Arkansas Tech University’s Dr. Jeremy Schwehm doesn't view virtual instruction as a challenge. He sees it as an opportunity.
"The distance in distance education refers to location only," said Schwehm. "Engagement in the online classroom can be equivalent to, or exceed, those levels attained in a face-to-face environment. My approach to online course design is best described through the concept of the connecting classroom. In any given activity, my goal is to connect students with content, to their peers, to the instructor and to the institution. The online student experience is the online classroom, so the online classroom must meet the various academic and social needs of online students."
Schwehm's execution of that approach has been rewarded with the 2020 ATU Online Innovation Award, which honors faculty in online teaching environments who utilize innovation and focus on student success initiatives.
Previous winners were Dr. Douglas Barron (2019) and Dr. Aaron McArthur (2018). The selection is made by a committee of faculty peers.
Schwehm, associate professor of professional studies in the ATU College of eTech, was honored for his senior-level Community Development course. Schwehm's students work with a community-based organization to align the student's strengths with the organization's needs and develop a service plan to benefit the organization.
Class participants engage with each other through videos that allow students to describe their progress and work with classmates to overcome obstacles.
In addition, Schwehm has developed an approach to online group projects that facilitates flexibility by allowing distance learners to collaborate asynchronously and focuses grading on individual contributions.
As result of Schwehm's innovation, his ATU online students have performed more than 3,000 service hours in Russellville and other communities across the region since 2014.
"I design online courses to be academically rigorous, engaging and fun, while including high-impact practices such as writing-intensiveness, collaborative learning, undergraduate research and service learning," said Schwehm. "It is my responsibility as an online faculty member in professional studies to increase learner interaction and prevent/reduce feelings of learner isolation, for both academic and social reasons."