Professor wins award for online teaching excellence

By: Gerry Rucchin
December 3, 2018

Professor Nicole Neil

Professor Nicole Neil

Professor Nicole Neil from the Faculty of Education has won the prestigious Teaching Award from the Ontario Association of Applied Behavior Analysis (ONTABA).

ONTABA recognized Neil for going above and beyond the call of duty to teach Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles and applications as well as inspiring her students to appreciate ABA.

Neil teaches in the field of ABA as part of the Master of Professional Education program – an online degree that’s designed for professionals.

“It’s really nice to be recognized by ONTABA, which is a community of my peers,” said Neil. “Teaching online is more difficult because there’s that distance between the instructor and the student. Having that confirmation that students are learning from my methods makes it worthwhile.”

Devan Vanden Boomen, eLearning Specialist for Graduate Programs at the Faculty of Education, nominated Neil for the award.

“I was over the moon that she won and it’s well deserved,” he said. “Although this award is in the context of elearning, it also recognizes the work that she’s done with teaching in terms of implementing new technology and in experimenting with different tools.”

For the past two years, Vanden Boomen has worked with Neil to develop online courses for the ABA program. He nominated Neil for her willingness to try new technology and for knowing the differences between online and in-classroom teaching techniques.

“Her openness to new technology demonstrates her commitment to teaching online,” said Vanden Boomen. “Technology can be intimidating and I’ve never seen her stand down from it.”

Neil credits Western with her teaching success. The university provides support for online instructors through workshops at the faculty and on main campus. Recently, Neil took classes on course redesign and online rubrics.

Also, feedback from experts in online teaching and from students allow her to grow as an instructor. Neil encourages students to inform her if they don’t like the technology they’re using. If students don’t like it, she will replace the technology for the next cohort.

“The students in the program are not undergraduates. They’re not here full-time because they’re not at that stage in their life. They’re adults and they’re professionals who are trying to enhance their career. Recognizing these factors means there are different pressures,” said Neil.

Vanden Boomen also credits Neil’s work ethic for her teaching success. She puts in the time to educate herself on new technology and to create innovative courses.

Since there aren’t many ABA programs in Canada, Neil is motivated to provide the best possible online class experience because many students live where there isn’t a university or there’s only one university that offers an ABA program.

“These students also need a strong behavior analytic education because they’re still working with the populations that need the services and those families they serve deserve good, evidence-based practices.”

Neil will receive her award at the ONTABA convention in Toronto on Dec. 7.