Pioneer Spotlight - Christine Storlie
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Dr. Christine Storlie is the program coordinator for the Distance Learning Business Administration Program for the School of Business. In this position, she oversees all of the academic details of the program as well as serves as the liaison between the School of Business and the Distance Learning Center.
As a former online student herself, she is able to draw from her past experience in order to better understand and address the needs of distance education students, as the world of online education continues to grow and evolve.
Your undergraduate and master’s education is in biology/ecology. How did you make the leap to business administration?
At the beginning of my career, I worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as a research scientist and project manager and oversaw a large, multi-million dollar Environmental Protection Agency grant to research the impact of an invasive species on Wisconsin lakes. After that project ended, I moved to South Dakota and was employed as a project manager overseeing another multi-million dollar EPA grant to work with agriculture producers in order to improve watersheds and reduce the amount of pollution entering lakes. As I served in these two positions, more and more of my time was spent on project management functions and other management activities. During the eight years that I served as a project manager, I became very passionate about project management and management in general. When I was living in South Dakota, I started teaching project management and other classes as an adjunct instructor and I immediately loved teaching; however, it quickly became obvious to me that I needed a doctoral degree if I wanted to obtain a full-time teaching position. As I contemplated a career change to teaching, it dawned on me that my career and interests had shifted from biology to project management. Because I was living in a rural area with the closest traditional university with a doctoral program over an hour away, I conducted a great deal of research into what options existed for me. After a great deal of self-reflection, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. in business organization and management through an online program. That was my first exposure to online education.
How does your past experience as an online student help you in your position now?
I certainly have a better understanding of the challenges faced by distance education students. I definitely can see that as a distant student you lack that connection with the instructor. You don’t see them face-to-face; you don’t get to stop by their office and have conversations with them. I try, in my courses, to engage in written conversation in the course room, keep them up-to-date through news and announcements, and provide detailed feedback to their assignments so that they feel like there is someone interacting with them, even though we never meet in person. I also use technology as a means to provide some face-to-face interaction. For example, audio or video recordings can be used to provide feedback, and Skype or Desire2Learn’s online rooms can be used to have a conversation with students when they need extra help.
What kind of trends are emerging in online education today?
It has grown rapidly in the past 10 years. In 1999, UW-Platteville was on the forefront when it developed our first online programs. As a result, it had the advantage of being a state school with strong name recognition and a good reputation that is well known within the state. At that time, many of the other online programs were for-profit programs, and people didn’t view them in the same light. That is no longer the case – there are now other UW System schools offering good programs, so we need to continue to evolve and be the leader. We’re trying to make our online courses more of an interactive experience rather than a written manual that is put into an online environment. That is our biggest challenge – incorporating technology enhancements into existing courses, and developing new courses to include those; trying to constantly improve what we’re doing to engage the students and provide them with interactive and interesting learning experiences.
What are the biggest challenges of online students and how does the UW-Platteville program help alleviate them?
One aspect is that distance students often have a full-time job and a family on top of that; balancing these conflicting demands of job, family and school complicates the situation and adds stress to the students’ lives. For example, many of our master’s in project management students may suddenly be assigned to a project at work, and be expected to work 60-80 hours in a week on that project alone. For the distance students, the flexibility of the online program is very important. I understand things happen – jobs change, families change and illnesses arise. Life happens. So I try to be understanding of their situation, listen to their needs, and make myself available to help them get through whatever struggles they are going through and be successful even in light of that challenge. If our instructors can help students work through difficult times, so they can continue on in their educational endeavor, then we retain the students and hopefully the students are able to accomplish their educational goals.
Another challenge for distance students is the feeling of isolation that often results from the lack of a physical learning community. The virtual learning community is more difficult to adapt to for some students and they begin to feel that they are all alone struggling to understand material without the benefit of a lecture or the ability to talk to classmates in person. As I mentioned, there are a variety of things instructors can do to eliminate this feeling of isolation, including, but not limited to using audio and/or video feedback, posting announcements (written or recorded) at least once weekly, and offering to speak on the phone, via Skype, or Desire2Learn. The Distance Learning Center also offers the students online chat rooms to discuss with other students any issues that they are dealing with as a distance learner in an open forum that is not associated with a class, which provides the students with a peer-support system and cultivates the feeling of a learning community.
What is your favorite part of your position?
I came from a teaching background, so teaching is my favorite part. My job is half administration and half instruction. From the administration side, my favorite part is the collaboration with other people as we look forward and continue to try to improve what we are doing and how we do it and meet the needs of the students.
Interview conducted by: Alison Parkins, University Information and Communications.
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