When the world is your classroom:
On Monday at 4:30 p.m., Dr. Cynthia Amyot, R.D.H., Ed.D., heads out the door of UMKC's School of Dentistry (SOD). Within minutes, the campus is behind her and another day of administrative duties is over.
At 6:30, she sits in her home office and turns on her computer to prepare for her 7:30 class.
In an instant, the monitor lights up and another session of Introduction to Educational Methodologies; webcast to students around the country begins.
Online learning is a staple at SOD, as well as at UMKC's schools of Nursing and Pharmacy. A champion of expanding computer-mediated distance learning in other UMKC academic units, Amyot has conceptualized and developed some key online academic programs, including the Distance Education Master of Science Degree program in Dental Hygiene Education (MSDH).
"I didn't intentionally set out to be involved in online learning," Amyot said. "It found me, so to speak."
UMKC is one of 14 schools in the nation that offers an MSDH -- a fact that places the SOD squarely in the limelight as a respected and popular destination for dental hygienists pursuing an advanced degree.
Amyot discovered the great need for the online program in 1998 when she received a barrage of email messages several months before she began her official duties as the new Director of the MSDH program.
"This was before we started offering the MSDH online. I heard from people around the country who wanted UMKC to put the program on the internet," Amyot said. "Online learning is very useful to people ---especially women -- who are looking for opportunities for growth but who are 'place-bound'".
In 1999, SOD launched its online bachelor's degree program designed for associate dental hygienists. In 2000, the Masters program went online.
"The program has been enormously successful, and we're attracting outstanding students," said Amyot. "One of our students, who was in our 2000 pilot program, is now the Executive Director of the American Dental Hygienists, a position that requires a master's degree."
UMKC has designed online learning/teaching through two methods, Asynchronous and Synchronous learning. Asynchronous learning can take place at any time or location, with access to learning available any day of the week and any time during the day. Blackboard, which is used in the MSDH program, is an example.
Synchronous learning is delivered in real time with weekly Internet-based "live" classrooms using two-way audio/video technologies. Wimba is the synchronous technology used in the dental hygiene distance programs.
Advantages of online learning
By taking advantage of one of its natural strengths -- quality instructors creating their own quality curriculum -- UMKC recently launched a successful online entrepreneurial project. The project began more than a year ago, when a company approached UMKC about creating an online prep- Dental Admissions Test (DAT) course. Four of UMKC's professors developed the curriculum for the DAT’s basic academic elements (Math, Biology, Chemistry and Organic Chemistry), and Amyot worked on the synchronized technology necessary to deliver the four-week, Saturday course. Last year UMKC’s prep-DAT pilot program was presented five times. Until then, the prep classes had been offered solely by Kaplan and similar businesses. But UMKC’s professors offer something that for-profit, online companies do not offer: outstanding content expertise. In 2010, UMKC's prep-DAT course will be offered four times.
"From a student's point of view, an online class can often be more dynamic than a traditional classroom," said Amyot. "The combination of WIMBA and Blackboard makes it easy for active discussions between the teacher and students -- and among students. In addition to the live discussion, students can utilize the text chat feature throughout the session to follow-up and unanswered questions."
Online learning can work in combination with face-to-face learning.
Recently, UMKC's oral histology professor had to move to Indiana. In an effort to find a solution to the loss, the SOD approached Amyot about developing an online course which would allow the professor to teach UMKC students in Kansas City from his computer in Indiana. Today, the professor uses WIMBA and Blackboard for the online course, while the course’s tests and examinations are given in a traditional classroom at UMKC.
Online learning can also alleviate the problems of a small classroom.
A few years ago, the SOD's pathology class was taught in a traditional face-to-face format in a large lecture hall. As class size increased through the years, faculty were unable to accommodate the numbers in their laboratory space so lab experiences were eliminated. Amyot worked with the academic directors to revise the course with the goal of getting students back to a hands-on experience. With enrollment now at 100, pathology students meet in the lab in rotation, using Blackboard lessons when they are not in class.
Online learning -- into the future
A recently released study by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) says that more than a third of public university faculty have taught online courses, and more than 50 percent have recommended online courses to students.
Amyot believes that UMKC faculty will follow the national trend of increasing involvement in online learning. For one thing, more and more faculty are showing up for FaCET development seminars focusing on online teaching. As the only school within the UM System that includes faculty in its online learning/teaching committees and initiatives, UMKC has demonstrated a commitment to the development and implementation of online learning. Amyot, who is one of several faculty actively involved in the University's E-Learning Committee, has good reason to be hopeful.
Posted: November 2, 2009