Office of Distance Education Instructor Spotlight: Dr. Danielle V. Schoon

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As a part of the Office of Distance Education’s mission to support dynamic, research-driven and forward-thinking solutions proven to ensure understanding, engagement, access, and equity in online learning communities, we know that some of the most important work being done toward this purpose is happening in real-time, in the classroom. With this in mind, we aim to stay in conversation with instructors actively invested in cutting-edge online learning development and delivery. As a part of our appreciation for the ability to support the needs of robust, pedagogically sound online learning we will regularly be featuring instructors from around the College of Arts and Sciences who are teaching well-designed online courses and programs.

Our inaugural Instructor Spotlight features Dr. Danielle V. Schoon, who has taught classes here at OSU as a Postdoctoral scholar and as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and in the Department of Dance. Danielle is a cultural anthropologist with publications in performance and the politics of identity in Turkey. Her current research focuses on interactions between minority and migrant youth in Istanbul as they are mediated by the arts. Danielle frequently takes advantage of professional development opportunities to improve her teaching and is an advocate of active learning and community engagement.

Dr. Schoon has received several grants from the Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning for an ongoing project in Intercultural Development, and she was awarded the Department of Sociology Outstanding Lecturer Award in Spring 2021. Along with teaching at OSU, Danielle has contributed to several projects, including the Bringing the Border to Columbus virtual symposium (https://u.osu.edu/bringingthebordertocolumbus/) and Audiences and Online Reception: Before and After COVID (https://u.osu.edu/audiencesandonlinereception/), both funded by the Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme.

To gain a clearer picture of Danielle as an instructor, especially one who thinks about distance education, we posed several questions to her about her opinions and takeaways from online teaching, as well as any advice she might share with other instructors who may be similarly invested.

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Danielle Schoon - Smiling woman with body of water in background
Dr. Danielle Schoon

Q: In your estimation, what role does distance education play in the landscape of learning, particularly for higher education? 

A: The fact that distance education began as a way to reach nontraditional students points to how important it is for addressing issues of access and equity. The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light many of these issues and forced universities and other institutions to address them. While, on the one hand, distance education can serve students like nonresidents, full-time workers, and military personnel, there is still the question of how to reach students who do not have a reliable Internet connection or regular access to a computer.

There are many benefits to distance education. Students are obviously able to participate without the need of a physical classroom and can choose when and where to work. If the program is designed well, it can bridge social and cultural differences between students. Instead of being dependent on in-person communication, distance education utilizes the Internet and digital technologies to connect across time and space, and the possibilities are expansive. The content of instruction can include not only textual materials but also digital materials, such as websites, graphics, and audiovisuals. Similarly, the tools of instruction can include social networking and other applications that enable online community building.


Q: How would you describe your impressions of and contact with distance ed for higher education, and where do you see the greatest potential for innovation? 

A: Truthfully, I was skeptical of online college courses when I was first asked to teach one as a graduate student back in 2010. My concern was that the quality of education couldn’t be as high online, and that the benefits of in-person interactions couldn’t be replicated virtually. Over the past few years at OSU, working with ODEE, the Drake Institute, and other units on campus, I have learned new ways of building community online and facilitating a meaningful and academically rigorous experience for my students. While I do still believe that in-person interactions should not be replaced entirely, I now see the value in creating accessible learning opportunities for students online.

One of the areas I see the greatest potential for innovation is in Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). This is when more than one accredited university course are connected and links are established between classrooms in different national or cultural contexts. The faculty from these classrooms work together to create an equitable space of sharing. The emphasis in COIL classes is on experiential and collaborative learning. For example, students might work on a project that addresses climate change, or pandemics, or another topic of shared global interest. Along with the academic content of the course, the experience of working together offers opportunities for cross-cultural awareness and intercultural development. These are skills that students need as they encounter a rapidly evolving world and face unprecedented global challenges.


Q: What pedagogical strategies have you found to work well in an online environment? Which ones presented the most trouble and why? 

A: The biggest challenge I faced when I started teaching online courses was that I could no longer ‘read the room.’ I was used to interpreting the mood of my students, who was paying attention and who wasn’t, whether they were understanding the lesson or struggling with it. However, now I wonder how my own biases may have contributed to those interpretations and whether I was as inclusive of every student in my classroom as I could have been. In Zoom, I cannot rely on my intuition, so instead I have had to come up with strategies for making sure that every student feels included and has the opportunity to contribute to the class in their own way. The tools in Zoom, such as polls, breakout rooms, and the chat function, allow me to invite students to participate in different ways. For example, when I ask a question that is open to all the students, I ask for people who are willing to raise their hand to speak, people who are willing to write an answer in the chat, and people who prefer to write down their thoughts for later use in small groups in breakout rooms. Whereas in the traditional classroom, the only option was to speak or not speak, now my students can contribute in whatever ways they are comfortable. This is more inclusive and actually results in more voices added to the discussion.


