by Carmen Holotescu
the first anniversary, the special guest of our Romanian eLearning Community
is Dr. Pamela Witcher, from
University of Maryland University College USA, who generously accepted to share her valuable experience with us.
Pamela is the Director of Faculty Development Programs, at the Center for Teaching and Learning - CTL.
has taught online, voice mail, and classroom-based psychology and behavioral
science courses for UMUC since 1994.
Center for Teaching and Learning - CTL - focuses its efforts entirely on
faculty development and online
Pamela, thank you so much for accepting this interview and letting us learn
from your worthful experience. For the beginning, can you please tell us
a little about your experience in traditional teaching and e-learning?
Thank you, Carmen, for asking me to share my experiences in teaching and e-learning with you and your colleagues. It is an honor to do so and to help celebrate the Romanian e-Learning Community’s first year of activity.
As noted in your introduction, I’ve taught for UMUC since 1994 and have taught in various traditional teaching settings over the past 20 years, including health education programs and workshops in clinics and non-profit organizations. I enjoy helping people—children, youth, and adults—learn and expand their knowledge and perspectives through teaching in whatever avenue that is available (i.e., classroom, online, or voice mail). I believe that lifelong learning is vital in improving our lives and making our world a better place to live.
Any teacher or student of higher education today who has had the chance to participate in the online experience has readily recognized that there is a world of difference between the traditional brick and mortal and the asynchronous settings that define the two individual systems.
Which do you feel to be the most challenging aspects of e-learning?
To me, the most challenging aspect of e-learning is creating a positive and active learning environment where all students and instructors can discuss and explore various concepts, perspectives, and solutions to problems. While it is often said, “you can't sit in the back of an online classroom,” some students do manage to “sit” idly by while others take a much more active role. The challenge for me in CTL is to ensure that UMUC instructors know of ways to become enriched from students and each other in the online environment.
For example, in a face-to-face classroom setting, an instructor can initiate a discussion on a particular topic and students can respond. The instructor could then call on students who had not participated in the discussion or had responded non-verbally to another student's comment. This type of class environment assessment is much more difficult—if not, impossible—to do with online conference discussions held in asynchronous time. “Lurking” often happens—that is, a student in online classroom can read what is written but not respond and the faculty member has no way of knowing that the student was in the online classroom.
Ironically, I also find it true for faculty members who register for an online workshop but do not post a response to any of the conferences! ;-) People’s lives are very full with other responsibilities and priorities and there are only 24 hours in any given day. I think that these realities make online learning more time-consuming and require more self-discipline than face-to-face classes.
Can you please provide us a few figures on the extend of the online programs offered by UMUC?
UMUC students can choose from 86 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs offered completely online via WebTycho, the university's state-of-the-art interactive classroom software. In addition, unlike most colleges and universities that offer online courses, UMUC also offers a comprehensive array of online academic and student services.
CTL offers programs for the UMUC's faculty. Can you please give us a few details of these programs?
CTL offers also the peer mentoring program. Through the program, experienced faculty members who volunteer are assigned a new instructor, or mentee. Please tell us some more also on the partnerships fostered in this program.
The mission of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is to promote teaching excellence and enhance teaching effectiveness in order to maximize the quality of teaching and learning at UMUC. CTL's services include:
CTL manages the stateside faculty awards program that honors several faculty members for their special teaching achievements each year. Undergraduate and graduate students nominate their respective faculty each semester for these awards, and selection committees make the final recommendations for approval. These awards are given at each spring commencement ceremony.The workshops organized on important topics in e-learning are very successful. I participated in five online workshops and I really learned a lot, sharing with UMUC's teachers worldwide. How do you select the topics and the facilitators for these workshops? Which do you consider to be their impact?
We establish each year’s workshop topics and their facilitators through a process that includes considering current events in higher education. We also collect suggestions and recommendations from workshop participants throughout the previous year and from CTL’s Faculty Development Council. This Council consists of faculty and administrator representatives from UMUC-Europe, UMUC-Asia, the School of Undergraduate Studies, the Graduate School, and the Office of Distance Education and Lifelong Learning. We compile this information and submit it to the Council for review and approval for the academic year.
Currently, we assess workshop participant feedback at the end of each evening and online session. Overall, faculty participants are very satisfied with their workshop experiences and often articulate that the resources shared and the opportunity to meet and discuss pertinent issues with other faculty members are the most valuable elements of the workshop. We also ask them to state their intentions to use the information gain through their workshop experience, but have not established a way to follow-up with them in subsequent semesters to see if they succeed in meeting their intentions. The plan for such a follow-up process is in the design stage! :-)
We can speak about a real online community of the UMUC's faculty. Can you expand a little this idea?
The faculty community at UMUC is growing. We currently have 962 faculty in the United States and 1,718 faculty worldwide. You may like to know that 195 faculty members in the United States are from 29 foreign countries in FY01, with Romanian faculty ranking sixth among them! :-)
More faculty are receiving WebTycho training and are teaching online. We are also seeing an increase in the number of faculty who participate in our online symposia and workshops. A third area where I see our online community growing is in the activity on our faculty listservs for our stateside and UMUC-Europe faculty. These listservs are active and deal with issues that range from questions about grading and final exams policies to what faculty members are doing in their professional lives. Often, faculty bring up relevant articles in higher education publications for discussion.
What are your future plans at CTL?
I believe that online learning is here to stay and will continue to help people fulfill their educational dreams and goals. I also believe that it will become an integral part of face-to-face classroom teaching, but will never completely replace classroom learning.
Can you, please, transmit a message for our members, some of them being UMUC's faculty for Online Education?
To my fellow educators in the Romanian e-Learning Community: I commend your desire and commitment to teaching and making a difference in this world through the lives of your students. Do not become discouraged when there are too many papers to grade, too many computer glitches and crashes, and seemingly not enough time and energy to meet these and other life demands. Reach out to one another for help, for new ideas, for a safe place to simply express how you feel and you’ll find that we CAN get through it all! :-)
Dear Pamela, thank you so much for sharing all these with us. I wish you many, many successes in your future endeavor.
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