OXFORD, Miss. – Anna Pechenik, an instructor in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, has received the 2012 Paragon for Excellence in Distance Learning Education.
The annual award recognizes an outstanding faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in instruction and service to Ole Miss students through the use of innovative technologies. Nominations are made by deans, department heads, students and former award winners. Any faculty member who taught a distance learning course during the previous academic year is eligible to be nominated. The Paragon carries a $1,000 monetary award.
“The need for an award for online instructors was highlighted by continual student feedback, said Anne M. Klingen, Ole Miss Online director. “Our office frequently receives calls from current and former distance-learning students wanting to express their appreciation for the availability of distance learning courses and the work done by distance learning instructors.”
Pechenik has developed five online courses: PRM 194: Foundations of Leisure and Recreation, PRM 200: Recreational Activities Leadership, PRM 332: Outdoor Recreation, PRM 371: Camp Leadership and PRM 375: Sports Programming. She said she thinks teaching online allows her to know her students better than she did in a traditional classroom:
“In a traditional lecture classroom, students may visit with you for 30 seconds here and there immediately before or after class,” Pechenik said. “I have been amazed to see how comfortable students are in my online classroom using discussion boards and Wimba sessions. They contact me on Skype, via email and visit me more frequently in my physical office to discuss class, advising and personal matters. Students feel they have instant one-on-one access to their instructor. Learning becomes more personable.”
With online there is also quick and steady access to media – YouTube, blogs, news websites, movies – juxtaposed against the format of the discussion boards that give students a moment to think about what they want to say, so they’re more likely to say it, she added.
When asked what advice she would give faculty interested in using distance-learning technology, Pechenik said, “Make building a course a time-priority, because if you do it well, the time invested will pay off three-fold in the end.”
She credits the Ole Miss Online staff with keeping her motivated and helping her utilize every tool available to her as a new online instructor.
“I attended learning events and technology conferences,” she said. “I signed up for training sessions and participated in a teaching circle. All these things helped me as a new instructor tremendously. This is a skill for a job that is growing exponentially, so it’s a smart move career-wise and can inspire new passion for new methods of teaching. ”
Pechenik had a busy October: She was recognized as the top graduate student in the country by the National Recreation and Park Association, published her first academic article and learned of her selection as the Paragon Award recipient.