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Clayton State's Sheryne Southard Makes History with Regents Teaching Excellence Award

Sep 05 2014

Each year the University System of Georgia (USG) solicits nominations from the 31 System institutions for excellence in teaching and scholarship. As a result, 12 faculty or departments throughout the USG are awarded the yearly Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award and the yearly Regents’ Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. 

Prior to this year, a single faculty member had never won both awards, considered to be the highest honor for faculty at Georgia’s public colleges and universities.

Four years ago, Clayton State University Assistant Professor of Legal Studies <st1:personname w:st="on">Sheryne Southard was selected as one of the 2011 recipients of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. Last week, Southard was notified by Dr. Houston Davis, executive vice chancellor & chief academic office of the University System of Georgia, that she had been named one of the recipients of the 2015 Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award. According to Candace Sommer, executive director of the University System of Georgia Foundation, Southard is first and only person to be twice honored with the Regents’ awards.

Southard’s most recent award is for her online teaching over the past 10 years. While she has received a great deal of notoriety recently for her development of the Clayton State Self-Paced Online Course (SPOC), she points out that the vast majority of her supporting documentation for the award is relative to her own online instruction experiences. Indeed, as noted in 2010 when Southard won the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, she is, “passionate about developing online courses that possess the same dynamic and engaging learning environment as traditional courses.”

“I am extremely grateful that the panel of faculty and administrators from across the state selected me for the Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for online teaching,” says Southard. “First, it is a validation that online education can be as academically rigorous as traditional instruction. Secondly, an award of this magnitude is not the result of my singular efforts. It is the result of a team of people that have all contributed to the body of my work over the past decade. 

“My department head, Dr. Rafik Mohammed, is a great visionary that saw the potential benefits of the self-paced online course format and introduced it to this University. Dr. Kevin Demmitt, Dr. Nasser Momayezi and <st1:address w:st="on">Dr. Jill Lane had the foresight that an innovative approach to online learning could benefit our students and allocated resources to allow it to come to fruition. David Pena, who worked with me in the spring and Dr. Josh Meddaugh and Dr. Adam Tate, who are currently working with me to develop dynamic and engaging instructional content for the self-paced online courses. Lastly, but certainly not least, Christopher White, Clayton <st1:placename w:st="on">State multimedia designer, who has provided me with his creativity to expertly create multimedia course content.”

In his nomination letter to the USG, Demmitt, the University’s interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, described Southard as being, “synonymous with excellence in online teaching on our campus” and an, “evangelist for online teaching.” He also noted, “her excellence in online teaching begins with meticulous attention to course design” and that she, “was actively involved in shaping University policy and implementing a strategic plan for distance education.”

The USG committee for the Regents’ Awards received many outstanding nomination portfolios, which were thoroughly reviewed by a panel of faculty and administrators from across the University System. After reviewing Southard’s portfolio, the review committee voted unanimously to recommend her as the winner.  

“The committee was particularly impressed with the excellent supporting documentation including access to online materials,” noted <st1:city w:st="on">Davis in his award letter to Southard. “Your use of a variety of modalities to engage students is outstanding; and the self-paced online course is an example of your work that would be of value to other institutions in the system. The committee also appreciated your use of reflection to improve your courses and felt that your letters of support provided clear evidence of your role as a mentor and leader.

Southard points to several sources of inspiration for her online teaching philosophy, starting with William Pollard’s, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

Another quote that resonates with Southard, and can be said to encapsulate her interactive, empowering SPOC approach, comes from Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

“My courses are a continuous work in progress,” she says. “Distance education is a dynamic and changing learning environment where I am constantly learning and discovering ways to improve. I am not afraid to try new approaches as long as I believe they can help the students master the content. I rely upon student feedback to guide me as to whether my approaches are successful or not, and make adjustments whenever needed to benefit the students. As the students are learning the content, I am learning how to best instruct them. John Cotton Dana captured my sentiments on this topic precisely `Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.’”  

In her online courses Southard strives to create meaningful interactions, such as role play simulations, to promote interest and foster understanding. 

“I view quality online instruction as a continual `work in progress,’” Southard says. “It evolves as new information surfaces, innovative strategies develop, and improved resources emerge. The unifying thread of my ongoing research is measures to create an online learning environment conducive to maximum student performance.”

Not surprisingly, Southard sees a bright future for both online learning and <st1:placename w:st="on">Clayton State students who take SPOC .

“I am excited that the System recognizes the potential for innovative educational delivery formats to reduce barriers to education and provide students with an alternative path to pursue their academic goals,” she says. “Serving the best interests of the students is our focus. Our motto at <st1:placename w:st="on">Clayton State University is `Dreams Made Real’ and it is my hope that these courses will help more students realize their dreams.”  

Southard has taught at Clayton State for 12 years. She earned her J.D. from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at <st1:place w:st="on">Arizona <st1:placetype w:st="on">State University. Along with the other 2015 Regents winners, she will be officially recognized at the annual Regents’ Gala on Mar. 28, 2015 where the winners will be the honored guests of the USG Foundation. In addition, she will present at the annual USG Teaching and Learning Conference that will be held in April 2015.

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