2023 Online Teacher of the Year: Tiffany Bourelle, Ph.D.
July 7, 2023 - Rick Robb
Photo by Andrew Bourelle
Since the 2018-2019 academic year, the Faculty Senate Teaching Enhancement Committee has given a deserving faculty member the Online Teacher of the Year award. This award acknowledges excellence in the challenging teaching and learning arena of online education .
For 2022-2023 that award was presented to Tiffany Bourelle, Ph.D. of UNM’s Department of English Language and Literature where she is an associate professor of rhetoric and composition as well as the Assistant Chair for eComp.
Dr. Stephanie Spong, Senior Operations Manager for the Center for Teaching and Learning told me that this year's awards recognized the ways instructors have accomplished one or more of the following:
Skillfully and creatively transitioned their in-person teaching to hybrid or remote modalities;
Increased the inclusive nature of their classroom by making their courses more culturally responsive, welcoming, or trauma-informed;
Broadened access to learning by adopting more affordable or accessible teaching materials; and/or engaged in their own professional development in order to achieve any of these aims.
Committees are often most impressed with instructors who take it to the next level, going above and beyond with their online teaching. As Spong noted, “Lots of folks are adept at following current recommendations for effective teaching, but award-winning online faculty are studying their teaching in order to recognize and implement creative solutions to common challenges.” Nominees might have developed a new understanding about how to effectively teach online or they may have employed non-traditional strategies in their courses that could be useful to other instructors.
In this case, Bourelle was ahead of the competition, having already developed scholarship in the field of online learning. But “her work went beyond mere pedagogy” Spong added, “one of the things that stood out to the judges was how she stepped in for a colleague who was sick in a way that protected the colleague's autonomy in a course. She was not just thinking about her own students but all the online students in a program.”
Several years ago, when I was a first and second-year writing instructor at UNM, I had the opportunity to take Dr. Bourelle’s eComp practicum which was required for teaching online English courses. That practicum upped my teaching game for the very reasons Bourelle received the award: taking chances on new strategies for online instruction in ways that engaged students. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with her to talk about her career and this prestigious award.
Interview with Dr. Bourelle
I mention my background in technical communication because I think it prepared me to teach online in ways people might not think about. For instance, technical communication is all about audience: How will the audience receive a document or a piece of communication? Online teaching is the same—it’s all about the student experience. How will they interact with the material? What is the best way—the best medium—to present the content? What can I do differently next time based on student feedback?
This is very similar to user-centered design principles that are at the forefront of technical communication. In fact, I look forward to teaching ENGL 535: Ethics in Technical Communication in the fall in a fully asynchronous format. I mostly teach ENGL 1120 online; however, most of my teaching centers around preparing graduate instructors to teach in a variety of online formats (hybrid, online, remote, etc.).
TB: My most recent co-authored books: Teaching Writing in the Twenty-First Century and Administering Writing Programs in the Twenty-First Century. I’ve written and published various articles on online education, and my colleagues and I won an award for our portfolio assessment of eComp (the online program I created and oversee at UNM) that was published in Computers and Composition. My most recent forthcoming chapter is about offering professional development for digital composition, which is the blending of multimodal composition and multimodal course design.
RR : What makes you come alive when you’re teaching?
I also learn a lot from my graduate [student] instructors from the interesting ways they teach and the new ideas they bring to their courses. In fact, when I first came to UNM, I was insistent that graduate instructors had control over their own curriculum, with professional development from me in the form of a practicum/pedagogy course that teaches them effective practices of teaching online. This is one element that defines eComp and makes it inherently different than the Writers’ Studio at ASU. We didn't have graduate instructors at ASU, only lecturers. I believe that graduate instructors are the future of our field, and I hope the professional development I provide can guide them in their endeavors.
The courses at ASU are also based heavily in multimodality. I often joke that ASU was like a post-doc for me because I didn't know what multimodal composition was until I was hired there. I still think it was like a crash course, as I only thought about assignments and how they could be multimodal in that students were creating podcasts, videos, and websites. Now I realize that multimodality in online education is about assignments and course design. Students have varying learning styles and require information in different formats. I try to design my courses using UDL and UX principles for greater access to the course and content within while encouraging my students to think critically about the technology they are using. At the same time, I have to consider the rhetoricity of the online space. Why am I, the instructor, using certain technology? What challenges and affordances does the technology provide? More importantly, I need to make sure that the technology and media within the course is accessible for all students.
TB: That you will have to spend time in the course to be successful. You have to put in just as much if not more time in the online course because you’ll have to be motivated to learn, make and work toward goals, and keep track of progress. Online students have to be prepared to take control of their learning, to figure out things like technology, and to reach out when they need help. Of course, the teacher is there to guide them and coach them along; however, much of the online course requires students to find information for themselves and do the research. Reading is a huge component of online learning. Even in a highly multimodal class that utilizes media, students are still reading a lot. Read and watch everything more than once if you have to, and reach out to the instructors when you need help or are falling behind.
About the writer: Rick Robb has been at UNM since 2006 as an undergraduate, grad student and for ten years, taught first and second-year college writing courses in-person and online. He has been with UNM Online since early 2020.
 All lecturers, clinician educators, adjunct faculty on a current contract, and tenure-track and tenured faculty who have already taught at least one fully online course are eligible for a variety of awards with one recipient selected for Online Teacher of the Year and a monetary award of $1,250 from the Center for Teaching and Learning.