Q: If you could give one vital piece of advice to someone newly embarking on their journey into designing a distance ed learning space, what would it be? 

A: My advice would be to avoid trying to replicate the classroom experience in a virtual setting. Do not use the same syllabus for a virtual course that you would use for an in-person course. The content, tools, and methods of teaching should all be chosen for maximum effectiveness in the online environment. 


Q: Our office has had the pleasure of connecting with you as you prepare for your Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) course focusing on Turkish cultural exchange, which is set to launch in Summer 2022. We invite you to take this opportunity to explain why you are designing this virtual study abroad and what you hope students will get out of it. 

A: : TURK3797DL Virtual Education Abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, will be offered in Summer 2022 by the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. With the support of a grant from the Office of International Affairs, I am designing an internationally focused learning and cultural exchange at Ohio State with Kadir Has University (KHAS) in Istanbul. The exchange has been proposed as a 4-credit High Impact course within the GE theme “Citizenship for a Diverse & Just World”. Online platforms and mediums include 360 videos, interactive online activities, a discussion forum, synchronous Zoom meetings, and web-based applications for creating and sharing collaborative documents. The course content includes Turkish language, culture, politics, and society. Parallel content focuses on intercultural development and global competence. The course’s emphasis on Global Learning is realized through collaborative activities in which students at OSU and KHAS analyze and address complex, global problems such as East/West relations, freedom of speech, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Students use ePortfolios to track their own progress. ePortfolios not only contribute to building student skill sets and resumes, but also help to enroll students in their own learning process, using reflection as a means to access metacognition and connect the course content to things they truly care about. Internationalizing this process means that students do not practice reflection in a vacuum, but rather in conversation with diverse interlocuters, allowing them to take on new perspectives and challenge their own assumptions. This kind of international student learning experience serves as motivation to study, intern, or work around the world.

This virtual exchange program will utilize the Global Competence Certificate (GCC) in order to frame intercultural learning within an experiential educational approach. These online modules are designed to follow David Kolb’s (1984) four areas of the experiential learning cycle: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. I am a Qualified Facilitator of the GCC so I can incorporate the online learning modules into my syllabus and assignments. The course’s learning objectives include: 1) building the capacity to adapt to diverse cultures and perspectives; 2) developing effective communication skills across differences; 3) increasing awareness and knowledge of current global issues and conflicts; and 4) empowering students in any field to work in complex international settings.

Turkey is an ideal location for virtual exchange. It is a society that grapples with some of the same conflicts we experience in the United States, including how to enhance diversity and increase equity and inclusion. As a Muslim country on the border of the European Union, Turkey has for a long time been thought of as a bridge between East and West. Istanbul is a particularly cosmopolitan city. OSU students will quickly learn to recognize that not all Turks are the same, and in fact many of Istanbul’s residents are not Turks but Kurds and other minorities.

Because of security concerns, OSU students are unable to travel to Turkey for education abroad at this time, which makes a virtual program their only way to visit and interact with residents of Turkey. Yet, Turkey is not the only place to find the Turkish language and culture. 75 million people speak Turkish as their first language, making it one of the 15 most widely spoken first languages. If an OSU student wanted to continue in their pursuit of Turkish studies after having this virtual experience, they could travel to many countries in central Asia and Eastern Europe, including Germany, where Turkish is the second most widely spoken language. The virtual exchange between OSU and KHAS will capitalize on both the benefits of education abroad and online learning. It will enhance OSU’s curriculum in global education and high-impact learning, and expand our Turkish studies offerings.

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Danielle’s openness to online learning coupled with her transparency about the difficulties and affordances inherent to exploring this mode of teaching are representative of many ongoing conversations being had within institutions of higher learning across the world. Especially now, in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic that forced an incredibly large segment of education, in higher ed and beyond, online.

The Office of Distance Education agrees with Danielle that for many in-person learning experiences, virtual design cannot be a replacement. But we are encouraged and inspired by the dedicated approach to mining the potential of well-designed, distance learning that Danielle is working toward in her current COIL course. Our office is thrilled to be able to support her work toward this end as she prepares to launch her exciting global exchange course.

We want to express our gratitude to Danielle for agreeing to participate in the first Instructor Spotlight for our office. Danielle will be also be featured as a panelist in our upcoming teaching forum event, “Assessment: Alternatives to High-Stakes Testing.” More information about this event, as well as a link to register to attend, can be found by following the link to the event page.   

If you are interested in nominating an outstanding instructor who has invested in developing and delivering online courses, please feel free to email ascode@osu.edu using the subject line Instructor Spotlight Recommendation.