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Online instructor creates rich learning environment

Oct. 26, 2016

How do you take an online class on a field trip? Ask Melinda Stanley.

Stanley, visiting lecturer in health care management, creates and teaches online classes for one of Indiana University Kokomo's newest programs, the Bachelor of Applied Science. Though her classes don't meet on campus, she wants her students to connect with her and with one another, and to experience the high-quality instruction expected from an IU degree.

Melinda Stanley conducts video tour

Melinda Stanley records a virtual field trip at the Indiana State Museum for her economics of health care class. Here, she examines an iron lung -- a device once used primarily for treating polio patients. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU KOKOMO

"When we're connected, and have trust, they're willing to take more chances," she said. "Their papers are richer, and their responses are richer. Some people have the idea that an online class is like a correspondence course. It's not just power points, a webpage, and a textbook. My online classes are interactive. I want students to feel comfortable reaching out and asking questions. If they're intimidated or unsure of me, they will avoid making contact.

Part of that effort includes virtual field trips. During the last school year, she recorded two field trips at the Indiana State Museum -- one for her economics of health care class, and a second, more general experience for all of her students, so they could participate in the campus Sophomore Sojourn.

The economics class focused on the museum's iron lung, which has become obsolete because of the polio vaccine.

"Iron lungs were used as treatment and long term care of patients with polio," she said. As of 2014, there were still a handful of people in the U.S. who need the machine, but can no longer get parts or service for them, because the supply and demand are low."

Stanley also infuses her classes with technology -- for instance, using a program that includes virtual flashcards to review terminology, and another program that inserts short quizzes throughout an online lecture. Students must answer the questions to continue, and she receives analytics to show how the students did, so she can assess understanding of the topics.

For a human resources class, she recorded video of herself conducting interviews, for students to practice assessing the strengths and weaknesses of candidates for a health care receptionist job.

By connecting with her students online, she said, it creates a richer learning environment for the students, because they learn to trust her. In a recent online discussion of workplace sexual harassment, she asked students to define it, and one male student talked about his own experience being harassed.

"Some of my younger female students didn't realize that men could also be sexually harassed," Stanley said. "He took a real chance putting that out there, because we had created a safe online environment, and built up trust among us. He provoked a very insightful discussion."

All of these measures created a personal connection for recent Bachelor of Applied Science graduate Rossanna Hartsock, who said she's taken online classes that she never really knew who the instructor was.

"I felt these classes were a lot more personal, and the teacher wasn't just words on a page," said Hartsock, who is now enrolled in the Master of Public Management program. "Melinda made sure you could see her as an actual person, like you would if you were in her classroom. You know if you come to campus, you could recognize her if you see her."

She was surprised by the rigor of the classes, and appreciated being able to work them around her schedule, and take them from her Bringhurst home.

"It gave me the flexibility to complete my degree, and it felt personalized to me," she said.

Stanley's experience at Commencement showed her that her efforts have been appreciated, as students she had only seen as thumbnails on her screen ran to greet her in person for the first time.

"I have actually formed relationships with the students online, which was a pleasant surprise," Stanley said. "I figured there might be a disconnect with a computer between us, but students open up to me quite a bit, because of the distance between us."

Melinda Stanley's work at IU Kokomo aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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