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Get Your Hands on Your Future
Susan Manning works in a virtual world.
Since 2007 she has taught exclusively online for University of Wisconsin-Stout. It makes perfect sense: she teaches classes on the subject of online teaching.
"For me, the world of work has always been online," she said.
With no need to be on campus, Manning lives in Aurora, Ill. She has never been to UW-Stout, although she is very much a part of it because of daily interaction with students, faculty and administrators.
She will be representing the university in person, however, Thursday, Nov. 21, when she receives one of the highest honors available in her field, a national Sloan Consortium online teaching award.
"I'm very honored and excited to receive such a prestigious national award," said Manning, who cited administrative support from UW-Stout as a key to her effectiveness as an online instructor.
The award will be presented at the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning in Florida. Manning and a professor from the University of Vermont will receive the award. The Sloan Consortium is regarded as the leading professional online learning society.
Strong online presence
Manning represents a growing aspect — and possibly the future — of higher education, a teacher who never walks into the classroom because there is no classroom.
In Manning's world that's not a problem. She sees it as a positive. She not only believes she can be highly effective as a virtual instructor but maybe even do some things better than a traditional teacher.
I venture to say my students get more feedback and more personal attention than they would if they sat in a classroom with me," Manning said. "There's an ongoing dialogue I have with every student every week."
Manning creates an interactive environment through a variety of methods. She's part of small discussion groups with students so they "see evidence that I'm there every day." She gives them detailed weekly feedback, more via technology than she most likely could provide in person. She appears in videotaped weekly lesson introductions, does real-time video presentations three times a semester and video chats — just like stopping by the professor's office — by appointment.
One of her strengths is using interactive games and simulations; her students in turn learn how to use them to assess their students. She presented research last summer on the educational application of games at a national conference on distance learning.
She teaches, on average, three Graduate School courses per semester for UW-Stout, Games for Learning and Assessment; Instructional Design for e-Learning; and Instructional Strategies and Assessment.
Many students in her classes are pursuing either a master's degree in education or UW-Stout's e-Learning and Online Teaching Certificate. "Most are either K-12 or higher ed faculty who want to learn how to move from the traditional classroom to teaching online," she said.
An 'A' for the teacher
In student evaluations, Manning consistently receives marks of 4.75 or higher on a five-point scale.
"Her teaching is exemplary in regard to well-designed curriculum and student engagement. We're very fortunate to have Dr. Manning as an instructor for UW-Stout," said Mary Hopkins-Best, dean of the UW-Stout College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
Hopkins-Best added that Manning breaks down technology as a barrier and helps her students embrace it to enhance learning. "She is described (by students) as not only having content expertise but as a role model," she said.
Manning has a bachelor's degree in communications from Truman State in Missouri, a master's in student personnel from Bowling Green in Ohio and a doctorate in adult education from Ball State in Indiana. She taught at the University of Illinois prior to UW-Stout.
As a virtual instructor, Manning could teach anywhere. She chose UW-Stout and has stayed because of outstanding administrative support for online instructors, she said.
"It was very clear to me after the first year how much better UW-Stout was at supporting its faculty so that I can really teach — I love to teach — and not have to deal with administrative issues. It's phenomenal," Manning said.
"There are thousands and thousands of other good online teachers who interact with students, but I think it's the use of tools available to me at UW-Stout that allow me to communicate with students instantly that make a difference," she added.
Manning's virtual world even goes beyond teaching. She works part-time for a New York-based company that produces online events for museums, libraries and other organizations. She hosts webinars and online conferences. "I've been a virtual employee for a long time," she said.
UW-Stout is a leading UW System school in online and distance education, with students from 46 states and 36 countries.
The university offers more than 700 courses online for students either on or off campus.
The number of online courses at UW-Stout has nearly tripled since 2008, according to Doug Stevens, director of UW-Stout Online.