Blog: Catheryn Cheal



Catheryn Cheal, Ph.D. has some big ideas about technology and education. Which is fitting since she's the Assistant Vice President of e-Learning and Instructional Support at Oakland University. What's surprising is Catheryn's academic path to the future came from a focus on the past. The ancient past, that is.

After finishing her doctorate in Classical Archaeology at Brown University and her BGS in Classical Archaeology at University of Michigan, Catheryn taught ancient art history at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) from 1981 to 2004. She has numerous publications in her original field of ancient art and the latest book chapter, entitled "The Meaning Of Skin Color in Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian Painting" was published by African World Press in Dec. 2004. While at CSUN, she created and directed the Office of Online Instruction for four years, which trained and mentored faculty, campus-wide, in teaching with technology.

Catheryn moved to Oakland University, Michigan as Assistant Vice President of e-Learning and Instructional Support in 2004 to facilitate the creation of online courses and programs and lead the university in developing technology for teaching and learning. A book chapter entitled, "A Taxonomy Showing Relationships between Digital Learning Objects and Instructional Design" was published in Summer 2006 by Informing Science Press and an article, “Second Life-Hype or Hyperlearning” in On the Horizon, Fall 2007.

Catheryn will be weighing in this weeks with thoughts on the evolution of learning and technology, and its potential impact on SE Michigan.

PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION WITH YOUR COMMENTS!

Catheryn Cheal - Most Recent Posts:

Post No 2: What’s new in online instruction?

Beyond the discussion board, Oakland University, in the past couple of years, has increased its arsenal of online teaching methodologies. Our main software is an open source, course management system, called Moodle. Open source code means that our PHP programmer can make changes as necessary to a license-free product that is shared and adapted all over the world at other universities. It is a prime example of user-generated content in that instructors, students, and programmers all reside in universities and, here at OU, are quick to acknowledge and respond to user-needs.

There are various software tools in Moodle, like online quizzes that provide student assessment as well as a method to reinforce learning. Online quizzes are, by nature, open book quizzes and great for emphasizing and reiterating points in the reading. Synchronous chat discussion groups work well for brainstorming and have the immediate interpersonal feedback needed to retain and motivate students. Wiki pages allow for student groups to edit one another’s written work and provide histories for the instructor to check that all group members are contributing. Databases of any kind of subject matter, like art images, can be created by groups of students.

A second instance of Moodle is used for our e-Portfolio. Students are in control of their own spaces with all the functionality of the course management Moodle, and they may allow potential employers access to their best work, uploaded to individual digital portfolio spaces.

Another program is called Elluminate and allows for synchronous video-conferencing, where an instructor can show any files on their own desktop to students at home. Elluminate has text chat for questions or audio/video capabilities through a webcam. Because the entire class is online at the same time, complex material can be demonstrated easily.

An island in Second Life is our latest addition. Second Life is a virtual world whose users build avatars, alternate cartoon-like identities, to enter a three-dimensional land of oceans, mountains, and plains. All content, such as buildings, vehicles, clothing, and learning objects are user-created. Digital objects can contain scripts that make them responsive to commands. So faculty and students can construct, for example, a scale-replica of the Sistine Chapel or a simulation of an interactive tsunami wave or a hospital scenario with diagnostic possibilities. The OU island currently has two amphitheaters for group interaction and meetings, a sandbox to practice building objects, a Temple of Transport with links to other educational islands, a Free Will market with give-away objects like food and clothing,  (I know, I know…why bother eating in a virtual world?), several faculty houses, a disco built by one of my students, and an art exhibit area. We haven’t attempted to recreate the Oakland University campus because the island is meant to be an experimental space for teaching and learning and we want to take advantage of the physical possibilities of Second Life like flying, building, and communicating rather than try to recreate the limitations of the real world.

I taught an Honors course in Second Life last semester, along with an art professor. The students researched projects about virtual worlds, such as copyright and music, gay life, teaching Japanese language, architectural recreation, and the presentation of text. After writing a paper, they then reconceptualized and built the topic as a three-dimensional environment. A Rhetoric instructor is currently working on a research project to condition his students to the rigors of public speaking, by having them speak to an audience of avatars in Second Life and then gradually moving them into real life. An art instructor had her students construct and mount snapshots from around the world in Second Life in an exhibition building.

The constantly evolving new tools in instructional technology give us at Oakland University a rich, interactive set of methodologies to improve online courses and programs.

Post No 1: Does online education educate?

When people ask me, in casual conversation, "And what do you do?" I usually say, "I teach faculty at Oakland University how to teach online." Whether the facial reaction displays mild interest or appalling surprise, I can be reasonably assured that the next question will be, "But do you think online courses really work?"

That question deserves an emphatic "Yes!" I’ve known since teaching an online art history course, beginning in 1999, that online college courses can do some things much better than face-to-face classes.

Any classroom is a careful orchestration between chaos and control. Too much chaos and the babble cancels out learning. Too much control and student minds shut down in passive boredom. It doesn’t matter whether the course is traditionally taught in the classroom or online, the teaching methods need to be carefully planned.

One advantage that the online course has is that, by definition, the lecture method is difficult to implement online so its replacement, the discussion board, has been the norm since the mid-1990s. Discussion boards or forums promote active creation of material by the students and user-generated content is what the new Internet is all about. Learning happens by doing, not by memorizing lectures.

The best online education is active and participatory. Instead of listening to lectures, the students produce lectures by posting answers to questions on a discussion board. The perceived anonymity that comes from being online means that students feel free to speak their mind, without any impediment from hostile stares or verbal interruptions. Thoughts go straight from one head to another without any interfering static of gesture, clothing, facial expression, eye contact, or hierarchic objects (like a podium). This can be very liberating and makes for a closer, quicker bond among the course participants that is particularly important for discussion-type content.

A major concept of the 1990s Internet was that of the hyperlink and how it created non-linear thinking, rather than the linear, scientific rationalism that dominated print for the past centuries. The network was envisioned as a highway, with the freedom to turn off at any byway. 

The most important concept of the 2000s Internet is that of the collective—as seen in social networking sites like Facebook, user-generated content like YouTube, social constructivism educational theory, and database mashups that combine data gathered through mobile GPS units. The image of the surfer, free and alone, has turned into a vision of a collective intelligence, twittering one another with casual, constant connections. This is a mindset that calls for a different type of learning, since what is the purpose of individually memorized data, when all information is instantly collected by Google or acquired through one’s acquaintances. The crucial skills become how to frame the right questions, solve problems, use initiative to teach oneself, and manage groups of people.

The requirement in Michigan high schools that students who graduate in 2011 had to take an online course was unprecedented in any other state. The bill was based on the belief that all students needed to be prepared for college and jobs that were increasingly technology-focused. It isn’t just the use of technology that counts as those like Fisher seem to believe or that the distance education model is convenient or cost-efficient. The point is that the concept of teaching and learning itself has changed due to technology and online education parallels that change.

I would like to know whether Michigan businesses find that their employees learning needs are changing as technology changes the way they do business.

Will an online high school course be enough or do we need to also talk about teaching methods and content in a more comprehensive way in public policy?


Fisher, K. (April 23, 2006). Michigan to require "online courses" for high school graduation. Ars Technica. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060423-6657.html 

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