Jennifer Fowler reflects on developing new teaching strategies for busy college students

Jennifer Fowler, instructor and Distance Education Coordinator for College of Alameda. Photo by Saskia Hatvany.

Jennifer Fowler has a very warm presence. As a communication instructor at the College of Alameda (COA), Fowler has dedicated herself to pioneering online communication classes as a way for students to get the classes and experience they need with a more manageable schedule. The unexpected result of Fowler’s work has been creating a more comfortable learning experience for students who have a hard time coming to campus.

Fowler began teaching at the COA as a part-time instructor in 2007, shortly after she graduated with a master’s degree from California State University, Long Beach. Fowler became a full-time instructor in 2016. As the Distance Education Coordinator for COA, she provides the training for staff and faculty to prepare for online teaching, and also helps them to create more online classes for students.

Her teaching experience at other schools also included online instruction. Fowler didn’t always want to teach online classes, but she hoped online teaching would help her manage her time, much like her students.

However, it turned out online teaching was very different compared to the face-to-face classroom, and she became very passionate about it, in particular the instructional design which she found affected her online teaching.

For example, Fowler explained that there were some obstacles when she first started at COA. She had to learn all the different parts of the system and structure for the college, while she also had to drive to different schools for other classes.

Fowler couldn’t get too deep into the school system in order to set-up more classes for students. However, as soon as she became a full-time instructor, Fowler overcame those obstacles because she had more time to engage and create more online classes for the community.

“I think over time, the longer I worked here I saw the bigger picture. Once I was able to work as full-time, I really just focused on this college,” Fowler said.

Online Learning: The details according to Fowler

Fowler also explained that although today modern technology is more easily found in the classroom, the students and teachers are still learning to adapt to this change. Both need to be well-prepared to absorb all the knowledge that is necessary. Technology is always changing and developing, which means the teacher has to keep learning those changes. Technology can be a challenge for teachers, too, because teaching online classes is not easier than a face-to-face classroom.

Some students, Fowler explains, may think that taking online classes is an easy way to get a good grade, but some students may find them more difficult because the online classes require a different kind of learning style. Even some faculty members think that online classes will be easy to teach and can save them time — however, in many cases, it can take more of their time.

Fowler also said that keeping students motivated in an online class can be difficult, so she often creates online group discussion and Zoom video conferencing meetings to engage with her students.

Success is possible online

Online classes provide a lot of freedom for the students by making their time more manageable. This allows them to study at home or anywhere that is ideal for them, since some students struggle to come to campus because of personal issues, mobility issues or psychological issues. However, online learning also requires some personality to “fit in” to an online class, and some people are just not fit for online learning.

“Too much of a good thing — it may be a bad thing,” Fowler said, explaining that sometimes having too much freedom or lack of motivation can cause students to forget their deadlines for assignments.

“If you are missing assignments or fall behind in the class, you should talk to your instructor as soon as possible,” Fowler said, adding that self-motivation is the key to helping students better their time management.

Another key to success in an online class is communication — keeping up communication with your instructor and knowing what you don’t understand. Fowler said students shouldn’t worry about bothering their instructors because they have office hours for students who have problems and questions about the course — some even have online Zoom video conferencing time available for students.

Lastly, students who may not have access to a computer can seek out other resources, such as the computer lab or library. It is important to learn that those resources are always available for you and where to look for them.

An online class is not always easy, but it is a helpful tool to help students reach their goals in college. If students know about all of these things, they will have fewer challenges.

For more information about online learning, visit Peralta’s online tutorial.

For tools to search for online classes, follow these instructions:

1. Go to the Schedule of Classes.

2. Select Online/DI/Internet-Based from the Mode of Instruction drop-down menu.

3. Click the green Search button for a full listing of online and hybrid classes.