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Watch now: At Heartland Community College, a longstanding focus on online learning

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NORMAL — Krista Tilford took one online course when she was a student, and the memory isn't a positive one. “I hated it,” she said.

“I think that’s why I was nervous,” said Tilford, when describing how she felt when she signed up for an Alternative Delivery Certification course for faculty at Heartland Community College, where she is an instructor in the physical therapist assistant program.

Heartland Community College instructor Shelby Ison is an adjunct professor of health sciences who teaches both online and face-to-face classes on health and nutrition.

But the course “completely changes your mind,” she said.

The course focuses on a skill that many teachers unexpectedly found themselves needing in March when Illinois schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The shift to virtual learning isn't new for Heartland, which had its eye on online teaching long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities across the country to switch nearly all of their face-to-face classes to remote learning.

Heartland has been training faculty to deliver online/hybrid classes since 2013 and by this fall, 95% of its full-time faculty will have successfully completed Alternative Delivery Certification. New faculty members must complete the certification to receive tenure.

The course includes 40 hours of instruction and 56 hours spent by the faculty-turned-students building the course they teach as faculty, based on what they are learning.

“It’s as if faculty are taking a three-credit-hour graduate-level course,” said Traci Van Prooyen, associate vice president of academic affairs at Heartland.

The course takes a “deep dive” into several areas: instructor presence, engaging an audience, alignment with course outcomes, assessments, quality and accessibility for those with disabilities, explained Anna Catterson, director of online learning and instructional technologies.

Faculty in the ADC course are graded and receive video feedback.

“It’s the same exact experience we would like students to have,” Catterson said. “I’ve heard from my faculty that have taken the course, ‘It makes me a better teacher in general.’”

Shelby Ison, an adjunct instructor who teaches health and nutrition courses online and face-to-face said, “You have to take a lot of time to be a good online instructor.”

She said giving students multiple ways to express themselves and display their learning is important.

Tilford uses a program called FlipGrid in her online classes that allows students to record short video-based discussions on classroom topics. She described it as “Instagram for learning.”

In her nutrition class, they may show themselves making a healthy snack or explaining a nutrition label.

She also asks students, “What’s the muddiest point of the week,” as a way to keep them engaged and see what needs further explanation or discussion.

Tom Prudhomme, who teaches anatomy and physiology, said one way he maintains a relationship with students in online classes and helps those who might be confused is by scheduling regular office hours on the Zoom videoconference platform, which allows face-to-face contact on video.

“One on one with students, you can make it personal,” he said.

“We knew it was a trend in learning and wanted to be at the forefront of it,” said Van Prooyen.

Typically, eight to 12 faculty members take the course each semester, she said. This summer, 74 are taking it.

The practice had been that no faculty would teach in an online format without the certificate. That changed, temporarily, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all classes were forced to move online for the remainder of the semester.

“We were kind of in triage mode,” said Van Prooyen.

“No one could have been ready for this. I’m just thankful … we have a lot of committed faculty,” she said.

During the “triage” phase, faculty experienced with online instruction were identified as “champions,” ready to help others.

“All of a sudden we needed boots on the ground,” said Catterson, who described it as “just a team effort.”

After the mid-semester switch, the college did 125 trainings in March — morning, afternoon and evening — and 116 in April, said Catterson.

Prudhomme said, “I was scared to death when I learned it (the rest of spring semester) was going to be online and I was in the middle of my ADC class.”

But he said the “really strong sharing culture at Heartland” helped everyone get through it.

“Now we’re going to have a whole lot of faculty who have had basic training in online teaching,” said Prudhomme.

Christina Schulz, associate director of business and industry solutions, called teaching online “a tool, not a shortcut or a replacement. … This all centers around the experience of our learners.”

PHOTOS: Heartland Community College

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota


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