Educator Spotlight(1)

Dr. Amul H. Singh

Dr. Amul H. Singh

Dr. Amul H. Singh was happily ensconced at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Dentistry when he encountered an all-too-familiar problem for academics: his wife was admitted to a postgraduate program at Indiana University. What to do?

Enter Dr. Cynthia C. Gadbury-Amyot, Director of Distance Education and Faculty Development at UMKC. She suggested a way for Dr. Singh to continue teaching his class in histopathology. Dr. Singh had already begun archiving his lectures using a webcam and making his PowerPoint presentations available to students on Blackboard. He could use these as stepping stones to make the leap to teaching his course online, and with some administrative help from Dr. Pamela R. Overman, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, that is just what he did.

"The topic was near to my heart," says Dr. Singh, "and I was curious to see how it would work out."

From his new home in Indiana, he began offering online lectures and PowerPoint presentations, and he introduced several synchronous components to the course: a live, online orientation that reaches his 130 students at the beginning of the course, and weekly, online office hours. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"One evening I had more than 50 people logged on at once," marveled Dr. Singh. "I never had that number of students coming to see me on campus. Office hours have become a forum for group discussion, and the exchange of ideas is phenomenal, so much more than occurred in the face-to-face class."

The students appear to be as impressed with the new approach as their professor. They are far more likely to attend office hours online than they were in person and to schedule one-on-one sessions when they need help. Their course reviews have been stronger than ever, and their average exam scores have risen. They express special appreciation for being able to download lectures to their portable devices so they can study anywhere, even while commuting.

If it all sounds too good to be true, Dr. Singh admits that there were a few bumps in the road. The first year, students asked for more interaction with him and with each other. He responded by introducing group projects using Wiki sites, which allows students to feel connected as well as engaged.

Testing has also been a concern. To date, Dr. Singh has had others at UMKC administer his final exam in person, but this year he began trying an online browser designed to handle assessments. He has been working out the kinks through a series of small quizzes and hopes to move his final exam online next spring with the help of the university's IT staff.

This coming year, Dr. Singh will apply some online technologies in two face-to-face courses that he will teach at Indiana University, where he currently holds the position of Clinic Director.

"I plan to post my lectures online and include online group projects. Why shouldn't the students on campus benefit from these technologies as well?"

Why, indeed?