Background

Lake Superior College has been offering online courses since 1998 and is one of the leaders in Internet-delivered courses and programs in Minnesota. The college is accredited to offer all degrees (A.A., A.S., and A.A.S.) via e-learning.

In 2000-2007, I taught at least one course online each semester, and I have taught as many as five online courses in one semester. After using the WebCT instructional management system for the first few years, Lake Superior College is currently using the D2L (Desire to Learn) to deliver online courses.

Initially, I was skeptical of online teaching and learning, doubting that I could teach, and my student could learn, as effectively online as we were accustomed to in a traditional face-to-face classroom. However, after developing and teaching my first online course, I quickly became convinced of the value of online education.

Why online courses?

Many of my students performed just as well online as they did in a traditional classroom. More importantly, some did better - and some liked the online format better.

Most online students like the flexibility and, in some cases, the anonymity of online courses. Also, many students prefer to have additional time for reflection and many find online courses safe and convenient places to express their thoughts. Since I required weakly discussions in all of my online courses, the online environment gave each of my students an opportunity to demonstrate and develop a personal "voice" over time, with plenty of opportunity for interaction and reflection. While online courses are not ideal for every student, they continue to work extremely well for a growing number of students.

I also discovered that I liked teaching a part of my course load in the online environment, including both composition and literature courses. Like my students, I liked the flexibility and the opportunity to "hear" every student's voice in weekly discussion activities and other assignments. To keep my courses up-to-date and fresh, I revised them from semester to semester and brought in a variety of community guests, including a career diplomat and a former Peace Corps volunteer. I also attended several e-learning conferences each year, often presenting on my and my students' online experiences.

Online student mentors: Since 2002, Lake Superior College has employed online student mentors to assist students with general questions about the course navigation, technological features, and assignments. Each of my online student mentors was a former "A" student who has taken the online course before and knows the course - and my teaching style - well. Students whose courses employ mentor can consult the online student mentor with a variety of questions about their courses and assignments. By hiring online student mentors, Lake Superior College is able to provide "virtual" employment for students whose schedules and/or geographic location makes traditional on-campus student employment impossible.

Online Course Peer Review:  In 2005, I was selected, along with four other online faculty members, to create an online course peer review process for Lake Superior College and serve as a team leader for ongoing peer review of our colleagues' courses. The LSC process is based on Maryland Online's Quality Matters model but adjusted to fit the needs and culture of our campus. Our team led two workshops in 2006 and 2007 to train other MnSCU system faculty to become peer reviewers at their home institutions. As a dean, I continue to encourage faculty to participate in this voluntary peer review process. Several faculty in my division choose to include the results of their peer review in their professional portfolio, which is a component of the college's teaching evaluation process. More information about the LSC online peer review process is available at a blog titled Online Course Peer Review.