Carla Konyk-Tulp is the Vice President and Director of Administration at the University of Science, Arts and Technology, Montserrat. After earning a degree in Specialized Business from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Carla Konyk-Tulp studied biology and medicine at the London College of Medicine. For almost two decades, she has served as USAT’s Director of Administration. Providing a quality medical school program to a unique student population has been extremely rewarding for Ms. Konyk-Tulp. Her position includes managing the staff and facilities at the Olveston campus on Montserrat, and the team at the administrative office, providing individual student guidance, and assisting graduates preparing for medical board examinations. Under her administrative leadership, the medical school has graduated hundreds of medical doctors and Ph.D. recipients.
When she is not helping students become doctors, Ms. Konyk-Tulp loves spending time watching and learning about the local wildlife or “just doing nothing” with her husband, Orien, at their mountain home. She also enjoys shopping with her two daughters, investing in real estate, and driving fast cars.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing educators and learners in distance education today, and how can these challenges be addressed?
The biggest challenges have to do with the reliance on online sources for information instead of memorization requirements that once were so important for course mastery. When I was growing up, there was pressure associated with learning, and like it or not, you were required to remember more. I feel that online learning doesn’t really include that anymore. In my opinion, course rubrics are structured with so many layers that a student is able to achieve a better-than-average grade with less effort. I think this is because the information is available through so many channels and online sources educators must allow students to look up the answers instead of studying. Study skills are still very important, and now more than ever, the discipline needed to excel should not be replaced by technology.
However, that being stated, it is also important that students use online sources that are credible and accurate. We don’t always know who contributed the information or their purpose in sharing it. Students can be taught techniques to identify incorrect information and to beware of less-than-credible sources. This is one of the biggest reasons that university library resources are made available to all students. The internet alone may not provide access to scholarly journals and articles that provide a deeper study of the subject matter.
Finally, the challenge facing educators in today’s online education model is the use of online class time, sometimes called “seminars.” These are usually hour-long required class meetings that count for student interaction time with the professor and other students. They are fairly impersonal, as compared to an actual classroom. All communication is through a chat box. Questions are encouraged, although the hour doesn’t allow for lengthy explanations, and students generally have little opportunity for quality time or socialization.
How can distance education be used to promote lifelong learning and professional development, and what are some of the most effective strategies for encouraging adult learners to engage in online education?
Lifelong learning should be a part of everyone’s experience going forward. What you may have learned twenty years ago was a great foundation, but now you still need to continue to learn and adapt because the evolution of shared knowledge is moving forward so quickly. Research and global connections are presenting new opportunities for careers in specialized areas, such as data science, information security analysis and digital marketing. Programs in general have evolved over time based on new research about how people learn and where technology is going.
If you’re not learning all the time, you are missing so much. You may be relying on obsolete information and ideas that are holding you back and keeping you from being at the top of your game. The most effective learning support strategies are improving all the time. For example, digital books are available on or offline no matter where you are. With electricity and an internet connection you can complete a course. This is why it is common to have students in the military who are stationed abroad in an online class. There are also vast library resources and databases in many different disciplines available for research and a broader perspective of the subject matter. Publications can easily be edited or expanded in digital format without waiting for a completely new edition to be printed.
Finally, as with anything else, you have to balance the benefits with the shortcomings; however, I think that distance learning is an overall success. It has enabled more students to take many more specialty courses or take a degree program that they may not have attempted given the requirement of a brick-and-mortar campus. Students are free to take from it what they wish; they can do the very minimum or put forth the effort to learn much more.