For our first feature I'm happy to present Dr. Edward 'Gene' Eller. Dr. Eller is a Professor in the School of Humanities and teaches English courses.
Dr. Eller has been teaching online for over 20 years. He began his online adventure at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale in 1990 when he was selected as participant for the online teaching pilot program. He began teaching online for ULM in the mid-1990s and has seen the interest and student participation grow since that time. ULM recently began offering a Master's of Arts in English that can be completed online, and Dr. Eller has been an advocate for that program.
When asked what he enjoys about online courses he said, "I like the constant back and forth communication with students and between students, exchanges in which all students are required to participate. With the constant feedback [yes, it is labor intensive] required from me to them, I see real improvements in student communication skills." He also enjoys the flexibility that online courses present, not just the flexibility of delivery, but the limitless creativity he has to help students grasp course material. "With a deep knowledge of the tools at hand, one can devise any number of ways to get students engaged and involved in the complex questions raised by literature and writing," he said.
One of the creative approaches Dr. Eller has taken with his assignments is having students create their own audio interpretations of works of literature and poetry in his American Literature (ENGL 2005) course. Click here for a few examples of the audio assignments that his students have created. He's continually amazed at the creativity of students when they are encouraged and empowered to think outside of the box, "I've learned from them." He offers this advice to those considering teaching online, or wanting to improve the courses they currently offer, "if you want to do online classes effectively, you have to find ways to get students to communicate about the topic at hand and attempt to puzzle out problems together and for themselves without jumping in and imposing the solution." He emphasizes that students "also need feedback, but the feedback should be about clear communication and shaping the direction of the conversation with appropriate Socratic questioning." There may be times when an instructor has to go back to and correct students, sometimes they do get the concepts wrong, but this can be done "without stomping on them."
Dr. Eller says, "I know that everybody says that online courses are labor intensive and take more time and effort than face-to-face courses and that is absolutely true plus some. I'd discourage anyone from doing an online course if they were not willing to devote themselves to the learning curve, seeking an intimate knowledge of the tools, and giving themselves generously to the students." We couldn't have said it better ourselves. For more information about online teaching resources and active learning strategies please contact the department of eULM, ext. 3119 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.