Dr. Sue Serota: Leading Westminster’s Online Program
Dr. Sue Serota is a tenth-year tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Education, initially joining Westminster as a Visiting Assistant Professor when she was finishing her final year as a doctorate student at Mizzou. Within months of landing that temporary role at Westminster, she had earned a tenured-track permanent position.
In 2011, she was appointed the College’s first Director of Online Teaching after building Westminster’s online course offerings from the ground up.
Dr. Serota tells us more about herself and Westminster’s unique online experience in our Q&A with her below.
Tell us more about about you. What are your greatest interests/passion?
I guess my greatest passions would be working with young people, and being a dog lover! First, as I never had children of my own, I have always especially enjoyed working so closely with high school students, and then college students. It boggles my mind when I think about how many students I’ve taught or coached in the last 20 years. They keep me young for sure!
As far as dogs, I adore dogs, and can’t imagine my world without them! Currently, I have three: a Brittany [J.J.], a country boy who no longer was interested in hunting; a retired racing Greyhound [Crazypants]; and, a 14 ½ mixed breed [Shadow], who has been one of the most unique joys of my life! I guess I can also say I really enjoy Facebook, and find it amazing how so many parts of my life intersect through this social medium! It is truly fascinating.
What courses do you teach at Westminster?
I teach in the Department of Education, in courses ranging from Child Growth & Development, Adolescent Growth & Development, Middle School Methods and Philosophy, Social Studies Methods and Education Seminar. I also work with Practicum I (pre-service teachers who are working in the classroom for the very first time), Introduction to Education students, and Student Teachers.
Finally, I am fortunate in that I also get to teach two courses for college general tier requirements, Diversity in Education and Introduction to Women’s Studies. These courses, in addition to Westminster Seminar, which I teach every three years, enables me to also work with students outside the department.
What’s your favorite thing about Westminster?
The small environment where you can really get to work closely with faculty in your own building, and students in your classes you get to have in more than one class. It’s not the same at large colleges and universities in this regard.
How are online courses at Westminster different from other online classes or programs?
We differ in format and in substance in several ways:
First, we hire only professors affiliated with the College, either current faculty members, or instructors who have had prior affiliation with the college.
Next, we offer a three-week winter intersession, in between fall and spring semester, where students can take courses for full credit. This is very unusual, and we have had students drawn to our Winter on the Web program from around the country. Our winter term course is particularly attractive to those students who need to complete hours to graduate in December.
Finally, our courses stress communication between instructor and student. So many of our students know their professors when they take these online courses, or have at least heard of them. In the training courses for online faculty, communication is stressed as a top priority. There is a lot of back-and-forth throughout the experience, with discussion forum and chat room opportunities, etc. Our evaluations are consistently superior.
Most students value the experience, look forward to taking future online classes with Westminster, and recommend courses to their friends and peers.
What tips could you provide for being successful in an online course?
We have a number of students who plan to go onto graduate or professional schools, and taking online courses is a wonderful way to get them prepared for the more independent-type work required in an online format. Most of our students would agree, based on the evaluations, that they must be self-motivated, extremely organized and motivated to do well. It’s a misconception that online courses are easier; indeed, they can be just as challenging.
Although no two online courses are the same, it benefits the student to review the syllabus beforehand, have their work in a planner and, importantly, realize that for each three-hour course there is approximately 135 hours of work involved. We are unique at Westminster in that we provide an onsite meeting for upcoming online students where they not only learn about how our courses are run (we use the Moodle online platform), but also meet with their individual instructors to learn about their upcoming courses.