RMU online team uses Blackboard to promote engaged learning

Anthony DeSimone, Contributor

The Robert Morris University online team works with online students to create an engaged learning experience for the digital classroom setting.

The RMU online team mission statement says that they are, “committed to providing an innovative, student-centered online learning environment that fosters and supports personal and professional goals to enable individuals to lead with integrity in a diverse and rapidly changing world.”

Adam Sullivan, curriculum and instructional designer for the online team, explained that he is currently designing 22 online classes for the following spring semester, with the help of input and feedback from faculty members. Sullivan further explained that these classes span across all of the university’s major programs.

“I work with faculty members to design activities and lessons for online classes,” Sullivan said.

Blackboard is the online computer program that RMU uses for their online classes. Blackboard allows students to submit assignments, take exams, access lectures and communicate with other students in the class.

Sullivan talked about the challenges that arise when turning a traditional classroom curriculum into an online curriculum. One of the challenges he elaborated on was designing the class so that the students are aware that they are working with real people and not just a computer.

“When a lot of people think online, they think of a robot doing what’s behind the scenes,” Sullivan said.

To combat this issue, Sullivan works on finding ways to make connections between the professor and the student. He explained that discussion boards and comment sections are two methods that open the communication channel and make the learning experience more personable.

Despite his efforts, Sullivan said that he still gets feedback from students who ask “are you really real?”

Ryan Cobb, a nursing student, has taken a few online classes at RMU. Cobb explained that, for him, it is difficult to become invested in an online class.

“I just go on to Blackboard, submit my assignments, and move on to the next assignment.” Cobb explained the main reason that he does not become invested in an online class is because he feels they are impersonal compared to a regular classroom setting.

In an effort to resolve this issue of being impersonal while learning online, Tina Gitelman, manager of online student services, explained that the RMU online team has three student service representatives. Charlene Sundgaard, Lisa Hladon and Nicole Williams work with students who are in the online program each day.

“We are the line of communication for the online students,” Gitelman said referring to her department. She explained that “every day is different” because of the diversity of the students and their needs.

Some of the main issues that the team handles for online students include helping them order books, answering financial aid questions, showing them how to log on to and use Blackboard, and resolving any issues with student emails.

Gitelman explained that, since the online students are usually off campus, her department is the spokesperson for the them. Sullivan agrees and said that, “we are here for the students; that is truly why we are here.”