Online classes: Dental instructor reaches those who can’t come to campus

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You might say that online education runs in Robin Williams’ family.

Williams started teaching online courses at Great Falls College MSU in 2004, but her father’s history with online education goes back even further. He was the first director of Montana State University’s Master of Science in Science Education when the online program launched in the late 1990s.

It was because of her dad’s stories about teaching online that Williams signed up to become an online instructor.

“I’ve just always thought it’s a really nice way to reach out to people who can’t make it to campus,” Williams said.

Williams, a dental assistant and dental hygiene instructor, has taught a variety of courses online, including medical terminology, theory of infection control, biology and a hybrid course (which is a mixture of online and in-person instruction) on dental office management.

Williams has seen some major changes to online instruction in the past dozen years.

“It used to be that online students read, took tests and posted discussions,” she said. “Now I find it’s a lot more interactive. The students get a lot more out of it.”

For many of her online courses, Williams records audio lectures for students to listen to. In some online classes, students divide into groups for group projects.

Advancements in technology mean there are constantly new ways to teach online.

Williams is working to replace her audio lectures with video lectures, using the college’s Lightboard, a tool that allows instructors to write on a clear board without ever having to turn their back to their virtual classroom. (To see an example of a Lightboard lecture, visit

Around 2005, she worked with Rob Truax, a biology teacher at Great Falls High and past adjunct instructor at GFC MSU, to develop a fully online biology course where students completed labs at home with items they could find in their kitchen or purchase for a minimal cost.

“It was the first one of its kind at Great Falls College MSU,” she said.

Today, Williams works closely with the eLearning staff at Great Falls College MSU. The instructional designers at the college help her find innovate ways to teach to online students.

“If I have an idea for something I want to do, they will help me set it up,” she said.

“They have been amazing,” Williams said. “Instructional designers are key in the success of online courses.”

Williams likes that online education in constantly changing.

“It keeps my brain fresh,” she said.

She’s also found that teaching online has made her a better instructor in her face-to-face classes.

“When you teach online, you have to be sure everything is very clear because you don’t have students to ask questions in real time,” Williams said. “It actually has made it so I’m a lot clearer when teaching all of my classes.”

Williams also puts online techniques to use in her in-person classes.

“My face-to-face courses are strongly web-enhanced,” she said.

For example, in her face-to-face head, neck and oral anatomy class, Williams has her students listen to audio lectures before coming to class. Then during class time, they do hands-on activities.

“As they’re doing the activities, they make the connection with what they learned in the audio lectures,” she said. “I get to see lightbulbs going off all over the place.”

Great Falls College MSU offers eight programs entirely online. For more information on the online courses and degrees available through GFC MSU, visit

[Source:-Great Falls Tribune]

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