Sara Potter, a continuing instructor in the Communication and Media Studies Department, is the recipient of Northern Michigan University's 2020-21 Excellence in Online Teaching Award.
Potter's nomination stated that she has become her department's “go to” resource for web-based assistance, especially during the shift in delivery modes prompted by the COVID-19, and has consistently upgraded her online teaching skills through professional development and scholarly research.
“While I have been teaching online for five years, this particular year has not just been the most exhausting; it has also been the most rewarding,” Potter said at the close of 2020. “It demonstrates that despite everything being thrown our way, a virtual environment can be just as rewarding and connective.
“What is wonderful about teaching communication during this time is that the work they are doing in class can directly and immediately impact their lives, make their relationships more rewarding, build confidence in the ability to engage in civil discourse, participate collaboratively in group processes, and navigate speaking and listening skills in online environments. In light of COVID and everything that we are going through separately, by developing this connection through a supportive, creative classroom environment that centers communication at its core, we can find a new way forward, together.”
Since 2016, Potter has taught more than 25 online courses. She has employed a variety of delivery methods: synchronous, which meets virtually on a specified schedule; asynchronous, which allows students to view a presentation and/or material on their own time; hybrids, a combination of in-person and online learning; and flipped classrooms, in which students review new content on their own and apply and discuss it in the classroom.
Potter is also credited for embracing Ernest Boyer's “scholarship of teaching” in analyzing her educational objectives and outcomes. That has resulted in a continual evolution of the courses she redesigns in light of emerging instructional technologies and strategies, the conference papers she has presented and her ability to adapt to the pandemic.
She said she views her students as active participants in their ‘build your own adventure' learning environment, rather than passive receivers of information.
“When translating much of what I do in the face-to-face classroom to the online learning environment I emphasize connection and care at the center of what I do. Students need to be connected to each other, connected personally to the material, connect the material to their lives outside of the classroom, have content that is connected to both the past, present and future of the discipline, and build a trusting connected relationship with me. This year, that seems more important than ever.”
Potter holds a bachelor's degree in communication science from Monmouth College and a master's in instructional communication from Illinois State University. She is a doctoral candidate in the rhetoric, culture and theory program at Michigan Tech.