0117ONLINEAUDCynthia Smith, a Florida-based online instructor with Brenau University, talks about her initial skepticism about teaching a Web-based psychology class.
Some 60 Brenau University instructors who teach at least part of their classes online are gathering this week for the college’s annual Online Facilitator Summit.
The fifth-annual event provides "an opportunity for our (part-time) faculty who teach for us online (outside Georgia) to come to campus and see the campus and meet faculty who also teach online," said Heather S. Gibbons, associate vice president for information technology and online studies.
"It’s kind of a neat thing to put faces with names."
Other than the social aspect, "we also have a good bit of professional development," Gibbons said. "A big part of the program is allowing the instructors who are doing great things in their online classes to share those things."
The summit, which begins today and wraps up Saturday, also will feature "a hands-on portion where instructors get to try out things we’re showing them," Gibbons said.
This year, Brenau plans to roll out Impatica, a software tool that compresses a PowerPoint file down to half its size.
"It’s a much faster download, especially as we have students who are still on dial-up," Gibbons said.
Also new is Respondus, which works with the course-management software Blackboard in enabling users to upload an exam or test quickly.
"It’s an incredibly beneficial tool," Gibbons said. "I have hand-typed in exams and quizzes, and it’s just cumbersome."
Respondus comes with a partner product, StudyMate, that allows faculty to create flash cards and other "fun study aids."
Brenau began offering online courses in the summer of 1999. The first batch of courses, with nine students enrolled, led to a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing.
In 2002, the college’s Board of Trustees recognized the Online College as an official unit of the university, Gibbons said.
Today, Brenau has 270 students taking online classes for a total of 2,047 credit hours.
Brenau has 95 classroom-only instructors, one online-only instructor and 10 instructors who teach classes that feature a mix of online and in-class, or "hybrid," instruction, Gibbons said.
"We’re looking forward to more growth (in online instruction)," she said. "There is no slowdown ... nationally."
For the most part, hybrid classes now are limited to the nursing school.
"The deans are discussing introducing hybrid in each of the schools, but it’s really more of a in-development issue right now," Gibbons said.
Hybrid is "generally preferred by students and faculty and not just because of the saving-the-driving time, but the ability to have interaction ... is really beneficial," she said.
Cindy White, who teaches psychology online, said Wednesday en route to Brenau from Jupiter, Fla., that she was a skeptic at first of online instruction.
Brenau initially asked White if she wanted to write the curriculum for the instruction.
She took the bait and "was incredibly surprised at how much impact and how much you can get online through even subjects like psychology and human development, some of those things I thought I absolutely needed to be face to face for."
Evelyn Asher, who is in her second year teaching Effective Interpersonal Communication for the Online College, said in an e-mail from Boone, N.C., that the summit is "a phenomenal opportunity to network with colleagues, learn the latest technology, (reunite) and meet with new Brenau administrators, and interact with department faculty."
She said that last year she adopted an "online debate format as a final exam for my students. "
This year, Linda Kern, director of Brenau’s Trustee Library, is going to "demonstrate how the library can provide resources for the students in this process," Asher said.