Dr. Katrina Smith, associate professor of psychology, is no stranger to online teaching. She has worked with Reinhardt’s Professional Studies program since 2012 to design some of the first online classes offered. “I’ve taught online, asynchronous courses in psychology and research methods for years now, a couple times a year.” When the COVID-19 pandemic moved everyone out of the classrooms, Smith says, “my online teaching experience allowed me to make the transition with relatively few hiccups.”
Teaching online fulltime during the pandemic made Smith realize that “I LOVE teaching online!” It also left her wanting to know more about how to build the most effective online classes, and for that, she became an online learner - and turned to Reinhardt’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Engaged Learning (CITEL).
At the start of the pandemic, Smith says CITEL offered professional development to faculty through the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), with a program that provided tools and resources for teaching online. Smith decided it was an opportunity she could not pass up.
“There were 3 parts to that program,” says Smith, “a foundations course in online teaching, a mastery certificate in instructional design, and a final project with a mentor. Together, they completed a certificate in online teaching – all made possible by CITEL.”
Smith says Instructional design “just lights the fire in an area where I can be really creative.” She learned how to move a course into the online environment and increase student engagement. “I had to be willing to let go of literally everything I had ever done with teaching. To do this, you must be willing to start completely fresh. I wanted to meet the needs of this generation of learners using technology they can relate to.”
The overall experience changed her perspectives and beliefs, especially about building online communities. “This requires rethinking what you do and working on a new level. To step into that, I took everything I knew about teaching from my 25 years of experience, I turned it upside down, and I shook it hard. I restructured every course.” This was also the first time she experienced online learning from the learner’s perspective. “One instructor was absolutely phenomenal in terms of building a community of inquiry, but another instructor was not. I learned that you could have great material, but you can’t leave it in neutral. It was an experience I needed to have.”
Smith says she is very appreciative of her online opportunities. “I found them to be extremely valuable in enhancing the work that I can do online.” She also believes that online learning is an important skill for today’s students. “Students have a had a lifetime of learning face-to-face. They need to learn and build skills in a virtual world now.” She notes that many students are seeking online graduate programs and, for psychology students, virtual counseling and therapy is the future of the field.