What Makes a Course of Distinction? Communication

June 28, 2019

Maryann Schroder

In June, Dr. Maryann Schroder (right), pictured here with MCLA Associate Director of Academic Technology Gerol Petruzella, received a Course of Distinction Award for her Human Growth and Development online course at the 14th annual Massachusetts Colleges Online (MCO) Conference on eLearning. 

As a long-time adjunct professor, Dr. Maryann Schroder is accustomed to creating a welcoming environment and fostering clear communication—even though the majority of her classes these days are online.

In June, Schroder received a Course of Distinction Award at the 14th annual Massachusetts Colleges Online (MCO) Conference on eLearning, held in person at Fitchburg State University, for her Human Growth and Development online course. These awards honor the architects of innovative and efficient online or hybrid courses; Schroder’s course was recognized for its excellent work in content organization, regular recap announcements, and self-assessment exercises, among other things.

Held within Canvas, MCLA’s web portal for courses both on and offline (traditional students log in for assignments, syllabi, and more), Schroder’s course covers the human life cycle and its physical, cognitive, and social aspects.

Schroder, who also adjuncts at Berkshire Community College, said tone and communication is important online—it’s the professor’s responsibility to create an encouraging space for dialogue. “I find that online, it’s important to be fairly conversational so it provides a model for students communicating with each other,” she said. “I think that makes it feel like a safe and welcoming place if the instructor is welcoming and conversational.”

She engages her students on multiple levels—they are required to participate in class discussions, of course, but she also gives individual feedback, assigns work, releases new class material each week, and advises students as they work through a semester-long project. “It’s important to be clear about what needs to be done, what needs to be engaged with before taking part in the discussion,” she said.

Schroder is fond of the flexibility of an online course—students can participate in course discussion when it’s convenient for them rather than at a set time each week. “It opens up a lot more,” she said. “It’s a more equal playing field, basically. Everyone has their own opportunity to make their presence known. I find the discussions can get really rich.”

It’s that supportive structure that makes this course one of distinction, Schroder believes. “I feel that there are a lot of technical options in the web portal to choose from, and they all have their merits. But consistent throughout is the instructor’s presence. The students always know I’m there.”

MCLA Biology Department Chair Dr. Anne Goodwin, and Associate Director of Academic Technology Dr. Gerol Petruzella, also attended the conference and were pleased to support Schroder in her recognition of online teaching excellence. A description of the course, as well as a video tour, are available at http://masscollegesonline.org/conference/cod-winners/2019-maryann-schroder/.

Massachusetts Colleges Online (MCO) is a collaborative of 24 public state higher education institutions involved in the design, delivery, management, and assessment of online, blended, and other technology-mediated learning formats. Learn more at http://masscollegesonline.org/.


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