Pushing boundaries in traditional science education.
For Dr. Danny Welsch, teaching science at an online university requires innovative techniques and creativity. Dr. Welsch observes, “Science is a very old discipline, and it’s been taught the same way for 400 years. We’re really changing the way that science is being taught. No one’s really been able to figure out how to translate that lab experience, which is so integral to science education, into an online environment. We have.”
Dr. Welsch loves being outdoors and enjoys several sports such as cycling, telemark skiing, and caving. During his trips, he takes along a video camera to record noteworthy subjects such as rock formations or river rocks for his geology class. Dr. Welsch posts those videos online to show his discoveries and explain scientific concepts to students, so they have the opportunity to learn from the virtual “field trip”.
“One of the biggest ways that an online university differs from a traditional university is that I don’t get to take the students out into the field to have them experience the same things that I experienced when I was studying this material,” Dr. Welsch explains. “I teach very visual topics, and using video is a great way to keep the visual focus in an online classroom. It’s fun to find items to explore and share with my students.”
Dr. Welsch has been an instructor with the university since 2007, became program director for natural sciences in 2011, and assistant dean of the school of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) in 2015. He and his fellow faculty members enjoy the creative challenge of figuring out innovative ways to provide science courses in an online format.
“We’re creating new traditions,” Dr. Welsch says. “The university now has an online Bachelor of Science in Natural Sciences, and we are the first university to offer this fully online degree in this area of science.”
He adds, “If you don’t live very close to a traditional university, it’s typically been very difficult for you to get a science education. We’re breaking down that barrier. Students that live anywhere can now get science-based education.”
Some science courses, however, still require hands-on lab work to be performed by students. In the university’s human anatomy and physiology courses, students receive a kit containing specimens for dissection. For chemistry classes, students get a lab kit in the mail with test tubes, chemicals, and measuring devices to perform labs. The student must then record their work with a video camera and upload the video to the Web for the instructor’s evaluation.
“Through the university, I’ve been able to reach more people,” Dr. Welsch says. “The traditional stigma of online education is going away, and university students now have more flexibility and lower costs.”
Dr. Welsch loves working with the university’s students, because he feels that they are highly motivated and goal-oriented. He particularly likes working with first-generation students – the first in their family to attend college – and guiding them through the college experience.
Dr. Welsch notes, “Our students really want a connection. They want to know that there’s a human faculty member on the other side that cares about them. Students love the real-time interaction and they develop relationships with their professors during the classes, so that the educational experience becomes more personalized.”