Online Teaching Brings Creativity, Better Personal Connections

Friday, March 27, 2020
Students smiling on a video chat with Dr. Williams.

Online Tea and Chat sessions have allowed English professor Julia Williams to know her students better. A recent session featured junior Krista Manche and her brother, who also hopes to attend the college.

Professors are well known for making the educational experience at Rose-Hulman personable, engaging and carefree. This spring’s online teaching is bringing out the best, and most creative, of teaching. And, surprisingly, it's bringing new personal connections between professors and their students.

Award-winning English professor Julia Williams has brought some innovative concepts into teaching technical and professional communication materials. The course was originally structured as a hybrid course for the 10-week winter and spring academic quarters. This meant that she designed online learning for two days a week, then met students face to face two days a week. The circumstances of the global COVID-19 pandemic meant that she moved all of the course online, posing some specific challenges as they relate to improving students' oral and written communication skills.

Williams has used Zoom for aspects of the course that need to be simulated in a face-to-face environment.

“That being said, I am trying to keep the revised course as asynchronous as possible. I am doing this for one main reason: my students are scattered across the globe,” says the veteran educator.

Williams entitled a Google map “Where in the World are Dr. J’s Students?” to track the location of each of her students. They are everywhere, from near Rose-Hulman’s campus in Terre Haute to homes in South Korea. By making the class asynchronous, she doesn’t have to require students to log in at a specific time to learn.

“I also know that students are adjusting to this new educational mode, and it takes time to get used to it,” Williams says.

So, rather than requiring students to show up twice a week live for 50 minutes, she has scheduled a course Tea and Chat at specific times that vary from week to week. They aren’t required, and they aren’t formal. Students can log in from anywhere and discuss anything, from classroom tasks they are working on to the challenges they are facing as they learn in this new environment.

Williams states, “One thing I like about the Tech Comm Tea and Chat sessions are the things I learn about students that a conventional classroom would not have afforded. For example, as one of my students was talking to me about her resume targeted for a specific company—a task that my students complete as part of the Employment Project assignment—her younger brother joined us on the call. He is in the process of applying to Rose-Hulman, and this led to a conversation with the siblings that their father is also a Rose-Hulman alum. This information might have emerged in classroom discussion, but it is unlikely that I would have met the brother.”

Another revised aspect of Williams’ course is a greater emphasis on students’ online communication.

She adds, “The Employment Project now has a stronger component of doing online interviews for jobs, creating a professional online identity and maintaining good online etiquette. I am also asking students to create video interviews so they can choose team members for the class group project. At this point, I am not sure how I am going to translate the community-based service project that was supposed to be the focus of the final weeks of the course, but I’ll figure it out eventually.”

Williams received the Rose-Hulman Board of Trustees Outstanding Scholar Award in 2008 and IEEE Professional Communication Society’s 2015 Schlesinger Award for outstanding contributions to higher education.