Health Science Adjunct Goes the Distance to Teach

Posted: July 13, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Tracey Koehlmoos
Tracey Koehlmoos

As the wife of a U.S. Army defense attaché, Tracey Lynn Perez Koehlmoos is used to picking up and moving around the world, taking her three sons, cat, dog and treasured possessions with her.

But three weeks ago, she also moved the course she was teaching – Introduction to the U.S. Health System – to Bangladesh with her. It all went so seamlessly that her students hardly knew she was no longer chatting with them from Fairfax, Va., but instead from inside an American Embassy complex half a world away.

The course was the first Koehlmoos, an adjunct professor in the College of Health and Human Services, had taught via the Internet, and she began planning for it in the first months of this year. She recorded her lectures in the GMU-TV studio, adapted her syllabus to accelerated web learning and, with the help of the Instructional Resource Center (IRC), got up to speed on the technology she would need to teach the course.

“I am still a little in awe of the technology that has allowed me to teach from a variety of locations all over the planet,” she says.

Her 17 students, mostly in the MS in Health Systems Management program, were scattered all over the state and planet as well, but with the Internet linking them, they were able to learn asynchronously and in real-time in chat rooms. Even old-fashioned technology – the telephone – could be used. Koehlmoos was surprised and delighted to discover that she could call any number in the Washington, D.C., area at local rates, with a good connection to boot.

Even when Koehlmoos was on her way to Bangladesh, she kept up-to-the-minute with her students by logging in during a stopover in London. “As long as I have an Internet connection, I can teach,” she says. She made sure that her new house in Dhaka was wired and connected before she arrived.

“I had a student who was worried about taking the course because she was going to Taiwan this summer,” Koehlmoos says. “I said, ‘As long as you have a computer and a reliable Internet connection, you can take the course. You just need to be prepared to find a Kinko’s or Internet café or go to a friend’s house if your connection is down.’”

Koehlmoos is proud of the fact that all of her students completed the intensive seven-week course. “Traditionally, there is a higher attrition rate for distance classes,” she explains. “But I really worked hard to make it feel ‘personal’ for the students.”

In particular, the Internet class worked well for one profoundly hearing impaired student who was able to have the lectures transcribed through the assistance of the Office of Disability Services. Koehlmoos doubts the other students in the class had any idea that this student had a disability since all of the communications among them were online. “In a regular classroom, the student would have required a sign language interpreter,” she notes.

Koehlmoos, who has a PhD in public health and a Master of Health Administration, brings global experience to her teaching, having lived and worked in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Nepal, where she was a UN international monitor and observer.

“Tracey is a valuable faculty member in the Department of Health Administration and Policy,” says Chair P.J. Maddox. “When her husband’s transfer was imminent, it made sense to have her put the courses she teaches online so she could continue.”

Maddox notes that while the majority of graduate health science courses are available to students in both traditional classroom and web-based modes, Koehlmoos’ two courses are the first authored using WebCT and the resources of IRC.

“Developing these courses was an incredible experience for me – everyone was tremendously helpful,” Koehlmoos says. “All of these positive forces worked together to create a great finished product for our students.”

Koehlmoos will teach the course again this fall. In the spring, she will teach Comparative International Healthcare Systems, also via distance. She plans to return to Fairfax a few times in the years ahead to update her lectures and meet face-to-face with some of her students and colleagues.

Says Maddox, “We look forward to her return to the U.S., but until then, we will adjust our department operations to accommodate a truly global faculty.”

Goodlett McDaniel, associate dean for finance, marketing and practice development in CHHS, comments that Provost Peter Stearns, the IRC administration and staff and the CHHS faculty have supported the development and implementation of accelerated, asynchronous courses at every step.

“The strengths of this model of delivery are highlighted by the unusual experiences shared by Dr. Koehlmoos,” he says, adding, “She is an extraordinary person and a wonderful colleague.”

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