Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador 2016 – FLCC: Stephanie Olsen
Stephanie Olsen is Adjunct Faculty in the Social Sciences Department at Finger Lakes Community College.
I’ve enjoyed a rather varied career path. After earning an AA from Corning Community College and a BA from SUNY Brockport, I went to Denmark on an exchange program for five months and stayed for 20 years. I earned a Danish university degree, Candidata magisterii (cand.mag.), the equivalent of a master’s degree. I taught ESOL and psychology at community college and university level. I came home to the Finger Lakes region in 1991 and began work at Finger Lakes Community College as an academic support specialist. I also moonlighted as an adjunct, teaching developmental writing, college study skills, interpersonal communication, and many psychology courses – all face to face.
I started teaching online in 2003, teaching child psychology and abnormal psychology as hybrid courses, and then developmental psychology. I also created and taught FLCC’s first online student success course.
The more I taught, the more I learned about learning. The more I learned about learning, the more strategies for teaching and tutoring I acquired. For the latter, I was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service in 2006.
I have been strongly influenced by Skip Downing’s On Course Workshops. Skip emphasizes the importance of creating a learner-centered environment where students learn not only course content but skills that enable them to succeed in any class (and those skills transfer into real life, too). The student success course I designed was based on On Course principles, and the structure and activities in my developmental psychology class, too, owe much to On Course.
What I try to achieve in my online classes are the same goals I had for my face-to-face classes: I want to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, has high standards, and provides support to students without making things easy for them. I also want my own personality to be visible in the class, whether it is online or not: we are more receptive to learning when we feel comfortable, and most people feel more comfortable when they know something about those they are interacting with. To that end, I have a short introductory video in which I explain the major features (and intentions) of the course.
I have also created an icebreaker module with 17 short grade-free activities, each one previewing one type of assignment or assessment that will be graded in later modules. In the final course evaluations, students consistently praise those activities, though they admit swearing at me while doing them.
I am now retired from my day job but still enjoying teaching 6 online sections a year – while traveling, which is a valuable perk of the job. However, what keeps me teaching is the desire to help students become true learners.
The very first quote that I post in the “welcome to class” announcement summarizes how I feel about teaching and learning, and really provides the whole impetus for my teaching style: “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of the learners.” ~ John Holt