Meet Ellen Smyth, APSU 2010 Innovative Professor
Cory Kittel, Client Marketing Specialist, Desire2Learn Incorporated
"One of the benefits that I like about taking this online math class is the lecture video, and the bonus is that I can actually watch these videos on my iPhone when I am taking a break at work."
"These videos make it seem like I'm taking an actual class in a classroom."
"What I really liked about the video is how the professor broke the information down like we had no background in mathematics. I for one feel less intimidated with that style of teaching."
With comments like these it's easy to see why Ellen Smyth was recently announced as the 2010 Innovative Professor at Austin Peay State University (APSU). Located in Clarksville, TN, APSU is a four-year public, master's-level university offering more than 56 majors and 63 different concentrations and is one of the state's fastest growing universities.
Smyth started at APSU in 2005 as a full-time temporary mathematics instructor and soon found herself teaching an online course for the first time in 2006. Since the fall of 2009, she has been a tenure-track math faculty member teaching primarily elementary statistics both online and face-to-face "enhanced."
How She Does It
You might be asking yourself what "enhanced" means exactly. Smyth's approach to teaching incorporates multiple technologies to provide her students a truly rich and engaging learning experience. This past summer, Smyth and Dr. Loretta Griffy, associate professor of mathematics at APSU, redesigned the online statistics course to accommodate a new textbook, providing the students with audio and visual content as part of this process.
"Some students find learning daunting with text as the primary instrument – I try to use audio and video as the primary instrument or use it in addition to text. It takes pressure off the students and makes the content and concepts more manageable," says Smyth.
She created a library of short video clips, condensed lessons, using a tablet PC along with Camtasia Studio, which are hosted on YouTube and embedded into the online course content in the Desire2Learn® Learning Environment. In the classroom she utilizes the SMART Board and WIMBA Classroom to record full in-class lectures for both online and face-to-face students to view at any time and reference down the road.
The response from students has been outstanding. They appreciate the fact that the videos are so detailed with step-by-step instructions so they don't miss a beat. One of the challenges Smyth has is teaching one of her courses in a condensed eight week term at one of the APSU campuses. If one of the classes falls on a holiday, that class can't be made up. Technology enables her to make up that lost time. Lessons and video content can be posted online to allow students to remain on track.
The set-up and effort that has gone into her course motivates students to work harder and want to do better. Since the course re-design and the introduction of multimedia content, success rates have gone up significantly in the online courses.
Keys to Success
When asked what factors contributed to her success and where she turns for inspiration, Smyth credits a number of sources. Her experience working in APSU's Center for Extended and Distance Education as the Desire2Learn specialist was a great contributor. For a year and a half she worked closely with faculty providing Desire2Learn support. "This time allowed me to become comfortable with the technology, and provided me the foundation which I use to push myself to try new things and push the envelope," states Smyth.
She took on this role at a time when the school was transitioning from another learning management system and an important staff member had just left. She was thankful for the training provided by Desire2Learn staff and the available product documentation, which enabled her to ramp up her capabilities quickly.
Participation in numerous conferences, such as FUSION and the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning continues to play a big role in her success. She also credits inspiration from other teaching and learning videos on YouTube. One of her favorites is Vi Hart - Mathemusician.
She also credits her colleagues and is thankful for her husband, a computer technician, who has provided her with lots of support.
Obviously very honored by her recent award of 2010 Innovative Professor, Smyth is most proud of the fact that students can submit a nomination for this award along with faculty and staff. Looking past the technology and teaching techniques, it's easy to see that Smyth herself is part of what motivates her students. To see someone with a willingness to push the boundaries of teaching, to not settle for the status quo and be compelled to truly create effective, meaningful and impactful learning opportunities for someone else's benefit is nothing short of motivating, and also truly inspiring.