Johnna Herrick-Phelps, PhD, is the assistant provost at Champlain College Online. In this role, she leads our 60+ online academic programs, working closely with our online instructors, program directors, and academic advisors to ensure we're delivering quality in all aspects of the academic experience. We spoke with her to learn more about her background and her perspectives on the online college experience.
How long have you been working at Champlain College Online? What brought you here?
I've been at Champlain since July of 2018. I decided to join the college because the assistant provost position offered me the opportunity to work in an entrepreneurial, innovative organization that aligns with my professional strengths, and focusing on the key areas I am passionate about.
Tell me a little bit about your professional background.
Online education has always been an important part of my work, beginning early in my career as the director of online learning for a small Massachusetts college. I have always enjoyed being in the classroom, and over the years I have taught at numerous universities and colleges, both in face-to-face and online formats.
In addition to my higher education experience, I spent many years as principal of JH Phelps & Associates, where I consulted for public and private organizations in the areas of leadership development, executive coaching, change management, and diversity in the workplace.
How do you feel your business background has influenced your approach to higher education?
My business background allows me to bring real-world work experience to the classroom - in particular, entrepreneurship and small business development, leading organizational change initiatives, and developing and maintaining effective organizational communication. Over the years, I have learned the often elusive lesson of how to bridge the communications gap between academia and business.
What do you enjoy most about working with adult learners?
Working with adult learners has been central to my work throughout my career, and is one of the elements I appreciate most about my job. While there are many aspects of working with adults that I enjoy, my favorite by far is the opportunity to support an adult student as they progress through their educational experience. It is a gift to be able to witness the growth and the confidence they gain throughout their journey, and to be able to share in a person's joy and happiness at commencement when they finally achieve their dream of obtaining a degree.
What do you like most about your role at Champlain?
The most important part of my role is really centered on our students. Knowing that I'm able to make a difference in students' lives is really something I value, and motivates what I bring to the job every day.
The other piece of my role that I really love is getting to work with the amazing faculty and staff we have here at Champlain. They really care, and are truly passionate about the work they do.
What makes a great online instructor and member of the Champlain College faculty?
A faculty member that really stands out is one that is passionate about what they do and, of course, is student-centered. They need to be excited about learning, making connections and relationships, and bringing their knowledge into the classroom to share with students.
What are some of the trends you see in online higher education over the next few years?
While we will continue to see growth in the online education market, the landscape will become increasingly competitive as organizations add online learning to their portfolios. In order to remain current and cutting-edge, it will be important to continue to pursue new and creative ways to advance online education.
Tell us about the benefits of classroom learning vs. online learning, particularly for the adult student working full-time.
The common thread is, and must be, a quality education for the student - it's up to the student to choose the best way to get that education, based on their own needs, schedule, and life obligations. For many students entering college right out of high school, the classroom experience is usually preferable, for both the academic and the social experience of learning in a face-to-face environment. For the adult student working full-time, online learning is often preferable, because it allows learning, work, and family obligations to co-exist.
What are some of the ways Champlain helps adult learners through the online student experience?
We strive to support our online students throughout their time at Champlain, especially when it comes to balancing full time work and school. This comes from a variety of sources - every person a Champlain student comes into contact with is there to help them on their journey.
Faculty, of course, play a big role. They're there to support students in the classroom, provide substantive feedback, and really be present - they serve as role models and provide examples of how education can be put into practice. We ask students to apply what they're learning in their workplaces and then come back to the classroom to share what worked and what didn't. Our instructors are there to work through that with them and help them think about situations differently, ultimately helping them to grow both academically and professionally.
Advisors also play a really big role in providing student support, and the way they do that is through what we call our appreciative advising model. Through this model, our advisors help students to identify their strengths and build on them. They also build strong relationships with students - and not just at the beginning, or here and there throughout their time at Champlain. Our advisors are there throughout each student's journey at Champlain, helping them through good times and bad, providing information and resources, and serving as both a liaison and a guide.
Can you give some examples of how Champlain helps to prepare online students for success in their careers?
We're preparing students for the workforce in multiple ways. One way is through our curriculum - we design our degree programs to align with workforce needs and to help students be successful as they advance in their careers or move into new fields. To do this, we use input and feedback from a variety of sources, including our truED partners and our expert-practitioner faculty, to ensure that what we're teaching students is highly relevant and up to date. We also use input from our students - they're going out and applying what they learn every day, getting feedback from their employers, then bringing that back to the classroom to share with peers, and this naturally shapes course content and discussion.
Another key way Champlain contributes to a student's success in their career is through the relationships students build during their time here. So much of the online experience is about networking: with peers in the classroom, with faculty members, and with alumni. Creating that Champlain College community is so important - it's something our students really use and value during their time at Champlain, and then take with them when they graduate and move forward in their careers.
What's an interesting fact about yourself that we might not know otherwise?
I'm a musician, and I have enjoyed playing the French horn in various groups over the years.