Who are the online professors at Kent State?

Megan Wilkinson

While most of the West Coast slept, assistant professor of accounting Wendy Tietz rose at 4 a.m. for class. Normally for her, class starts at 7:45 a.m., but because she was miles away from Kent State at a conference, she chose to send a live broadcast of her lecture to about 445 students in both the online and face-to-face sections of her financial accounting course.

Tietz said it took some preparation and coordination. She checked to make sure her hotel Internet worked, set up all the sound equipment and gathered her lecture notes. She said her graduate assistant stayed in Kent, ready to answer questions through a chat window for the online students.

Although it was earlier than her usual lecture, Tietz said she was happy she was able to teach her students instead of postponing the lecture. This is just one of the benefits of being an online professor.

Tietz is just one of Kent State’s online professors, yet students said they generally don’t know anything about these professors.

Executive Director of Distance Education Deborah Huntsman said Kent State offers more than 400 different online courses across its eight campuses. She said she is not sure exactly how many of the 3,800 employees at Kent State teach an online course.

“They’re normally just faculty members who showed an interest in teaching online,” Huntsman said. “It depends on the professor and the department.”

Huntsman said most online professors teach both face-to-face and online courses. She said the university generally doesn’t have a problem trying to find professors willing to do these jobs.

“Most professors we get to teach online do it voluntarily,” Huntsman said. “Certainly some faculty aren’t interested in doing it, but we normally don’t have problems in finding faculty who are able to teach online or develop an online course.”

Associate professor of art Gustav Medicus helped to develop a hybrid online course in art history last semester. He said both teaching and launching the course proved to be more stressful than starting a face-to-face class.

“That was one of the most stressful semesters I’ve ever had,” he said. “It takes an immense amount of time to format the online Powerpoints and deal with all the technological changes on top of just teaching it.”

Medicus said it took time to get used to the constant flow of emails from online students. He said he still has to resolve some technical glitches for the course.

However, most online professors reported that though web courses are time-consuming, they have more flexibility in their work. Tietz said she teaches the live class the same time she teaches her online course by streaming her lectures live for students at home.

“Teaching online gives you a lot of flexibility once you know how to work the technology,” Tietz said. “Students also have a lot of flexibility and can flip in and out of modes.”

Although a professor might work a decent amount for an online class, the students won’t normally recognize who their professor is for the course. Sophomore music major Alec Schumann said when he took Physics in Entertainment & the Arts with assistant professor of physics Jonathan Secaur, he never heard nor saw him in person.

“I’ve seen pictures of him online, but I doubt I could recognize him in a crowd,” Schumann said. “We only talked to each other through email.”

Who are these professors at Kent State? What do they do? Here are just some of the projects online professors need to do for their courses that differs from face-to-face each semester:

Develop the course

Huntsman said online professors need to be strategic when figuring out what information and courses to put on the web for students.

“We have faculty develop the online courses,” she said. “How they do it differs for everyone.”

Tietz, who taught her first online course in 2008, said she applied for a tech team through the provost’s office to help her develop her course.

“We worked for an entire semester, preparing everything ahead of time,” she said.

Revision and touch-ups

Even when classes were clearly done for the day, assistant professor of physics Jonathan Secaur sat at home, hard at work developing his online course for 7 Ideas that Shook the Universe. Headphones and microphone plugged in, he said he felt like he was recording a comedy show where no one was listening.

“Developing an online course takes a lot of inventing and designing,” Secaur said. “There’s so much work involved and a lot of building. It requires cleverness to make it work well.”

He recorded about 15 seconds of audio and hit the pause button when he heard his dog barking in the background. Minutes later, Secaur said he was back to work, finishing the lecture for future students.

Secaur said on top of revising the lectures during this stage, he figured out how to make labs that can be done at home for students in his Physics in Entertainment & Arts online lab course. He said he really enjoyed this part of development.

“I had to turn the problems around and design the lab for home,” Secaur said. “You can do different kinds of experiments at home — things that would be impractical in the lab.”

Constant flow of email and networking

Online professors need to check their email accounts on at least a daily basis. Huntsman said online professors cannot be passive when they teach. They need to make their students interested in the material.

Secaur said he receives more email than usual since he started teaching online courses in 2010. He said usually he just gets busy-work email on technological problems such as accessing web files or missing exam dates, but he said he likes when online students ask deeper questions on content.

“One guy had a great question on relativity,” he said. “We had a great online discussion for several days. Sometimes I wish more online students would take advantage of email to discuss the course content more openly.”

Another way to keep in consistent contact with students is using social media. Tietz said she uses a course Facebook page to let students know about upcoming due dates and exams.

Help from the graduate

Both Tietz and Secaur said they will have graduate students help them with their online courses.

Graduate assistant Adam Martinson works with Tietz Monday and Wednesday mornings in her two online financial accounting courses. He said it’s his job to answer questions the online students have during the lecture through a chat window.

“The work can sometimes be stressful because the online students might ask a vague question that’s hard to describe in detail if they’re not right in front of you,” Martinson said. “Or if I get bogged down with questions, but it’s usually not too hectic.”

Secaur said his graduate student will help him out in grading the online students’ lab reports, which cannot be done by a computer system.

Contact Megan Wilkinson at [email protected] .