Harcum Professor Publishes Guide to Engage Online Learners, Highlights Dozens of Virtual Teaching Tips

smiling woman in blue
Image via Harcum College.
Dr. Joanne Ricevuto.

When Early Childhood Program Director Dr. Joanne Ricevuto had to take a few classes online toward her doctoral degree, it wasn’t always the best experience. Often, she felt disengaged from her instructors.

While the desired outcome (earning her doctorate degree in education) was attained, she knew there had to be a better way to reach learners online.

Before the pandemic, she became fluent in the online learning platform called Canvas. Harcum College adopted it in 2019, and as Assistant Vice President for Instructional Success, she had encouraged her colleagues to learn it.

Then, by the order of Gov. Tom Wolf, Pa. colleges and universities locked down in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

To finish the semester, all faculty members had to pivot to online learning immediately, extending spring break by one week to help them prepare for the seismic change in content delivery. 

“Faculty are used to knowing what they are doing,” Ricevuto said, acknowledging that teaching in a remote environment can be overwhelming. “But virtual learning can cause frustration and stress.”

Almost immediately, Ricevuto set out to find ways to help Harcum faculty be more successful in a virtual teaching setting, conceiving of and then infusing techniques into her own classes to add value to the remote learning experience.

She teamed with a former Harcum colleague Laura McLaughlin to author a text called Engaging Virtual Environments (Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Va.) released this year. The co-authors have more than 20 years’ combined higher education teaching experience

Ricevuto explained their roles this way: “I am more of the synchronous ‘expert,’ and she is the asynchronous ‘expert,’ so we collaborated and put our ideas together to write the book.”

In the work, the coauthors wrote: “Just because you are not meeting in person doesn’t mean you must forfeit interaction and engagement.” From that standpoint, they then provide big ideas to promote student interaction, participation, and active learning that can readily be applied to teaching in higher education and postsecondary settings.

Concurrently, teaching in a virtual environment often means adding new tools to the toolkit. That necessity stems from the fact that the role of an online instructor differs from one in a traditional classroom setting.

It shifts to facilitating teaching and learning.

The book has gained critical success for offering solutions where other like-minded texts have often failed.

Lillian Nave, host of the Think UDL podcast praised the result: “Ricevuto and McLaughlin shine where other online learning books fail, in facilitating instructors as community builders, team builders, and as their [diversity, equity, and inclusion] guide,” she said .

Another interesting fact about this text is the way it was authored… virtually.

“We used Trello [a web-based list-making application] to organize who was writing what chapter and to keep track of the project,” Ricevuto explained. “And we used Google Docs to write our chapters and collaborate.” 

While some see the pandemic as waning and colleges resuming traditional classroom teaching arrangements, the lessons learned during that time will continue to be relevant. Students of all ages appreciated the flexibility of online and hybrid learning platforms.

College-level instructors can answer the call to offer nimbler and more scalable higher education solutions by following the techniques and tips offered in Engaging Virtual Environments.

The book is readily available in paperback form on Amazon.com.

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