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Online Learning Interview with Dr. Sandie Kiehl

Dr. Sandie Kiehl is Professor Emeritus of Business at Linfield College, currently teaching online primarily in the areas of Strategic Management and International Management. She was Exchange professor at Sichuan International Studies University, Chongqing, Sichuan PRC. Dr. Kiehl’s experience includes being a Systems Engineer for IBM and extensive MIS consulting in small to medium sized businesses in a variety of industries.

Her experience gives her a great perspective in the advancements and growing demand for quality online education. We interviewed Sandie about Linfield College’s Adult Degree Program, and how online education works for her and her students.

How long have you been teaching business courses online?

I have been teaching business courses for as long as Linfield’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE) has been offering courses in the online format. I have actually taught for DCE since 1989 and have taught in every format that they have offered in that time.

One criticism of online learning is the lack of social interaction for students. What kind of interaction do students have with each other in your online classes? In the beginning of a semester, how do you facilitate their getting acquainted with one another?

There is no lack of opportunities for social interaction in my Strategic Management class. A requirement of this course is a mandatory, all-day, on-campus, face-to-face session each term. This gives the students and I a chance to get to know each other “up close and personal.” This is important because students must work in self-selected teams for a major portion of the coursework.

There are always some students who cannot make this meeting because they live in other states and occasionally in other countries. However, many students have “packaged” the Saturday meeting with a business trip, a trip home to Oregon, or even a family vacation.

Teams of three or four run an online simulation of owning their own athletic shoe companies. Teams must make all the decisions, marketing, production, distribution, financial, etc., to effectively compete In international markets. This particular aspect of the course requires teams be in close communication all semester. The teams that are the most actively involved tend to be the most successful at running their companies. To facilitate this, the classroom has private workspaces and private chat rooms, plus students will meet by conference call and web conference.

What kind of interaction do online students have with you as the professor? Do you have any ways you reach out to your students individually throughout the semester?

I try to be responsive to my students by responding to any queries at least six times daily. Students take online classes so they have flexibility. Waiting for instructor responses can remove some of that flexibility and impedes the student’s ability to make progress.

I do the same when I grade papers. I always make the offer to have a telephone conversation to clear up any questions based on how I graded a paper.

Who are your students, in terms of their life occupations and backgrounds?

Many chose Linfield to complete a degree that was started some years ago, but interrupted for a wide variety of reasons. Their work backgrounds are quite diverse, but most indicate that having a bachelor’s degree is necessary for further advancement.

Do you feel learning about business subjects like the ones you teach (Strategic Management, International Management) lends itself well to an online format?

The more “black and white” the subject matter is, the easier it is to both teach and learn in an online environment. As the integration of ideas becomes more important in coursework, I believe that both the instructor and students will have to work a bit harder to bring it all together.

What advice would you give a prospective adult student considering pursuing their bachelor’s degree in business or management through online learning?

The advice I would give consists of the following very interrelated pieces:
1. Do not consider online courses unless you are a self-starter. You must have the self-discipline to stay on track.
2. You cannot be a procrastinator. Do not wait until the last minute to complete the learning activities or you will minimize what you really learn and retain.
3. Most courses have asynchronous discussions. Responding at the beginning of the time period allotted to the discussion is beneficial to learning. When everyone waits until the last minute, there is no time to respond to your colleagues, limiting discussion.
4. Ask questions of your instructors. You aren’t expected to understand everything as initially presented in the textbook, and lecture notes.

Where do you see online learning going in the next five years?

I believe that online learning will be enhanced by new technology. The ability to easily and inexpensively use Web-conferencing tools will be a vast improvement over our current use of chat rooms and discussions.

Professor Kiehl teaches classes that fulfill requirements of Linfield’s online Management degree, and online International Business degree.