| by Sierra Abukins

News Stories

Punteney, Katherine
Illustration of Katherine Punteney presenting at the Faculty Showcase.

As the Middlebury Institute expands its online programs, several faculty have been leading the way in developing new asynchronous courses.

They recently shared their candid reflections and insights at our Faculty Showcase (view full videos and transcripts). This article highlights some of the common themes.

The Middlebury Institute currently offers fully online degrees in TESOL, International Education Management, and Translation and Localization Management, with an online MPA in Sustainability launching soon.

Faculty presenters:

Start by shifting your mindset.

Jason Martel: I went into this saying I am going to believe that this can be as good as face-to-face education, and that’s been a productive mindset for me.

Jinhuei (Enya) Dai: It’s a paradigm shift, which requires a mindset shift.

Know it’s a learning curve.

Dai:  I love to learn. I’ve developed 35 new courses over the past 16 years. This had a huge learning curve. The first three months, I felt like I was drowning … but I would do it all over again. When you get used to how to swim in the ocean, sometimes you don’t want to go back to the swimming pool. It’s a different environment.

Collaborate with instructional designers.

All presenters said that the instructional designers at Middlebury’s Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry (DLINQ) were critical partners and guides in designing and building their online courses.

Katherine Punteney: We worked with DLINQ instructional designers for 15 weeks, 8–10 hours a week for each course. It was a lot of time, effort, and reflection, but we’re really happy about where we are.

Dai: Working with the instructional designer was like a relay.

The best feedback I have is when a student emails me and says: ‘What you taught yesterday, I already implemented at work and impressed my colleagues.’
— Max Troyer, Professor, Translation and Localization Management

Asynchronous is interactive.

One of the biggest concerns for all of the faculty was making the course interactive and building community. They shared many different approaches for achieving that—including optional synchronous sessions, small group work, and peer reviews, and leveraging video discussion tools like Flipgrid.

Martel: Asynchronous is not isolating when it’s done well. I think we bring a lot of assumptions about what social interaction should look like in a course, but we’re experiencing that it looks really different. You can build community and interactivity. It can be fun and engaging, and you can get to know people. In the Language Program Administration course, I did informal chats with language program administrators, then did an asynchronous version where students could record questions and the alumni recorded answers responding to them.

Punteney: We knew a lot of our students wanted community and were scared about being isolated in the online environment, so we built in two one-hour collaborative learning sessions each week. They have the option to join us on Zoom or do an asynchronous version of the activity. For example, those who joined via Zoom were tasked with coming up with a code of ethics for international student recruitment. Then the asynchronous group reviewed their draft and compared it to existing codes of ethics out there.

Clarity is key.

All emphasized the importance of clearly mapping the course and organizing all of the materials in Canvas with clear navigation and instructions. In an asynchronous course, you have to gather all of the material for the full semester before the course starts.

Punteney: The big paradigm shift for me was how I thought about Canvas [the learning management system used at the Middlebury Institute]. Pre-COVID, it was the bookshelf and a basket where they turned in papers. Now Canvas is my classroom—I think about how I arrange it and make the learning space environment more communal, in addition to the content part. Canvas becomes a place where the learning is happening. These are designed to be rigorous, deep-learning experiences—12 hours per module each week … I think my courses got more rigorous and better. In a class, if we ran out of time for an activity, it would get cut. Because it’s in Canvas, nothing gets skipped.

Overview of Principles and Practices of International Education

Katherine Punteney walks through the design and organization of her asynchronous course in the International Education Management program.

Word to the wise: evergreen content.

Many mentioned learning some lessons the hard way—including how to prepare their course videos, which take a lot of work. Rather than 45-minute lectures, chunk content into short four- to six-minute videos.

Max Troyer: Make sure you can reuse your videos. Don’t start a lecture with a video saying “On Friday, April 14.” Don’t mention the next module, because then you can’t move it!

There are some advantages—and spillover benefits to in-person students, as well.

Many students like being able to go through the content at their own speed—whether watching at double speed or slowing it down or students taking the transcripts and translating them into their native languages.

Martel: The biggest difference is formative assessment and feedback. Instead of the big test at the end, I’m interacting with my students and having a look into their learning on a daily basis, and I can really tell you how each student is doing.

Punteney: With online discussions, everyone’s voice is heard more equally. In a class, a few voices can dominate. As an introvert myself, I can think for a moment before giving feedback.

Troyer: I give my in-person students access to my asynchronous classes. I notice that students ask fewer questions. In the past, if you missed something in class, you had to come back and ask me. Now students are sometimes going back to the video.

It’s hard work—but it’s worth it.

All of the faculty mentioned that the online programs were allowing them to serve excellent students who couldn’t move to Monterey—especially working professionals and people with families. Translation and Localization Management has attracted many working professionals who are upskilling or shifting from translation into more localization work and most online TESOL students are already working as teachers full-time.

Troyer: The huge silver lining of our online degree is that it enables this huge flexibility to adapt to student needs and keep them in the program. People have busy lives. This is how they can get through the content on their schedule instead of ours. The localization industry is asynchronous, and that’s how we run our projects too. The best feedback I have is when a student emails me and says: “What you taught yesterday, I already implemented at work and impressed my colleagues.”

Dai: Teaching is a work of heart. I like in-person teaching, but I also like providing opportunities. This is an alternative way for a school to recruit students, for students to have an opportunity to learn. A lot of people need to work and learn at the same time. They might be very self-motivated, but they also have very busy lives. How do you help them have that learning space and have access?