One of online teaching’s greatest challenges is getting students to feel engaged. It’s also a prime area for innovation.

Last year, Isenberg announced its first group of Teaching Fellows, an initiative that recognizes the innovative application of new technologies in the classroom. The Fellows are responsible for sharing best practices with the full faculty, to enhance the school’s instructional quality across departments, programs, and teaching levels—which, in 2020, included adapting swiftly to the Covid-19 pandemic. All five of the first cohort of Isenberg Teaching Fellows had experience teaching in the school's graduate programs. 

The recently retired Bob Nakosteen, who taught statistics online and in hybrid classes, said he strongly believes in teaching through asynchronous class video recordings that students can view any time, and repeatedly. “I’ve been fortunate in that I teach the same courses online that I teach in person. I could record actual classes, students and all. No talking heads. I cannot tell you how many times online students have told me that they feel as though they are part of the face-to-face class as they watch those videos.” 

Pamela Trafford, senior lecturer in accounting, also combines asynchronous and in-class interaction to advantage. “Several years ago, I revised our introductory course in accounting, effectively flipping the classroom,” she said. That entailed splitting several hundred students into small sections that met once a week. “Before their meeting, they completed substantive graded preparatory work online,” she says. They often brought portions of their work to the next class, “where the problem was extended and solved in small groups.” The new course design, she noted, instilled proactivity and allowed for smaller classes.

Melissa Baker, who teaches food service management and service experience management, also mixed up her repertoire. “A key,” she says, “is to keep things fresh with stimulating, meaningful content. I often break up an online class meeting into smaller chunks that might include small group exercises and videos.” One activity that brings the entire class together is an online “shark tank,” where students pitch a concept to their peers.

Students internalize concepts through active engagement, said Susan Boyer, lecturer and director of instructional technologies for the operations and information management department. “We have amazing professors,” she said. “When I was the head of TSS (Technology Support Services) at Isenberg, I would help faculty vet new technologies in the classroom. Our staff explain these technologies and iron out technical difficulties." 

As a resource for the Isenberg faculty, the Fellows program is an idea whose time has come, said Shirley Shmerling, who teaches management of information systems, innovative management, quality and process improvement, and other courses. Technology change, she says, has always been a given, but the coronavirus crisis upped the ante. “We had to transition and adapt within a week,” she explains. “We need to be more and more agile; we need to figure out how to transform education during these unprecedented times.”

The focus on innovation in the classroom continues with the appointment of the Teaching Fellows for 2021-22. Melissa Baker and Shirley Shmerling continue for a second year, joined by Carey Baldwin (lecturer in Operations and Information Management), Kerri Bohonowicz (clinical lecturer in Accounting), and Matt Glennon (lecturer in Marketing). Read more about the 2021 teaching award winners.