TeachOnline (TO) recently had the opportunity to talk with ASU’s Gina Woodall (GW), a political science faculty member with the School of Politics and Global Studies. Dr. Woodall has taught face-to-face, online, and hybrid courses for many years.

TO: How long have you been a member of the Political Science faculty at ASU?

GW: I’ve been a full-time faculty member at ASU since 2007, although I was an adjunct from about 2004-2007 (during graduate school and shortly thereafter).

TO: Where did you go to school? Where is home?

GW: Interestingly enough, my alma mater is ASU!  Home is Arizona (and ASU)!  I earned all 3 degrees from our School and have never left.  Different life experiences culminated in my decision to stay at ASU for graduate school, and then of course for work.   I have to say, I have no regrets.  ASU has completely changed during the last 15 years or so.  It’s like I’m at a very different university compared to the one in 1995, and even compared to the one in 2002.  It’s been fun and exciting to see and be a part of the changes.  Change is the one constant here at ASU.

TO: Why did you choose the discipline of political science?

GW: I think political science chose me more than me choosing it.  Political socialization is very powerful and, as a child, my parents *always* read/kept up with the news and politics, and, so, we (my sisters’ and I) did too.    We ate dinner together at least 6 nights a week throughout my entire childhood/adolescence….that’s a lot of dinner conversation about politics, news, and other things.  And, with my family, you better be prepared to state your view and then back it up.  These were loud, lively discussions. My parents were very passionate about a few issues and I was exposed to that consistently throughout my childhood.   I think because of this exposure, I was always very much interested in how government (and politics) works and what its role is in our lives.  I still think about this question all the time.

TO: What do you enjoy most about teaching?

GW: I think what I enjoy the most about teaching (and this has changed over the years) is my relationships with students.  One of my goals every academic year is to get to know 15-20 students pretty well; it doesn’t seem like much as I teach between 300-400 a semester, but it makes a huge difference in how I approach all students and the effort students put into the class.   I’ve learned that once students feel comfortable around you and trust you, they have a much greater capacity to learn and want to learn.  It’s important to me that they keep asking critical questions and keep *wanting* to learn more about whatever it is we are studying.   Another thing that I want to add is that students are quite impressive.  Every year I learn about how multi-lingual and well-traveled our students are.  I am also impressed with their public speaking skills; they are very confident.  So, when you think about how young these people are (19-22), and what they’ve already accomplished; it’s astonishing.  They are truly global citizens.   I’m proud to call them my students.

TO: Do you have an area of specialization within the discipline?

GW: I enjoy examining the relationship between gender and media coverage and gender and campaigns in general. How are female and male candidates covered differently in the media?  What are the implications of this difference?  Do men and women candidates use different campaign strategies when running for office?   Right now I’m working with a colleague on how Costa Rican women and men use “gendered” speech differently in Parliament.  This is new to me as I had just focused on the U.S. until now.
TO: Tell us about your experiences teaching online:

GW: I think I taught my first online class in the Fall of 2005 or Spring 2006.  I think it was for the BIS department.  My biggest surprise was how much work is involved in prepping and teaching an online class!

I think I enjoy what students enjoy about it: flexibility.  You save time because you don’t have to physically “be” anywhere; you save money on gas, and you can connect with your students whenever you’d like.  I also like how teaching online sort of levels the playing field, intellectually.  In a classroom, you have students who would never speak up or offer an idea in front of 200 people.  But, put those same students in an online class, and they aren’t as reserved.  I’m not saying these same people shouldn’t work on “coming out of their shell” or public speaking, but I think they are conditioning themselves, in a non-threatening way, to be more comfortable with who they are and to have less self-doubt about their ideas.

TO: Please describe the learning environment in your online classes. In your opinion, how are the learning outcomes online? Would you say that online learning is as rigorous as the classroom?

GW: I would like to say that the learning environment in my classes is (1) welcoming and (2) open/transparent.  Every student enrolled in my classes has the potential to earn an A or an A+.  Every single student.  Every opinion/idea is valued.  Everybody has something to contribute.  I think online learning *can* be as rigorous as the classroom.  But, it could also be more rigorous.  It can also be less rigorous.  It really depends on a number of factors: (1) content (2) design (3) faculty.

In my 301 course, for example, my face-to-face students do not get to use their notes to take exams.  My online students, however, do.  Some may say the online students have it easier.  But, this is incorrect.  My online students actually have additional quizzes as well as additional writing assignments compared to my face-to-face students.  So, now which course is more rigorous?  Also, the online environment can be dizzying.  In my opinion, you need to be more “on your toes” in the online classes.  Being hyper-organized is a good thing in these classes for both the professors and the students.

TO: Please describe your level of interaction with students in an online classroom. How do you interact with students? How do they interact with one another? How does that level of interaction compare to the classroom?

GW: I enjoy interacting with my online students.  First, I have a “Who Are You?” discussion board at the beginning of the semester where I tell students who I am (inside and outside of the classroom) and post a picture.  I ask them to do the same.  Also, I make short little YouTube videos every week or every other week for my students, telling them how they are doing, or upcoming due dates, etc.  Students (I think) enjoy seeing my face and hearing my reminders (or they pretend to like it!).  Students interact with one another on discussion boards and sometimes in groups.  So, in a class of 200, I may have 15 groups, where 15-20 students get to know each other and each other’s work pretty well.  I will also have “live” review sessions where students can see me talking, live, and they IM me questions they have about an exam.  The technology works pretty well and students appreciate it. I don’t think you can really compare the interaction levels to a face-to-face classroom. It’s just different.  In a classroom, the interaction is more spontaneous, ad-lib type discussions.  In the online environment, you have less of this.  It’s not “good” or “bad,” it’s just different.
TO: Please describe your online students. How would you characterize their discipline, maturity, intellectual curiosity, and academic performance, etc.?

GW: To be honest, at this point in my life, I have more in common with my online students (generally speaking) than my face-to-face students.  Online students are usually a bit older, often have families, and are working part-time or full-time AND they are in school.  Many of them do not have “extra” or “free” time.  Most get a chuckle when I ask, “what do you do in your free time?”  They are serious about their education.  They are in school because they want to finish their degree and provide a better life for their families.  Or, they want to finish school to show their children that earning a college degree is extremely important and that learning is enjoyable, even when you’re busy.  I will never forget one student of mine who was a mother of six, worked part-time, and was in school full-time.  This student was #1 or #2 in a course of 200.  She was never late on any assignment, did near perfect on all her assessments and was an amazing writer.  I told her she has to continue her education and go to grad school.  She said she wasn’t in a position to do it right now (due to family; it was one of her children’s turn to go to college), but that it was a goal she WOULD fulfill.  I’m holding her to it.  I know she will continue.  She is one of my heroes.

TO: In your opinion, what might surprise a first time online student in one of your classes about the experience, course design, academic rigor, etc.?

GW: Well, what was surprising to me when I completed an online teaching workshop (where I was a student) is how many hats you have to juggle in ONE class.  For example, all the myriad of assignments that are due (writing/blog/video/exam/quiz) and their different due dates; I got stressed out!  The most challenging thing is how much TIME it takes to successfully complete all the assignments.  It takes A LOT of time to do all the readings, study/think about them, write essays, be tested on the readings, blog, and come up with your own video or presentation of some sort.  Then, on top of this, some students are taking 4 of these types of classes on top of work and everything else.  So, the rigor of the courses must not be underestimated, nor should the estimated amount of time you need to put into each one.  I have much more empathy for my students and what they are trying to do after being a student in an online workshop.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to cheat them of an intellectually rigorous course, it just means that I can understand where they are coming from. This improves my teaching.