Creating an inclusive and user-friendly student experience are among Becky Cunningham’s priorities when she teaches Arkansas Tech University computer science students about ethics in technology.
Her approach has been recognized with the 2021 ATU Online Innovation Award, which honors faculty in online teaching environments who utilize innovation and focus on student success initiatives.
Cunningham earned the award based upon her online delivery of Implications of Technology on Society, a junior-level course offered through the ATU Department of Computer and Information Science.
“I only taught this course once in the classroom, and it seemed that the same students were vocal all the time,” said Cunningham. “The quiet ones never spoke up, except when asked a direct question. Teaching this online allows every student to have a voice. They all have to post to the discussion area and they all have to participate in a group. My desire is to have a very organized, clean design for my students so they have a good experience with my course.”
Strategic additions of new links designed to enhance the student experience are part of a recent redesign of the course. Ensuring students have easy access to their grade at any time, weekly communication to help students stay on pace and targeted communication to students who may have lapsed at some point in the semester are additional tactics Cunningham deploys to facilitate student success.
She measures the effectiveness of her methods by providing students with opportunities to provide anonymous feedback.
“Many are afraid to speak a negative opinion, but my experience is that they will be honest in an anonymous survey,” said Cunningham. “I use surveys such as these to find out what I’m doing well, what students like and what I can do to improve the course.”
Previous winners of the ATU Online Innovation Award are Dr. Jeremy Schwehm (2020), Dr. Douglas Barron (2019) and Dr. Aaron McArthur (2018). The selection is made by a committee of faculty peers.
Cunningham earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business education from Arkansas Tech. She has served as business instructor at Russellville High School (1995-2000), instructor of computer and information science at ATU (2000-12), business instructor at Paris High School (2012-15) and assistant professor of computer and information science at ATU (2015-present) over the course of her teaching career. She also holds a Master of Science in Education degree from the University of Central Arkansas.
“Online teaching is vastly different than teaching face-to-face classes,” said Cunningham. “It’s not as simple as recording yourself giving a lecture. Students need interaction — with the learning material, with the instructor and with each other — in order to be successful. Receiving this award is such an honor. Just like all of my colleagues at ATU, I strive to be the best teacher I can be, regardless of the platform I’m using. I am constantly learning new technologies and pedagogies in order to do the best job I can for my students.”