Faculty Spotlight: Anita Skarbek, PhD

Life in the fast lane of online education

Anita SkarbekWherever there are new developments in online education at UMKC, you can count on Anita Skarbek to be involved. In her dual roles as RN-BSN Program Director and Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Nursing and Health Studies (SoNHS), Anita brings a keen perspective, developed over years of experience, to any conversation or project. Anita is a strong advocate for online education and has worked closely with UMKC Online to develop fresh and innovative approaches to course design for the RN-BSN and PhD programs. In this faculty, spotlight, learn what drives Anita’s enthusiasm for online teaching and learning. 

When and how did you first get involved with online teaching at UMKC? In 2003, I graduated from UMKC’s Masters in Nursing program, Nurse Educator track, which was a hybrid program that introduced me to online instruction. After teaching traditional onsite courses and clinicals in the pre-licensure BSN program for a couple of years, I was assigned to teach in the RN-BSN program, which was a traditional onsite program at that time. The following year, I assumed the role as RN-BSN Program Director and transitioned the RN-BSN program to a fully online program. In 2010, the RN-BSN program was UMKC’s first program to be certified by the Higher Learning Commission as an online program.

What do you feel are the qualities that make for a good online instructor? It is essential that faculty, especially those instructors who teach a program’s introductory or early courses, convey friendliness, respect, patience, provide timely feedback, and have the ability to provide alternative analogies when students struggle to understand technology concepts, online teaching-learning methodologies and course content. It is also important for online faculty to create and deliver courses that engage students as peers and allow students to get to know their instructors.

Do you have a philosophy of teaching? My courses and teaching methodologies center on Bandura’s self-efficacy, experiential learning, and student centered learning frameworks, Mezirow’s transformative learning model, and Brookfield’s work on developing critical thinkers and his work involving diversity and inclusion in adult education.

Anita Skarbek in her red Corvette

Anita in her little red Corvette

What do you like most about teaching online? What do you find most challenging? What I like most about online teaching is that I really get to know and interact with my students to a greater degree even in a high-enrollment courses.  The expectation is that all students participate in group discussion, share information, engage in peer support and mentoring and contribute to their learning experience. Together, both students and faculty reciprocally learn from one another. What I find most challenging at times is finding quick workarounds when technology issues arise.

What principles, techniques, or tools do you use to engage students?  Examples of tools and techniques that I use to engage students with faculty and their class peers includes Blackboard’s Discussion Board and Blackboard’s Voice Thread. Students create a storyboard on a health care topic of their choice, create concept maps, and live PowerPoint presentations. When students work on a group project, I set them up in Blackboard in their own groups and provide each group with their own Discussion Board, email links and Collaborate classroom. I also set up a Student Café Collaborate room where students can meet to study or just chat. I personally try not to overwhelm students with too many software applications or techniques. Students are gradually introduced to other techniques as they further progress through the RN-BSN program.

What has been one of your most positive online teaching experiences? My most positive teaching experiences, which occurs every semester with newly admitted students who have never taken online classes before, involves teleconferencing, Skyping or meeting face-to-face  with these individuals and walking them step-by-step through my Blackboard course site. It is so rewarding to see students who were in tears because they thought they would not be able to learn the technology and do well in an online program, actually excel in this environment.

In addition to teaching, what professional activities are you involved in related to online education and building an online community? I am one of the SoNHS representatives on UMKC’s Online Education Advisory Group and UMKC’s eLearning Advisory Committee. I am an active member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE).

What’s the most exciting thing happening today in your area of study? My research interest involves incivility and workplace bullying, which unfortunately continues to be an ongoing issue across disciplines. The exciting thing related to my research topic is that I had been invited to share my research findings at various conferences. My plan is to develop a continuing education course on this topic.

Who has inspired you in your life and why? On a professional level, I have been inspired by John Dewey’s contributions as an educator and a social reformer who stressed that learning should be an interactive process. Paulo Freire’s involvement with educational, social and community health reform also helped develop me as an educator. My RN-BSN students also inspire me to do well as an online instructor. Many students have several years of nursing practice experience, and it is exciting to see them convey their enthusiasm for the new knowledge they acquired in the program and how they actually immediately apply that new knowledge to professional practice.

If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing instead? If I were no longer teaching, I would look for leadership opportunities at an Associate Dean or Dean level. I would also seek out professional opportunities through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as there continues to be a great need for the nursing profession to be a voice at the table to improve health care and expand academic, clinical and community partnerships.

What five words would you use to describe yourself? friendly, committed, respectful, humorous, loyal

What’s your best advice to new online instructors? I highly suggest that new online instructors invite an experienced online instructor to serve as a peer mentor and course evaluator. Under this arrangement, the peer mentor/evaluator would have full access to the new online instructor’s course site and would provide ongoing feedback throughout the semester.

Final words of wisdom? Online learning is constantly evolving and I find that challenging and yet, motivating. It is exciting to see students assume a sense of agency and ownership of their learning experience. I love my role, the interactions that I have with my students, and being a part of helping them achieve their educational and career goals.