Darryl Meekins has a passion for education. He has been working in higher education for over a decade and has been teaching online for six years and teaches for the Global Affairs program. Darryl brings a unique outlook to the classroom as he teaches from across the globe. We asked Darryl how teaching abroad can bring a different perspective to his courses and how it has sparked new teaching methods.
Q: What is your teaching and professional background?
I have been teaching in higher education for about 15 years now. I have lived and worked all of my professional career internationally. I currently am living in my homeland of South Africa and work as an educational consultant in addition to teaching classes face to face and online. My PhD dissertation focused on the online learning space, and I am a certified Instructional Designer as well.
Q: You are teaching from Cape Town, South Africa, how have you used your unique perspectives in teaching?
Every context is of course unique and different, but in many ways the issues people are dealing with in the U.S. right now are the same ones the people of South Africa are dealing with as well. This allows for greater discussion in terms of the global landscape to naturally enter classroom discussions as well as to foster a genuine sense of understanding and empathy with “the other.”
Q: What new and innovative teaching methods have you brought to your online courses?
I believe quite strongly that online classes must be “humanized” and in some cases “re-humanized” again. Thus, I attempt to use as many of the tools as we have available to us to try and insert that human element whenever possible, from small ways like voice recorded feedback in assignments to truly being “there” for students to discuss issues in their lives and careers that are not only about class content. I think, at times, in the rush to make classes convenient we miss the element of conversation. Those small conversations can often make the biggest difference in the lives of students.
Q: How have students reacted?
I think it is appreciated by students to know that there is a real person on the other end of the process who cares genuinely. I have been able to have some great discussions over the past year.
Q: What are ways you connect with students? Do you use tools such as Zoom?
Yes, Zoom is a very helpful tool both for live discussion and to record elements to add throughout the week. Voice notes are great too. Occasionally students will reach out on social media as well. Of course, a good old-fashioned email works too! We really do have more ways to connect than ever before which is great.
Q: Do you have any advice for your colleagues who are looking to do something innovative in their online courses?
I’m a big believer in innovation and I love to tinker, but one must also interrogate the reason for including or not including a new element or tool. What we do must have a clear rationale that will (at least in theory) improve the aim of what we want to achieve. I would suggest that we should not get caught up in pursuing what is “new and shiny” simply because it is that. If you need to accomplish a goal and a new tool helps you do that in a way previously you could not – great! Don’t underestimate the power of simply being authentic.
Darryl Meekins has a PhD from North West University and teaches in the Global Affairs program.
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