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UAGC Staff Member

Dr. Cheri Ketchum has been teaching for nearly 25 years. Communication opportunities during COVID-19 caused a lull in the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Club, headed by Dr. Ketchum, here at UAGC. I reached out to her as a Journalism student in 2022 to become involved in the student publication, and after a lot of work behind the scenes, the Global Campus Voice came to fruition. I interviewed Dr. Ketchum to get her take on Journalism and Mass Communication in an online schooling environment. 

Tiffany Galvin: Starting out with the basics, tell me about yourself. How long have you been teaching? How is UAGC different from teaching you've done in the past?

Dr. Cheri Ketchum: I’ve been teaching since 2000, in some capacity. I earned my PhD at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). There, and at all the UC campuses, graduate students usually had their tuitions paid on some level by agreeing to be Teaching Assistants. This involved overseeing one section of a class. We met with students weekly to go over the material, set expectations, and oversee discussions of course content. From 2003 to 2005, I began teaching my own classes during summers. Those classes were similar to the UAGC system, in that they were intensive, 5-week courses. That was good training for working here, even though it was not planned.

I took a break from working in academia from 2005-2010. During most of that time, I worked for a labor union as a Research Analyst. I helped them find information and develop campaigns to either support the union getting new members or new contracts for existing members. It was interesting work, as I learned about how power operates, both within and between organizations in conflict. That was a pre-cursor to, and a good set-up, for teaching COM 325 - Communication and Conflict, a class I teach regularly here at UAGC. Right now, I primarily teach it and COM 223 - Persuasion in Communication. Prior to that, I primarily taught COM 200 – Interpersonal Communication.

Generally, the differences between teaching at UAGC and here were that we met live, for six hours each week. In each class, I lectured for about an hour and a half and then we’d either have a discussion or I’d show a video that we’d discuss either the second half of the class or the next class. They wrote weekly papers, like here, so the grading was similar. I still create some type of “lecture” here in all of my classes.

While people often assume there is less instructor-student interaction in online classes, that has not been my experience. Though it is electronic communication, I have had much more direct contact with students in these online classes and have gotten to know them better through both emails and discussion forums than I did in my live classes.

T.G.: How do you stay engaged with students from an online position?

C.K.: I send weekly emails, designed to open the channels of communication and to offer them additional support, including sample weekly papers. I am also active in the announcements and discussion forums. I also offer extensive feedback on papers and invite students to have additional conversations, about both the content and my assessment of their work.

T.G.: Have there been significant changes or advancements in your field of expertise since you began teaching? How have you navigated them?

C.K.: My background was in media studies and my dissertation was about public discourses around food, with a focus on the Food Network and the organic food movement. That is content that is not in much of the current curriculum at UAGC, but I am redesigning a Liberal Arts class that allows me have conversations with students about food. If anyone is interested, one of the papers I wrote based on my dissertation research is called “The essence of cooking shows: How the Food Network constructs consumer fantasies.”

When I started teaching here, I taught a wide variety of classes, including journalism courses. Given half of my dissertation was about news coverage of the organic food movement, it was easy to teach those classes, as I’d read a lot about that topic. For the communication courses, I had to do a bit of stretching at first and read about phenomena to which I hadn’t given much attention. I’ve found all the content to be interesting and important and have done a great deal of additional research to ensure I am comfortable with the material. I see students gaining a lot from their experiences in the communication classes and therefore personally gain from seeing how the content can transform people’s ideas and lives.

T.G.: What are the biggest resources or pieces of advice you can offer students who are going through this journey?

C.K.: In terms of just getting through, I’d say students need to ensure they schedule time each week to do the tasks. I would even create a time estimate for what needs to be done for each element and write it into a calendar and follow the timeline each week. Time management, and just not having time, seems to be the biggest barrier to doing well here and so that is the biggest challenge.

Now, if there are struggles with understanding material and doing well on course tasks, the biggest task is to admit they are struggling, so they can get resources in each area. UAGC has tutors and the CHAMPS program to help with the understanding content part. They can also meet directly with instructors, as we are always happy to provide more personal assistance. The same is true for doing well on course tasks. To do well, students should bravely ask instructors for advice and more precise feedback, if they don’t understand why they scored lower than they’d hoped and ask for additional direction. So, the answer is enacting contact (engagement) on their end.

In terms of earning high scores, the most important task is to ensure you understand the course expectations and exactly how to reach them. Instructors have some variation in how they understand and enforce the expectations and the more time students spend reading their advice, the better they will do.

T.G.: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

C.K.: I would just like to thank you for taking the time to ask these questions and read my replies. One of the main goals of starting this publication was to give students a space to share their stories and other creative ventures. However, I like the idea of having a little space where students can get to know some instructors as well. I hope this gives you a bit of a “slice of life” of an instructor.

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