Throughout the course of his career, Dr. William Beasley has been seeking ways to improve students’ classroom experiences with technology. Beasley, who holds his EdD in education of the gifted, began his career by researching ways to use what were then termed “microcomputers” in gifted education.
“I’m an early adopter, which is why I’ve spent my professional career teaching people how to use technology,” Beasley said.
Years later, Beasley continues to support digital learning by helping graduate students across West Virginia University learn how to design, implement and instruct online courses. Beasley, a professor in the Department of Learning Sciences and Human Development, teaches a course titled “GRAD 693A: Online Teaching and Learning” for graduate students in any academic discipline.
Offered each fall, the aim of the course is to educate these future faculty members about the components of building quality online courses, something many up-and-coming faculty members don’t learn until they assume full-time positions. Beasley seeks to reverse this trend.
“It’s very important, because most university faculty members have never had the opportunity for much in the way of training, pedagogy, classroom management or online course development,” Beasley said. “They’re often deeply knowledgeable in their disciplines, and they know what courses they’ve had as students and how those were taught, but those courses weren’t necessarily taught optimally.”
According to Beasley, the three components of successful online instruction are solid instructional design, instructor engagement and students who are enrolled in the online courses for the right reasons.
“You don’t teach an online course the same way you teach a traditional classroom course,” Beasley said. “One of the things that makes a good online class is good instructional design that’s been created with an understanding of the online environment and the online student.”
To learn how to design good online courses, students in Beasley’s class are tasked with developing online courses of their own, a process that gives them a new perspective on instructional design.
“Just being a student in an online course can be demanding, but you don’t see a lot of what goes on behind the scenes,” Beasley said. “It’s the difference between riding in the passenger’s seat and driving down Beechurst at class-change time.”
Many of the students in Beasley’s class design courses that are then implemented by their respective academic departments. For the assignment, students have the option of creating a course from scratch or adapting a preexisting course for the online setting.
“We’ve got a great mix of courses from multiple colleges across WVU – some undergraduate, some graduate,” Beasley said. “The hands-on experience and the chance to interact with other students and an instructor to ask questions of is invaluable.”
For Beasley, sharing expertise in instructional design and technology to help graduate students become better teachers is a meaningful way to contribute to his field.
“I like online courses and they’re very interesting to me, so to the extent that I can help people create online courses that are good online courses and teach them in ways that provide positive experiences for the students in them, I feel like I’ve accomplished what I really want to do professionally in my niche of the world,” Beasley said.