Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Karen Swan researches educational technology as Distinguished Professor

Dr. Karen Swan admits that she became an education teacher “by default.”

Swan was a single mother when she got a grant from the government to return to school.

“There were only certain things you could do, and one of them was education, so that’s what I did,” she said.

Swan, a professor in the Teacher Leadership program at UIS, now serves as the James J. Stukel Distinguished Professor in Educational Leadership. Her investiture ceremony took place in the fall. She has been at UIS for about a year, after coming from Kent State University in Ohio, where she was an endowed chair for research on educational technology.

Swan’s family moved to Chicago, but she was still commuting to Ohio when she heard about the opportunity to fill the professorship at UIS.

“It’s a perfect fit; I truly love it,” she said. “It’s specifically for online learning, which I couldn’t do very much of at Kent, and it’s kind of my hobby. I can teach again, which I love, and the people are fabulous. I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

The Stukel Professorship was created by the University of Illinois Foundation to honor James Stukel, the 15th president of the University of Illinois system. The professorship includes support for research and grant work and was created for a candidate who possesses expertise in and scholarly accomplishments relating to online teaching and learning issues.

Swan became interested in the field of technology within education while completing her graduate assistantship.

“I had a graduate assistantship teaching gifted kids. The only thing they insisted on was that we use computers, and that was the beginning of computers,” she said.

“I'm an old hippie, and at the time, I thought they were the devil,” she laughed, “but I did it anyway because it kept me going in school. I took a computer class, and it changed my life. I suddenly started understanding math, which I never understood before, and it turned out I was a good programmer. And the rest is history.”

At UIS, Swan teaches a course on educational research tools and a capstone course for the Master’s in Teacher Leadership program, as well as a technology course occasionally. Being a part of UIS’ online teaching and learning has been exciting, she said.

“UIS is known throughout the online learning community as being one of the best schools in country,” she said. “Little UIS in the cornfields is really far ahead of almost any other place I've known. It's amazing.”

Online learning has been shown to be just as engaging as face-to-face learning, Swan said, and new trends continue to emerge in online learning, including using social media in online courses.

“Online learning is growing still by leaps and bounds; we thought it would flatten out, but it hasn't yet,” she said. “Blended learning – the combination of face-to-face and online learning - is growing even faster.”

“Ray Schroeder (director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service) just gave me a Google Wave account, and we’re thinking Wave might replace the learning management platforms we have now,” she added. “There are all sorts of trends outside of educational computing involving social networking which I think are going to become part of mainstream educational technology. People are now trying to figure out how to use it.”

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