ITEP! They provided technical support by connecting me to new tools and software, including lots of new (to me) features in Trunk.  I received positive feedback from the students and am inspired to continue to integrate new technologies and refine the skills I’ve learned.  Just as HCOM 508 provides my students with technical and design skills and confidence to be better professionals when they graduate, ITEP  provided me with the skills and confidence (and weekly support) to be a better instructor.