Spring 2017


Online Teaching for a Wired World

By Aileen Yoo

Armeda Reitzel is the colorful and charismatic Communication professor who teaches public speaking online.

IF ARISTOTLE WERE ALIVE TODAY, Armeda Reitzel has no doubt that the Greek philosopher would teach oratory online.

“There’s no question in my mind that the creator of the five canons of rhetoric would do it using video technology,” says Reitzel, a Communication professor at HSU.

Reitzel has taught public speaking (COMM 100) in brick-and-mortar classrooms at Humboldt State for nearly 35 years. But using newfangled technology and old-fashioned teaching skills, she’s begun to teach that course online.

First developed and taught by Communication Professor Laura Hahn in Spring 2013, the online version of COMM 100 has exceeded expectations: 96 percent of Reitzel’s students received a C+ or better in her Spring 2016 online course, compared to 93 percent in her Fall 2014 face-to-face class.

About 5,700 students are enrolled in 130 online courses currently offered at HSU, where distance learning has become an effective way to meet the changing needs of students.

“Students may be working. They may have children they need to care for. They may not have a way to get to campus, or find a class they need to take is already full,” says Alex Hwu, the associate vice president of HSU’s College of eLearning & Extended Education (CEEE). “Whatever the reason, there is a big demand for online courses at HSU.”

For Reitzel, the concept of teaching public speaking remotely was initially a hard sell. She was concerned that online courses wouldn’t be as engaging or rigorous as a face-to-face course.

With the help of instructional designers from CEEE and the right tools, Reitzel proved naysayers—and herself—wrong. Reitzel was one of six recipients of the 2016 CSU Quality Online Learning and Teaching award, which recognizes outstanding teaching and learning in blended and online courses.

“I spend time creating community to manage students’ anxiety so they’re more comfortable with the online format and speaking in front of strangers,” she says.

The course is asynchronous, which means students can access course material and learn at their own pace. They “meet” online every few weeks using Zoom, a video conferencing tool. They also give slideshow presentations in real-time via VoiceThread. These interactions give Reitzel and her students a front row seat to speeches.

The point is to gain public speaking skills, get immediate feedback, and understand the technology tools used in today’s workplace, says Reitzel.

Hwu points out that online learning isn’t for all students or all teachers, nor is it meant to replace traditional classes.
“The online course is a companion to face-to-face learning,” says Hwu. “The goal is to make the education experience as a whole and make it more rewarding for students.”

As for Reitzel, she’s now fully on board with online. “I never want to teach public speaking solely face to face again.”