Professor Lawson recognized for online instruction

By Amanda Weber –

Linda LawsonFrom a student’s perspective, taking an online course can be intimidating and difficult. Without the direct interaction that the traditional classroom setting provides, online courses can inhibit communication between professor and student, and completely eradicate the supportive relationships students have with one another, thereby taking a toll on performance.

However, if Linda Lawson (PhD, 1988) is teaching the online course, students find that they can get all of the advantages of being in an actual classroom, if not more, and that could be why Lawson won a UW Professional & Continuing Education Excellence in Teaching Award for 2010.

Lawson has worked as a professor at the Indiana University School of Journalism, University of Washington – Tacoma, she’s been a lecturer in the UW Department of Communication, and for the last 12 years she’s been an instructor with the UW Distance Learning program.

In the Distance Learning program, Lawson teaches two group-start courses: Mass Media Law, and History of Mass Communication. She also teaches one independent-start course: Press and Politics in the United States. In group-start courses, the classes are linked to the academic schedule, with students beginning the quarter and taking final exams at the same time as traditional students. Independent-start courses allow a student to begin at any time, with three months to complete the class.

While some of her students may be in another state working as an intern, or even another country studying abroad, Lawson maintains regular contact. “It might be surprising to some, but I often have more personal contact with students in an online class than in a regular classroom,” she said. “That might be because it’s sometimes more comfortable—and certainly more convenient—for students to write e-mail messages or to post comments in a discussion forum than to speak up in class or take the initiative to go to a faculty office.”

And her students do take part in many assignments and exercises that require interaction with her and one another. Each of her classes includes a discussion forum where students post their thoughts on class readings and current topics, and respond to their classmates. “This makes for much more in-depth and informed conversations than in a classroom,” said Lawson.

She also regularly posts “checking in” messages, to make sure everyone is on top of the class schedule and upcoming deadlines. These messages keep students reassured that they’re on the right track, and if they need help with anything, Lawson is always just a simple e-mail away. From her end-of-quarter reviews, one of her former students wrote, “Professor Lawson’s response and feedback to assignments was much more attentive and useful than most courses I’ve taken through my college career.”

Over the years, Lawson has been a source of encouragement for her students, but her colleagues admire her for her knowledge and abilities, as well. “I enjoyed working with Linda. I always appreciated her responsiveness to students and to me, and her obvious commitment to teaching excellent courses,” said Tony English, a former colleague.

Danielle Allsop, Lawson’s colleague since 2007, and program manager of online courses said, “Her unwavering commitment to her field and to her students sets her apart. She constantly strives to improve her courses and her teaching to ensure that students have the highest quality educational experience. Linda embraces new technology and new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. These qualities make her an invaluable member of the UW teaching community.”

When it was announced that Lawson had been selected for this award, she said it felt wonderful to be recognized for her work, but that she’s just happy she can provide a service to students whose schedules demand such flexibility. “Online classes allow them to fulfill their educational goals without having to quit their regular jobs,” she said. “I’m happy to be part of the University’s expanding online program.”