Here's a good one to kick off our Member Spotlight series. I had the pleasure of chatting with Brian Morgan, the Chair and Associate Professor of the Integrated Science and Technology Department at Marshall University in West Virginia. He has taught at Marshall for the past 16 years, and previously held the role of Director for the Center for Instructional Technology at Marshall, and was the university's WebCT administrator. A true "Blackboarder", Brian has taught over 75 sections of courses in an online environment and uses Blackboard in some capacity for all of his courses. It goes without saying he's a highly accomplished professional - here's what he had to share:
Rachel Reiss: Evidently, you've taught a lot of classes. What's your favorite class you've taught?
Brian Morgan: In my entire history of teaching, Advanced Web Development. Every semester I teach two classes on lecture study and two online. Even the ones in lecture get assignments submitted online through Blackboard, though, so it [Blackboard] is used as a heavy supplement.
RR: Tell us a little about your work life. Is being an online instructor as flexible as it seems, or have you carved out a regimented schedule for yourself?
BM: A little bit of both. It is flexible in the sense that if my kids want to do something one night, we can. I tell my students that all grading is done once or twice a week, so they know what to expect. I try to answer emails every single day. The flexibility is nice in the sense that if something comes up in my schedule outside of work, I can do it.
RR: Do you have any advice for the rest of us here? Like, how do you stay organized despite a full schedule?
BM: I never delete anything from my schedule. I'll move it around if I can. Where I can remember if I get all caught up in things is if I start deleting or skipping things on my calendar. It's more a matter of getting everything done, just perhaps not at the time you originally set out to do it. If I have to grade tonight but something urgent comes up, I'll reschedule the grading. I rely so much on my phone for answering students e-mails, and maintaining my calendar. I'll put time on my calendar specifically to answer phone calls from students or do some grading.
RR: Even with all of these online communication tools, do you really receive that many phone calls from students?
BM: No, actually they are few and far between. Last semester I had more phone call than ever, but it was two students who were taking online classes but wanted to talk about it. And I would talk to them because that made them feel comfortable with the material. It was a struggle to me to communicate about that particular course over the phone just because of its technically nature, but at the end of the phone call, I could tell talking about it made them feel better every time.
RR: What is your go-to page on the Community site?
BM: Because I'm an MVP, I get all of the questions that come through all of the forums on my email so I read and respond to those. I also read new blog posts as they get posted - I think everyone should do this. I live by RSS feeds and have my Outlook filtered.
RR: What would you, as an educator, like to see changed or added to the Community Site?
BM: I would like to see more user blogs. There are millions of people who use Blackboard, and maybe 95% of what people do and how they use it is very common. But there is that 5% of people who are unique. I'd like Blackboard to challenge those people to come forward. I've been an admin, a developer, and instructor, and I still have things to learn. With user blogs, we can all learn from each other.
RR: In your blog post on student engagement, you mention the importance of enabling students to monitor their own progress. Which Blackboard tool do you think is most useful for that?
BM: Gradebook. I enable all the statistics so that they can see how they do. If they get a 50% on an exam and panic that "oh my, I'm dropping", they can just look at the rest of the class's performance. I give them detailed feedback on every assignment and there are two columns - one is the grade to date and one is the maximum grade possible. So I set to set up so that they're always able to see where they are and ask "what can I get out of this class? What can I do to turn it around?" It's amazing teaching tech how many students can't calculate what they need on a test. That's why I emphasize: 'Check the gradebook! Check the gradebook!'
RR: What are some of the most important considerations when transitioning from the traditional classroom to the virtual classroom?
BM: The biggest problem I have as an instructor is this: have I put enough content online for them? Have I given them enough material? Instruction? In a classroom, you can see people, read their demeanor, and change your lecture on-the-go. You can add, subtract - if a student doesn't get something, you can go deeper. In the virtual environment, I'm always nervous - is everything 'crystal clear' about what I expect? So that's why I'm always changing my class. I get feedback from my students, and change it accordingly.
RR: Switching gears...what hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?
BM: Construction. Well this summer, I'm building a new house for my family. I've always been a DIY guy. That's my passion - being outside and using tools. I will actually have a workshop in the garage in my new house. Also, coaching the kids in sports. There are 5 of them, and I've coached for the last 13 years, so I'll probably be doing that another 5-6 years.
RR: Let's end with some inspiration. Favorite quote?
BM: 'What are you doing with your dash?' Let me give you some context, though. On a tombstone, you have the date someone is born and the date someone dies, separated by a dash. That's their life. I like to think: 'what are you doing with your dash?'
Thanks again, Brian! Be sure to check out his post on "5 Steps to Motivate the Online Learner" here.