Meeting the Minds – Dr. Tilly Jensen

Dr. Tilly Jensen is AU’s Associate Dean of Pedagogy and Student Experience. She is also an Assistant Professor of Accounting at AU and was an Academic Co-ordinator for AU’s undergraduate Accounting Program, and has taught accounting in the Middle East as well as at NAIT and to students enrolled in the British accounting certification program. She was kind enough to give The Voice Magazine an interview ranging from her advice to online learners to her research interests and philosophies of teaching, to her favourite course to teach.

What are some of your most memorable awards, positions, or acclamations?
I think the most rewarding role I ever held was as the content expert for Lyryx Interactive Learning Inc., a Calgary-based company that creates web-based algorithmic assessments. While working for McGraw-Hill Ryerson as the Canadian author of its Fundamental Accounting Principles book, I was introduced to Lyryx Learning Inc. I helped them develop LIFA ? Lyryx Interactive Financial Accounting. At the time, there was nothing else like it in the market and it was incredibly exciting to be involved in the creation of an algorithmic, auto-grading, auto-feedback assessment tool that I knew would help students learn and love accounting. I still have a role with Lyryx, now managing the development of Open Education Resources (OERs), and it sometimes surprises me that my initial passion has never wavered. I think It’s because I continually hear and see students overcome their negative perceptions of accounting as they use LIFA; they actually have fun learning because of an amazing web-based tool?how awesome is that!

Please fill us in on the range of course you have taught or designed at Athabasca.
My area of expertise is in accounting so I am responsible for ACCT253 ? Introductory Financial Accounting, ACCT351 ? Intermediate Financial Accounting I, and ACCT352 ? Intermediate Financial Accounting II.

As an instructor in online education, what are some of the challenges as well as some of the highlights of teaching online?
There are two primary challenges from my perspective. In teaching online in AU’s continuous enrollment environment, the greatest challenge, and therefore greatest opportunity, exists in designing ways to improve student/student, student/teacher, and teacher/student interaction. I’m currently working on a project (with Lyryx Learning Inc. of course!) where students can actually see when another student is logged into the course and where they are in that course for the purpose of ?chatting/texting? with them if they so choose. And therein lay the highlights of teaching online?the opportunities to be creative in developing and designing a course. The possibilities are truly endless because of constantly changing technologies and the potential positive impact on student engagement. Related to this is the challenge of generalizability. When trying to create innovative tools to enhance learning, you get the “biggest bang for your buck” if the tool can be used/adds value across more than one course and in more than one faculty. For example, I anticipate that chat functionality is something that can be leveraged by almost any course, which makes the resources necessary to develop innovative ?chat? applications more justifiable.

How do you aim to stimulate student motivation in online learning environments?
Can I stimulate student motivation in an online learning environment or is it only possible to nurture and leverage existing motivation? I think motivation comes from within. I also think that when a student registers for a course, they are motivated. Something caused them to register, whether it was the desire to advance their career or because it was required by an employer or some other internal or external source. I operate on the assumption that there is a small window of opportunity for us, as educators, to nurture that initial motivation. Initial research that I’ve done confirms that initiating contact with students immediately upon registration, and repeating that periodically, helps to create a connection. That connection may be responsible, at least in part, for student persistence. Therefore, it is incumbent on educators at AU to work together to develop, implement, and monitor innovative tools and/or processes that show promise in enhancing student persistence and success.

What is your approach to providing feedback for students to help them with their learning objectives?
AU’s goal is to provide accessible and flexible education. This means that the courses I am responsible for need to provide feedback using multiple forms of communication. In the courses I am responsible for, we use three forms of communication with students: phone, email, and discussion forums. I personally like what I see happening on the discussion forums the best. We have the discussion forums set up by topic and students ask questions. The forums are monitored and Academic Experts for the course answer the questions. The big benefit of the discussion forums is that students can see what kinds of questions their classmates are asking that they perhaps didn’t think of asking. So greater learning takes place by everyone. As a fourth means of communication, we are trialling chat functionality whereby students who are logged into the course can see what part of the course other students are at and chat with them. Stay tuned for the results of that trial!

What do you purport to be the role of technology and multimedia in online environments? How do they aid or complicate online learning?
Without a doubt, there are two roles for technology and multimedia in online environments. First, accessibility and flexibility; students who are unable to get to a bricks-and-mortar institution can access education via AU’s online environment. Students who require flexibility, because of personal and/or work commitments, can get an education that fits their schedule. Second, the opportunities to enhance engagement with content is, by far, superior in online environments: videos on demand, chatting, algorithmic web-based assessments that auto-grade and provide auto-feedback, and so much more. The complicating factor, or perhaps more a restriction, is that what is available may be limited because of available funding/resources and/or capacity of the course professor (aka staying up-to-date on what’s possible and what works from a pedagogical perspective).

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