Science professor helped pioneer online learning | Carolyn Allen

From Contact magazine, Spring 2014


Through her nearly 20 years of teaching, Palm Beach State Professor Carolyn Allen has successfully merged two of her passions to teach and inspire students – microbiology and technology.

She was the first professor to teach an online class at the College in the mid-1990s, and since then she has incorporated an online component into all of her microbiology classes, even the labs that are taught face-to-face.

“I’m passionate about microbiology, and I’m passionate about teaching and the use of technology in education,’’ said Allen who became a full-time professor in 1994 after teaching as an adjunct for about two years.

Since pioneering distance learning at Palm Beach State, Allen has seen the College’s number of online courses jump from one Environmental Conservation course then to 1,100 online course sections offered in the fall and spring terms today. She taught an online Environmental Conservation course after working with a computer science professor who was eager for the College to launch distance learning.

“We started on a wish and a prayer. There was no Blackboard,’’ Allen said, referring to Palm Beach State’s current and more sophisticated online class content management system. “The computer science faculty member ran the server out of his office so we could offer classes in a password protected environment. I know HTML because of that. We really started from absolute scratch. The demand for online classes grew very quickly.”

Most of Allen’s students are preparing for careers in nursing or other health fields, and she says the online resources help students master microbiology content, which is critical to their education and their success in health care. She posts all of her lectures, videos and notes online as well as matching and crosswords games related to microbiology, which she created to help students.

“I believe so strongly in the fact that they need this information and background for their health profession. I try to instill in them the same respect that I have for microorganisms and the havoc they can wreak as well as the good that they can do. By the time I finish a semester with a class, they really are infected with the need to know more about microorganisms and to understand the role that microorganisms play in the hospital setting and the disease process.”

With online learning or online components, today’s busy students can learn anywhere and anytime. “Technology is definitely a tool, and it’s a tool that I strongly believe in using to empower my students so that they can work on their course materials 24/7.

Whether they are on campus or not, everything is available to them. If they want to work at 3 o’clock in the morning they can,’’ she said. Students say her teaching methods and use of technology are effective. “I was really intimidated about this class prior to attending. She makes this class really fascinating,’’ said PBSC student Ryan Kelly, whose goal is to become a nurse practitioner. “She is very knowledgeable, the labs are interesting and she takes complex concepts and makes them easier for us to understand.”

need to ask….

Q What does it take to teach online?

A I strongly believe that if you’re going to teach online you need to be available seven days a week. I’m very Type A in that if they ask me a question online on Sunday at 1 in the afternoon, they’re going to get an answer that same afternoon. I do sleep, but I try to answer them off and on throughout the day and on holidays – maybe not as quickly as if I’m sitting here at my desk, but I stay connected to them.

Q How critical is microbiology today?

A What’s happening in microbiology is going to revolutionize the health care field in the next 10 years, and that depends a lot on genetic engineering, which we cover in the class. Nursing [and other pre-health care] students should and do find this really exciting. They will be the ones that are working in the health fields when these changes are happening.

Q What role does technology play in microbiology?

A  The things in microbiology that are going to change health care utilize technology. Technologies such as the engineering of tumor-targeting immune system cells (to cure cancer) are vital to the future of health care.

Q What role does technology play in microbiology?

A The things in microbiology that are going to change health care utilize technology. Technologies such as the engineering of tumor-targeting immune system cells (to cure cancer) are vital to the future of health care.

Q Did you always know that you were going to teach microbiology?

A I did not. Once I started teaching as an adjunct, I realized I had found my passion.

See Professor Carolyn Allen in action and learn more about her passion.

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