Online Teaching Immersion Experience for STEM Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

The Online Teaching Immersion Experience program was made possible by a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Guidance for Trainees Grant. Our program taught best practices in online course design and pedagogy to STEM graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. It involved a collaborative effort between Thomas Jefferson and Widener Universities.

Sponsored By


Mary Gozza-Cohen is an Assistant Director of Curriculum in the Institute of Emerging Health Professions in the College of Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University with faculty appointments in the Department of Occupational Therapy in the Post Professional Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program and the College of Life Sciences. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University at Albany. Her prior experience includes a full-time faculty member in various schools of education, Director of Technology Integration and Online Teaching and Learning, occupational therapy practitioner and various administrative business experiences in the medical industry. Her expertise in teaching, educational psychology, evidence-based practices in all learning environments, and special interest in online teaching and learning is utilized in her current role at TJU. She provides 1:1 assistance and professional development and support on course re/design, pedagogy, formative assessment, technology integration, and collaborates on grant projects, serves on dissertation committees, conducts research, and presents at conferences.
Dr. Lisa Kozlowski is Associate Dean for Student and Postdoctoral Affairs at Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) in Philadelphia. She received her PhD in Immunology from the University of Pennsylvania and did a postdoc at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She then worked as a Program Director at Science's Next Wave. She moved on to become a consultant, helping disciplinary societies and universities provide career workshops to their students and postdocs. In October 2003, she founded the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Jefferson and has directed it ever since. She sets policies to provide a positive training environment for postdocs and their faculty advisors. Dr. Kozlowski provides individual career counseling for graduate students and postdocs as well as organizes career seminars, professional development workshops, and postdoc orientations. She is the faculty advisor for the Jefferson Postdoctoral Association, Graduate Student Association and the Jefferson Business and Biotechnology Group. Dr. Kozlowski is the student affairs liaison and diversity and inclusion representative for the Jefferson College of Biomedical Sciences. Additionally, she works with Jefferson’s Admissions Office on the recruitment of MS and PhD students. Her professional association involvement includes Past President of the Association for Women in Science, Philadelphia chapter, the planning committee for the National Postdoctoral Association’s Annual Meeting and Past Chair of the Postdoctorate Leaders Section of the AAMC’s GREAT Group. In her free time, she is an editor and blogger for the American Society for Microbiology’s Microbe Mentor.

Additional Authors

Natalie Chernets, PhD, is an Assistant Professor, Director of Postdoctoral Affairs and Professional Development, and Associate Director of MD/PhD Program at Drexel University. She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Drexel University and did three distinct postdocs at Thomas Jefferson University, where she was an officer in their postdoctoral association. Before rejoining Drexel University, Natalie was the first Administrative Postdoctoral Fellow at Jefferson College of Biomedical Sciences Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Thomas Jefferson University. Her accomplishments include founding the Mentors in Motion program, an informal networking opportunity for Jefferson students and postdoctoral fellows while engaging in a healthy physical activity. With multidisciplinary training in Physics, Electrical Engineering, and Biomedical Sciences, she easily speaks the languages of medical doctors, biologists, physicists, and engineers. Natalie excels in drawing ideas from multiple disciplines and enjoys creating opportunities by connecting different people. In her role as a Mentoring Co-Chair for the Philadelphia chapter of the Association for Women in Science, Natalie leads the recruitment of local mentors and promotes the Mentoring Circle program to trainees. Additionally, Dr. Chernets serves as a Mentor for the Philadelphia chapter of the Association for Women in Science and volunteers for the National Postdoctoral Association Advocacy Committee.

Extended Abstract

          Given the continued growth of online education and its importance for postsecondary institutions, it is imperative that institutions of higher education provide quality online programs taught by faculty who are well-prepared to do so. Until recently, most STEM doctoral programs favored discipline expertise over teaching skills resulting in new faculty members in higher education who are ill-prepared to teach in a traditional classroom, let alone an online learning environment. Doctoral programs need to prepare our future educators to teach in this unique learning environment. Research on faculty development indicates that such programs can have positive impacts on instructor transitions from teaching in a face-to-face to an online setting (e.g., Conrad, 2004; Kim & Bonk, 2006).

          There are a number of unique challenges in effective online course design and teaching that require training from an experienced professional. While the goals and objectives of an on-campus course can be identical to an online course, the delivery of the content, student engagement and assessment of learning are different. The skills, techniques and considerations for engagement must be explicitly taught to educators (Conrad, 2004; Craig, 2014; Gozza-Cohen, 2016). Additionally, many STEM graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, collectively referred to as trainees, have never experienced online learning as students.  Higher education institutions and independent organizations are beginning to address these issues, but the rate of preparation is not in keeping with the current need (e.g., Boggess, 2017).

          Interestingly, health profession programs such as nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy are leading the transition to online programs to accommodate established professionals in their field and help them achieve higher education leading to promotion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million vacancies will emerge for registered nurses between 2014 and 2022. Therefore, nursing programs are leading the online-content shift to reach their professionals and require more quality online instructors. Biomedical trainees have the research background to support the science courses that are offered in these disciplines; therefore, expertise and understanding of online instruction will help the trainees enter into these teaching roles. Based on the 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the biomedical science trainees are in a unique position to teach courses needed for two of these rapidly growing fields—biological sciences and nursing and other health specialties. Because many of these trainees were themselves traditional undergraduate students majoring in the biological sciences at four-year institutions, they may not be aware of all of the opportunities to teach courses required for nursing and other health specialties.

            In the biomedical sciences, trainees interested in becoming future teaching faculty rarely receive the training necessary to adequately prepare for them for this technological, pedagogical revolution. To address this identified need in the Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) College of Biomedical Sciences, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and the Center for Teaching and Learning proposed an immersive training experience to instruct biomedical trainees in evidence-based course design and pedagogical practices.  A Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Guidance for Trainees grant was awarded that allowed the Jefferson College of Biomedical Sciences (JCBS) to implement a pilot program to accomplish the following:

  • Develop a collaborative relationship with the Widener University School of Nursing and an interprofessional relationship between JCBS and Jefferson’s Colleges of Nursing, Population Health and Health Professions.

  • Provide funding for STEM trainees and faculty mentors who engage in 1:1 meetings with assigned trainees while the trainees observed their fully online courses.

  • Develop and teach two courses for the trainees on the principles of online course design and pedagogy that included, in part, trainee-developed learning modules in STEM education and self-reflection journals.

  • Provide professional development workshops on teaching portfolio development and negotiation skills.

  • Attend and present at the Online Learning Consortium 2018 Conference.

          This Online Teaching Immersion Experience was designed, in part, to enhance the STEM trainees’ teaching skills, educate them about different learning environments (on-campus, blended, and online), and improve their marketability for faculty positions that require teaching. Our ‎partnership with the TJU and Widener leaders in the online learning realm offered our trainees a unique opportunity to participate in a mentored, immersive, online teaching and learning ‎experience.  In this presentation, we will discuss our successes and limitations.

Presenters will provide the following:

  • Overview of the program and its development

  • Online course teaching and learning activities including demonstration of course site

  • Development and use of an online Mentor Community for faculty and grant facilitators

  • STEM trainee-developed module demonstrations and audience participation

  • Trainee workshop activity details

  • Trainee perspectives on the grant-related activities

  • Mentor perspectives on the grant-related activities

  • Sample portfolio(s)

Presenters will engage the audience:

  • in live participation in one or more trainee-developed online STEM modules;

  • by discussing trials and tribulations;

  • in a conversation to share and solicit ideas for sustainability moving forward