Cindy Gallatin, MBA, the University of New Haven’s chief of digital learning initiatives, is leading the charge to foster meaningful and engaging online learning opportunities for students that include cutting-edge technology and offer flexible and inclusive options for all learners.
December 1, 2020
When Cindy Gallatin, MBA, was first developing an online learning program at Quinnipiac University 20 years ago, users were using dial up internet. As she reflects on her 25 years in higher education and online learning, she marvels at just how far technology has advanced.
Throughout her career, she has been at the forefront of creating meaningful, engaging, and accessible online learning experiences for students. She credits the marketing courses she taught shortly after beginning her career with piquing her interest in educational technology.
Gallatin began creating a pilot program to introduce laptops to classrooms in the mid-1990s, before they were a common fixture in the classroom. She then began developing the online education program at Quinnipiac University, launching 250 courses with more than a dozen faculty members.
Gallatin, who went on to build a digital marketing and admissions team at Quinnipiac that recruited new students and focused on non-traditional learners, also grew the university’s summer school program from 250 students to 3,000, expanding its program offerings, increasing its staff, and changing the way faculty thought about teaching online.
“Through online learning, you facilitate engagement between students and between students and faculty, and those discussion forums become very rich,” said Gallatin, who earned an undergraduate degree in biology from Fairfield University and an MBA with a concentration in marketing from the University of Bridgeport. “From a quality perspective, the design of an online class has strong outcomes. A well-done online class is equivalent to a well-done on campus class, and the outcomes are equivalent.”
‘I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm and excitement from the faculty’
Gallatin describes her own career path as “nonlinear,” and says she continues to use the analytical skills she developed while studying biology. At Quinnipiac, she rose to become vice president and chief operating officer for online programs, launching QU Online, a division focused on providing administrative and technical support, as well as admissions and marketing for online programs.
After 25 years at Quinnipiac, she joined the University of New Haven last spring to serve as chief of digital learning initiatives. Gallatin is part of the University’s continuing effort to deliver high quality, student-centered online education. She worked extensively with faculty over the summer, hosting workshops focused on pedagogy, technology, and creating engaging and meaningful student-centered learning experiences.
“I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm and excitement from the faculty, which is really important,” she said. “They spent a lot of time on this over the summer, and they’re very dedicated to fostering a wonderful online student experience.”
‘The format means everyone participates’
Throughout the course of her career, Gallatin has discovered several important advantages to online learning. It offers more flexibility for students, which is especially important for those who work full time or who have families. Online courses can also foster deeper engagement.
“In on-campus classes, some students who are shy may be reluctant to speak in class,” she explains. “In an online class, discussion forums become very critical, and presence and participation become equivalent. The format means everyone participates.”
As technology continues to evolve, Gallatin is leading the charge into integrating and expanding upon the technology and resources available to students, including Kaltura, a platform that incorporates video in online learning. She is especially excited for students to use Canvas, a user-friendly learning management system that offers more multimedia integration, more opportunities to include video in online learning, and enhanced communication options. Students can upload videos as part of assignments or responses, and she describes the platform’s discussion boards as similar to social media threads – something very familiar to students.
Gallatin is also embracing the variety of options offered by online learning. The University is offering both synchronous online classes – those that meet at a set time – and asynchronous online classes that enable students to discover what works best for their learning while meeting a set schedule of deadlines.
In order to maximize opportunities for students and adhere to physical distancing guidelines in place due to the coronavirus global pandemic, the University is offering hybrid and flex models of online learning. Hybrid combine both in-person learning and online learning. The flex model enables faculty members to teach in a regular classroom setting, while students who cannot be there in person participate by using tools such as Zoom. They can take part in the class in real-time, listening to the discussion and using chat tools to participate. Most classes are also recorded, so students can go back and listen to any lectures they might have missed.
‘Online classes give students opportunities to practice how they’ll be working in the real world’
In addition to the myriad opportunities that online learning offers to students, Gallatin is excited about the opportunities it will create for them in the future.
“Learning online is not only something that provides students with preparation for graduate school, but it also prepares them for what it will be like to work in the future where a lot of online collaboration will be the norm,” she said. “Online classes give students opportunities to practice how they’ll be working in the real world, and they will likely be communicating extensively online throughout their careers.”
Gallatin also believes the future of education will be increasingly rooted in online learning. It will, she says, offer students of all ages and disciplines more educational opportunities. For example, it will enable students studying abroad to take classes taught at the University’s main campus.
“I see the future as being a combination of on-campus learning, some online learning, and some hybrid learning,” she said. “I think, ultimately, the pandemic accelerated this shift to online learning.”