News & Updates


National Distance Learning Week - November 10-14, 2014

National Distance Learning Week will take place during the week of November 10th to the 14th. Created in 2007 by the United States Distance Learning Association, NDLW seeks to celebrate the tremendous growth and accomplishments occurring today in distance learning education, while showing appreciation to those who make an indelible mark in the field and upon students.

Iowa State University AgOnline Learning has exponentially grown throughout the years, and AgOnline is proud to be a leader of online education. In an effort to create greater awareness of distance learning and to recognize exceptional leaders and best practices in the field, ISU AgOnline will honor a remarkable College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty for their great accomplishments in the field of online learning.

The Iowa State University AgOnline Teacher of the Year award is sponsored by the Brenton Center for Agricultural Instruction and Technology Transfer. This award recognizes those who have made significant contributions to credit or noncredit courses through online teaching. Candidates are nominated by AgOnline students and reviewed by the Brenton Center for Agricultural Instruction and Technology Transfer staff.

Michael Retallick, Agricultural Education & Studies is the 2014 winner. Previous award winners are Dr. Lester Wilson, University Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition 2012 and Dr. Donald Lewis, Entomology 2013. Dr. Lewis is the recipient of the 2014 UPCEA Central Region Award - Excellence in Teaching.

Dr. Michael Retallick - 2014
Dr. Donald Lewis - 2013
Dr. Lester Wilson - 2012


Brenton Center – Quality Matters Mini-Grant

The Quality Matters Mini-Grant is designed to assist faculty teaching CALS online Masters' graduate program or certificate courses to improve the quality of their online course design and online components. Brenton Center staff are trained in Quality Matters and will use the Quality Matters Rubric for course reviews that will result in continuous improvement and faculty development. The Brenton Center will support up to $2500 in labor costs per course to review CALS online graduate program or certificate courses and will provide a detailed QM Improvement Plan. Faculty agrees to implement the QM Improvement Plan utilizing Brenton Center staff. Additional course enhancements not listed in the QM Improvement Plan will be cost recovery and can be covered using distance education tuition funds from the department as part of their re-investment in online learning. To learn more about this contact Gaylan Scofield, Director - 294-0045.

Effective Online Courses

Online courses contain a variety of teaching tools. All are effective if they are used correctly but if they are not, they can hinder learning.

Online Discussions are a way to maintain instructor presence. Considerations for Online Discussions include identifying the correct number of discussions. Many instructors need to reduce the number of discussions to give students adequate time to reflect and respond with in depth responses. Instructors need to select good discussion topics that help accomplish the course objectives. Summaries of the discussions should be posted and acknowledgements should be sent to each student to provide a personal touch. Many instructors believe that online discussions are only for low enrollment classes. In large enrollment classes the instructor can divide the class into smaller groups and have several discussions happening. Students can be directed to summarize their group discussion and post their summary in a common discussion for the whole class. Instructors should utilize grading rubrics and provide examples of quality posts.

Feedback is necessary in any course. Instructors need to select the type and frequency of their feedback. Feedback needs to be timely to install positive learning. Feedback should start with a positive message about the students work before discussing areas that need improvement. A positive message provides encouragement and makes the student feel accomplishment. It is always important to include examples from the students’ work which will reinforce that the instructor has read the students’ work. The use of rubrics allows students to see how their work compares with the instructors’ expectations. Instructors can vary how feedback is delivered to the student from written comments to audio comments which give a sense of instructor presence and personal connection.

Synchronous communications components help create an online learning community. These components can also be a challenge if not used carefully. Students need to be aware of your synchronous communications requirements before they enroll in the class. Many online learners are working professionals who may not have the freedom to take time away from their day job to participate in a synchronous communication component. Students may also be concerned about the technology that may be required. Adding two or three synchronous communication sessions to your online course will allow you and your students to interact on key elements as you would in a traditional face-to-face class. Take advantage of technical support to ensure that your live sessions help promote learning in your class.

Professional Development Non-Credit Courses

The Brenton Center recently become approved to accept credit cards for professional development non-credit courses. If you have an interest in developing and offering professional development non-credit courses contact the Brenton Center for details.

Online Education Video

View the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Online Education video and learn what faculty, staff, and students have to say about their courses.

Iowa Distance Learning Association Innovators Award

Iowa State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Distance Education received the award in 2009.