Online course is on target with MUSC educators

March 25, 2021
Coffee mug on table next to computer with a zoom meeting on screen
"When we teach students how to stick someone with a needle, I need to be there. But that’s just a small part of teaching and so it's good to rethink what we actually need to do in person," said Dr. Anthony DeClue. Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unplash

A year ago, COVID-19 changed the world forever. And in no place was that change more obvious than in schools. Once buzzing epicenters of learning, these same educational facilities across the globe became ghost towns. Classrooms that once held dozens of students were replaced by empty chairs and a laptop. Chatter was replaced by “I think you’re on mute.” And hands-on learning became decidedly hands off.

Though being educationally isolated was a completely new experience for students, for their professors, it was a seismic shift. It’s hard enough to discuss 20th century English literature online. Now try showing soon-to-be doctors how to remove a spleen. 

Lucky for professors at the Medical University of South Carolina, leadership realized it couldn’t just expect instructors to “figure it out,” and so the powers that be came up with a way to arm them with the tools they would need to teach in the new world of COVID. 

Alex Walters, senior instructional designer and digital accessibility specialist at MUSC, along with Melissa Hortman, Ed.D., associate professor and director of Instructional Technology at MUSC, were tasked with helping the medical school’s faculty to get up to speed in the new online teaching world – quickly.

In a very short amount of time, Walters and Hortman came up with a course that not only taught faculty the basics of teaching online but also showed them new and innovative ways to make it more fun. Their brainchild, the Foundations of Quality Online Instruction, is a four-week self-paced course designed to introduce best practices as well as tools and theories related to online instruction. 

"When you're teaching online sometimes it can be hard to keep the kids engaged. You can’t see all their faces, someone's dog is barking. It can be really distracting. This course taught me some new tricks for connecting with the students. Because of that, I think I go into teaching more confidently."


Anthony DeClue, PharmD, MUSC assistant professor

Not too surprisingly, faculty members were very receptive and enthusiastic about it. 

“I’ve taken things I used to do completely straightforward in the classroom and turned them into online games,” said Kathryn Kinyon, DNP, a professor at the MUSC College of Nursing. Kinyon has made virtual escape rooms, online scavenger hunts – anything to keep the students connected. “I’m even teaching them to make their own online learning modules. So, in a way, I guess, I’m having them do my job,” she said with a laugh.

Though MUSC instructors might vary a great deal when it comes to their technological IQs, before this pandemic, they most certainly all had one thing in common: a lack of experience teaching virtually.

“Our primary goal was to demystify online teaching,” said Walters. In doing so, the two aimed to create an online community. “One of the biggest casualties of remote learning is the loss of community. When you’re physically spread out and in front of a terminal instead of a colleague, it’s easy to feel all alone,” he said. 

Those who took the course learned how to improve interactivity with their students more fully, as well as support active learning, not only through traditional teaching methods but through the use of video and audio as well. 

“What I loved most about the course was it introduced me to new technologies,” said Anthony DeClue, Pharm.D., assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Outcomes Sciences. “Because of that, I think I go into teaching more confidently. It’s also made me a better conductor, for lack of a better analogy, in that I can keep the other players on track because of the skills I came away with.”

The course, which went from idea to reality in a little over a month, was completely developed and implemented by MUSC. 

“This is the first time we’ve had something like this on campus,” Hortman said. “Historically, we’ve been very traditional when it comes to learning. COVID pushed us into a realm no one was comfortable with. So we knew the best way to counter the feeling of distance was to focus on building an online community of learners.”

To date, more than 130 MUSC professors, spanning 27 departments in all colleges, have taken the course. For more information or to sign up for the course, visit the faculty resources page.