In the Media

I spoke with Matthea Marquart, Assistant Dean, Online Education, Columbia University School of Social Work (CSSW), about the recent project she spearheaded to help instructors meet the teaching challenges of the pandemic. This project, Webinar series to support faculty who are new to teaching online, was named the 2020 IELA Award Winner in the Blended Learning Division.

They had a vision: Even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, CSSW held fast to its own mission of social justice and educational equity by hosting this webinar series online as a free program to be offered to any instructor, anywhere, offering much-needed guidance for those new to online teaching.

They were prepared: The course materials had already been developed as part of CSSW’s online Pedagogy Institute, and the team had a long-standing cadre of presenters who had already taught both online and in person.

Despite being developed so rapidly, out of necessity, the program succeeded in maintaining the highest standards of quality.

“There’s a stereotype of online courses as simply involving watching videos and posting in discussion forums, without really getting to know students or engaging with them in a meaningful way,” says Marquart, “and it can be a surprise that online courses can offer even more ways to interact with students than in-person courses. For example, live online classes offer webcam, mic, chat, and polling, which means that students can interact in a variety of ways throughout class, including in ways that appeal to both introverted and extroverted students.”

“Our team has expertise around all sorts of dimensions of online teaching,” Marquart says. “We hoped that in this time of the pandemic, with many educators transitioning to online education very quickly, it would be a valuable service to open up the training we offered to CSSW’s instructors who were moving their residential classes online, so that any instructor could participate or view the recordings.”

While the Columbia University School of Social Work dates back to 1898, it was not until 2015 that the Online Campus was launched and the program offering a Master of Science in Social Work was first offered to students across the United States. Great preparation was needed to ensure that the same standards of exemplary teaching would be provided to the online students as those attending on campus. This was also an opportunity for Columbia to blaze the trail. It is the only top-three school of social work to offer a fully online Master’s degree program.

It is no surprise that the Institute is finding great success under Matthea’s leadership. She made a point of reminding me that she has an amazing team of people working with her. One need look no further than the picture of Matthea and Delia Ryan, a Columbia Social Work alum and Live Support Specialist with the Online Campus who worked closely on improvements to the Institute’s program, to see that teamwork in action.

After Schinke died on Jan. 1, the school published an official announcement and a selection of online tributes on its website, as it would for any faculty member who had passed away. But Marquart and her colleagues wanted to do something more, to organize “a time everybody could come together online to remember him,” she said. They organized an online memorial using the same Adobe Connect platform that Schinke used to teach online. Around 100 people joined the online remembrance on Jan. 25. A good number of Schinke’s students tuned in, as did friends, colleagues and acquaintances who were using the online platform for the first time.

“What I heard from folks afterwards was that they didn’t know an online event could be so intimate. That you could convey so much emotion or feel so close to people,” said Marquart. “It ended up being a really nice way to honor and remember him.” She said it took a large number of people to plan and pull off the memorial. “This was a real team effort,” she said.

"The ultimate goal of training is to change behavior. In order to change behavior you need to give your learners an understanding of what new skills you want them to apply. Then you want to support them in being able to practice applying those new skills. Just knowing information is not enough.

When you think about that concept with classroom training you know that you really need to support the learner and appeal to all the different learning styles because not everyone learns the same way. When you want to spice up classroom training you want to increase their motivation to learn and their engagement. You want to make sure that they're actually awake, you want to make sure they're paying attention and really support the learners by chunking information into manageable pieces that they can get their heads around. All of that makes spicing up classroom training with interactive activities really important rather than something that's kind of fun to do."

BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) has been recognized by Training Magazine for developing the Blended Learning and Performance Project of the Year for its e-learning and professional development program. The honor was given as part of the magazine’s Technology in Action (TIA) Awards. Rolled-out in June 2008, the BELL program represents a best-of-breed, integrated training program that helped BELL train summer teachers and teacher’s assistants in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner.

The training team, led by Matthea Marquart and Zora Rizzi, devised the e-learning and professional development program to enable staff to master foundational content and concepts via a Web-based training tool; with a subsequent in-person training delivered by the training team. Prior to their in-person training, teachers and teacher’s assistants were required to complete 13 e-learning modules.

But for abortion to be perceived as a race and class issue, not just a white women's issue, the choice movement needs to represent–or at least connect with–the women getting abortions, who are the natural activists. The voices of young women, women of color and especially poor women (often also young women of color) tend not to inform abortion politics. You rarely find many women of color in prochoice organizations, especially on the boards. Whether the group is as huge as Planned Parenthood or as small as the New York Abortion Access Fund, you can almost bank on the fact that white women run it and black women (and to a lesser degree Latinas) are the "beneficiaries." Some current strategies of the prochoice movement, from focusing on the clueless young straw woman to NARAL's recent name change (to NARAL Pro Choice America, a moniker designed to appeal to mainstream–white, middle-class–America), aren't speaking to the women getting abortions, either.

"It goes all the way back to Jane Roe," says Matthea Marquart, 27, the president of NOW-NYC. "If she had been a higher-income woman, she would have gone to Mexico to get an abortion."