Kara McElwrath, Online Teaching Exemplar
10 Things To Know About Kara McElwrath
Have you ever wondered what gives UIS its excellent reputation in online education? Certainly, excellent professors, committed to their online students’ success, is one important reason.
Kara McElwrath is an online instructor for education and business classes. We met with her recently and discovered 10 things you might want to know about this talented teacher.
- In her “day job,” Kara works in the UIS Information Technology Services department.
As the Assistant Director of Client Services, Kara helps anyone at UIS who is having trouble with their computers and other technology. She and her team also come up with ideas to improve technology. She’s so good at what she does and so highly appreciated that in 2010, she was named UIS Employee of the Year.
- Kara also teaches one of three online classes each semester:
TEP 305: Technology for Teachers; EDL 518: Educational Technology Systems (for educational administrators); MIS 352: Principles of Management Information Systems (for people going into business).
- Kara has been an online student herself—but not quite like you’ve been one!
Kara earned her master’s degree in technology through a program that combined online and hybrid classes. For the online classes, she met with other students in a nearby high school. “We could see the teacher, but we had to use a phone to ask questions.” At home, Internet was dial-up, and without Skype or Go To Meeting, she had to use ICQ chat to speak with her professor. “It took a lot of effort to communicate back then!” she says.
- Because of her own experience online, connecting with students is extremely important to her.
“I tell my students they can call, they can email, they can text me if they want. I give them my number. Fortunately they are thoughtful about it—I’m not bombarded with texts at 2:00 in the morning!”
- Kara has a career in technology because of her clever mother.
“I grew up on a farm. We didn’t have technology. I didn’t have a computer growing up, and this was well before the days of cell phones. I went through all four years of college without a computer.” So how did Kara become so comfortable with technology? “At that time, jobs in the teaching field were really tight. My mom said, ‘Find out what minor is the least popular among education majors because that will make you stand out.’ The least popular minor was computers, and that minor has gotten me every job since.”
- Though still quite young, Kara often feels ancient in computer years.
When she started teaching elementary school, people were just beginning to get a mouse for their computers. Schools used Apple 2E computers without any Internet or networking capabilities. Students had to go to the library to do research rather than use the Internet. Educational games were on floppy disks. To search the Internet, Kara used Netscape Navigator. And cell phones were still the size of a brick.
- Kara’s unique career path equipped her to teach both education and MIS classes. Kara taught elementary school in Indiana and Illinois, often helping other teachers learn how to use technology in the classroom (that was her preparation for education classes.) Then a sudden life change caused a career change from teaching children in the public sector to teaching business employees in the private sector. In her new job, she taught business employees at a different company every day about Microsoft Office, PhotoShop, DreamWeaver, and other programs. (That was her preparation for teaching a business class.)
- Kara sees big differences between her on-campus classes and her online classes—
not in the content and not in the learning but in the connections student-to-student and with her. “On campus the class time is encapsulated. Students show up for my three-hour class on-campus. They participate. They do the work. They learn. And then they go their separate ways until the next Thursday when they do it all again. The online class time never stops. The students are interacting with each other every hour of every day. The discussion boards are ongoing with people commenting even as late as 2:00 in the morning.”
- Kara likes knowing which students don’t want to take her class.
“At the beginning of the semester, I ask students with a survey how they feel about online classes and about technology because I want to know heads up who is anxious about my class, who is already unhappy if they are in this section. Then I can follow up with them individually to alleviate stress or concerns.” And if students feel like they have nothing to learn, she works at keeping them engaged by having them share their experiences throughout the semester.
- More than just technology, Kara wants students to know they can dream big.
“The world’s a big place,” she says, “and there’s room for all of them in that world, whatever their skill sets, whatever their passion. Life doesn’t have to be what they grew up with or what they experienced in the middle of their lives. There is so much more out there for them, and they have what they need for success.”