Continuing Studies program manager receives educational research award

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With COVID-19 forcing many academic courses online — some for the first time — quality, accessible online teaching has never been more important, both for students and instructors.

For conducting online education research on such an important topic, UW–Madison Division of Continuing Studies’ (DCS) Karen Skibba Ph.D., together with Maria Widmer of the UW–Madison School of Education, received the Robert J. Menges Award for Outstanding Research in Educational Development from the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network. The award comes as a result of research the pair conducted for their upcoming chapter in Blended Learning Research Perspectives, Vol. 3, presented during the November 2020 POD conference session titled “Faculty Community of Inquiry Transforms Online Teaching Perceptions and Practices.”

Karen Skibba

Just two POD conference research projects were selected for the Menges Award, which recognizes the transformative research conducted by POD Network members, using rigorous systematic and evidence-based conclusions. According to Esther Jordan, Chair, POD Subcommittee for The Robert J. Menges Award for Outstanding Research in Educational Development: “This study represents excellence in educational development research. It takes a methodologically rigorous approach to answering timely and important research questions. As COVID has moved instruction and educational development programs online to unprecedented levels, its findings are particularly useful to educational developers – many of whom are seeking to figure out the best approaches to positively impact online teaching practices and perceptions. This study provides tremendous insight in this regard.”

The research study analyzes the impact of the TeachOnline@UW blended faculty learning community on UW–Madison participants’ perceptions of and practices for online education. The research questions are: Which methods utilized in a blended faculty learning community, categorized by the presences of the Community of Inquiry framework, had the most impact on participants’ perceptions and practices of online course design and teaching? Why were these methods impactful? They found that participantscourse design and teaching beliefs and practices were most influenced by direct experience as online students in programs modeling social, teaching and cognitive presence.

All roads lead to Madison

Skibba’s journey in online education began years ago, when she accepted a teaching assistant position while earning her master’s degree at Marquette University. Almost immediately, she wondered, “Who’s going to teach me how to teach?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Once it became clear to Skibba that learning how to teach would be up to her, she set out to help other instructors develop and teach online courses through her research and faculty development programming at other universities, including Carroll University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Whitewater.

In 2011, Skibba received her PhD in adult and continuing education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, joining the UW–Madison Continuing Studies as a senior instructional designer in fall 2012.

“I always wanted to work at a research university,” she says. “Working at UW–Madison was always my dream, and when I saw the opening, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

A transformational process

Since joining DCS six years ago, Skibba has been at the forefront of helping instructors learn how to design and teach quality online courses. As a program manager for the TeachOnline@UW Program, she seeks to help others create transformative learning experiences and reach new audiences using proven strategies for excellence in online teaching and learning.

Today, Skibba helps UW-Madison instructors learn how to design and teach quality online courses. Many of the instructors teach adult learners in the university’s professional degrees and certificates.

When asked about the implications for this award-winning research, Skibba notes, “It shows this type of research is important. It shows that a significant investment of time and support is necessary for instructors to engage in meaningful collaboration, reflection, and applied practice through a faculty learning community. These experiences result in an enduring transformation of teaching that is critical to student success in online education. This type of research also provides faculty developers with additional evidence-based strategies to successfully guide instructors through this transformation.”

Find more information on this research and the award. For more information on courses and certificates open to members of other universities, see our Learning Design, Development, and Innovation website.