Outstanding Professor

Dr. Victoria Russell was recently honored with attaining the Quality Matters (QM) certification for her FLED 7500-Theory and Practice in Second Language Acquisition course.  QM provides an opportunity for faculty to be part of a review process which gives feedback and recommendations for course design improvements to meet quality expectations based on National Standards.  It allows for the continuous improvement of online and hybrid courses and provides certification of quality course design. This is truly an outstanding achievement by Dr. Russell and displays her commitment to her learners. 

The Center for eLearning interviewed Dr. Russell recently about her accomplishment and her thoughts on online learning.  Below are excerpts from the interview.

What is your current position at VSU, and how long have you been here?
I am currently an Assistant Professor of Foreign Language Education (FLED) and Spanish in the Department of Modern & Classical Languages (MCL). This fall, I will begin my fourth year at VSU. I teach several courses in FLED and I also serve as a university supervisor of teacher candidates who seek state certification in Spanish or French. I teach Second Language Acquisition Theory and Practice at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I have also taught Spanish in both traditional and online formats for MCL. In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I direct the Summer Study Abroad Program in Cadiz, Spain. I created this program during my first semester at VSU (during the fall semester of 2010) and at present, it is the largest VSU sponsored study abroad program. Last year, I became the Coordinator of Online Programs for MCL. Currently, MCL has three online programs: Basic Spanish Language, Certificate in Spanish for Professionals, and Certificate in TESOL.

Why did you seek QM certification?
Prior to coming to VSU, I completed a Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida. In my doctoral program, I took coursework in instructional design, which I found invaluable for creating and delivering high quality online courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. However, upon arriving at VSU, I was unfamiliar with the Quality Matters (QM) certification and rubric. I learned about QM from my department head, Dr. Viki Soady, who is committed to creating high quality and innovative online courses and programs in MCL. During the spring of 2010, I competed for and was awarded an eLearning development grant for the creation of Second Language Acquisition Theory and Practice, a course that is part of the online certificate in TESOL. The certificate is comprised of six courses or 18 credits. Upon completion, graduates may seek employment abroad teaching English at an international school or teaching English at the corporate level at home or abroad. The online certificate in TESOL and the online certificate in Spanish for professionals were created with funding from a grant that Dr. Soady won.

After being awarded the eLearning development grant, I was asked by the Center for eLearning to follow the QM rubric as I developed my course. In order to do so, the Center for eLearning enrolled me in the QM rubric and peer reviewer courses, which entailed three weeks of online training on the QM rubric and peer review process. Even though I had a lot of experience developing and delivering online courses, I found it quite challenging to meet all of the standards on the QM Higher Education Rubric, which is 22 pages long. However, I believe that attempting to adhere to the QM standards made my course very student friendly and even more effective than it would have been had I not complied with the rubric. I also fully support the QM rubric because it provides a way to standardize and assess the quality of an online course from any academic discipline. Since the QM rubric is based on research and best practices in online learning and teaching, I would like to strive for all of my online courses to hold QM certification.

Would you talk a bit about the review process.
I think the review process would have been very smooth had the migration to Desire to Learn (D2L) not taken place in Maymester. My course in Second Language Acquisition Theory and Practice is only offered once per year in the spring semester, and it was last offered during the spring of 2013 in the BlazeVIEW Vista platform. Since the course was never taught in D2L, the migrated version was not ready to be reviewed. Thus, Amanda King and Holly Peagler from the Center for eLearning worked very hard to create an archive of the course in the former Vista platform.

Once the archive of my course was prepared for review in BlazeVIEW Vista, the review process was quite simple. I filled out a faculty developer worksheet where I was required to provide detailed information about the course for the peer review team. I also had to upload the syllabus and all of the course and module level objectives to the QM website. After I submitted the faculty developer worksheet, the team chair contacted me for access to the course online. Password and login information was provided by the Center for eLearning for the three members of the peer review team. Since I was leaving the country to direct a summer study abroad program, the review had to be completed in a very short time period (about 10 days). Thankfully, the peer review team was willing to work with me and my travel deadline.

Once all members of the review team verified access to the course, the team chair scheduled a conference call. During this call, the team chair explained the review process and timeline. There was also an opportunity for the peer reviewers to ask me questions about the course. This was my only contact with the two team members. However, the team chair kept in close contact with me throughout the entire review process. On the day that I departed for Spain, he was able to let me know that my course passed the QM review!

What does QM certification mean to you, Dr. Russell?
For me, having QM certification demonstrates that my course has met national standards for best practices for online teaching and learning. I am very proud of this and I am thrilled with the support that I received from MCL and from the Center for eLearning for developing this course according to QM standards.

What is your vision for online learning at VSU?
I believe there are many students who are interested in online courses and programs. Many of these individuals are nontraditional students and/or students who work full-time and have other responsibilities and obligations during the work week. To me, online learning is a perfect solution for them. I design all of my courses to be asynchronous, which means that learning can take place anytime/anyplace the suits the student's schedule. I have also found that a number of traditional VSU students like to take online courses for convenience. These students may take the majority of their courses in a traditional classroom while taking one or two classes online. It is important to remember that online pedagogy is quite different from traditional instruction. Online learners need a lot of support from their instructors, especially at the beginning of the course when students are required to learn a number of technology tools and applications in order to successfully complete the course. Although online teaching and learning is more time consuming than what is required of an instructor in a traditional classroom, I believe the learning that takes place can be more powerful because ultimately the student must be responsible for his or her own learning. Thus, online learning is not suitable for every student. A successful online learner must be self-disciplined in order to meet weekly deadlines. S/he must also put in the necessary time. A typical three-credit course would require at least 6 hours per week of a student's time. Thus, students must be very self-disciplined and carve this time out of their schedules each week. Of course, instructors may help by providing multiple reminders, by contacting students via email or phone when they miss an assignment, and by providing consistent weekly deadlines for assignments. 

I also believe that any subject can be taught online, including languages. I have found that my online Spanish students have better accents than my traditional classroom-based learners. This occurs because students actually get more speaking practice in an online class than in a traditional face-to-face (F2F) course. F2F courses are typically teacher centered where the instructor does most of the speaking. In my online Spanish classes, students must post recordings of their production in Spanish on a weekly basis. They are also required to reply to their teacher and their peers both verbally (via WIMBA voice boards) and in writing (via written discussion boards). Thus, online language learners may actually have more interaction in the target language than their peers who take a F2F language class. In addition, students often play back and rerecord their production numerous times before they post it to the course for others to hear. When students play back their recordings, they are exposed to valuable auto-input, which is not typically achieved in a F2F language course.

In addition, I also get to know my online students much more personally than I do my F2F students. This is because I have numerous interactions with each online student on a daily and/or weekly basis. I think perhaps the most important key to a successful online course is constant student-instructor and student-student interaction. The student needs to know that s/he is not alone in cyberspace; rather, s/he is part of a supportive online community of practice.

Thus, I believe that the future of online learning at VSU is without limits. My department, under the direction of Dr. Viki Soady, is currently working towards capturing the eMajor in French and Spanish and I am very excited to be a part of it!

As you can tell from Dr. Russell’s responses, attaining QM certification is not a simple process and her view on online learning at VSU is “without limits”.  Thank you for a great interview and again, congratulations!